Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inland Empire: The ripples of the budget crisis continues

The Riverside City Council held its weekly meeting and voted to freeze its salaries, keep Greyhound downtown until June 30 and to enforce zone changes in one city neighborhood upsetting property owners there.

The budget picture in the city of Riverside has looked pretty bleak during the past several months with layoffs, hiring freezes and other budget cuts. Even the spending spree, Riverside Renaissance has come to a slowdown with the city tabling several projects in the nine figured range last year and at least two in the eight figured range this year. City Manager Brad Hudson said during a workshop conducted for the library and museum renovation projects that the city couldn't afford to do any more than simple renovations or design proposals. People weren't sure if that meant the city had gone broke or was tabling the renovations for several years to give people time to forget about them. But it's likely that the renovations won't even start certainly not on the downtown library until two years or so down the road.

But the cuts likely will still continue and people are waiting to see if there will be another round of layoffs and when it will be coming.

For example, the Riverside Police Department which is the city department with the highest operational and personnel budget began the year with a slight increase in its annual budget from the previous fiscal year. The increase resulted mostly from the final salary increases to personnel from MOUs that existed between the labor unions and the city management. The two public safety departments weren't spared budget cuts when the city's proposed budget $224 million had been slashed to around $200 million before the fiscal year had even reached the midway point.

The police department like other departments has taken some cuts and frozen positions in its ranks both on the civilian and sworn divisions. In 2007, the city froze a bunch of civilian positions in the police department temporarily but this year saw more extensive and longer lasting freezes, leading to vacancies in the department at nearly all levels.

The last time the department saw cuts in staffing through freezes or other measures was back in the 1990s not long before it entered into the five-year court-mandated reform process instituted by former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer after he filed a lawsuit which alleged among other things serious deficiencies caused by inadequate staffing at different levels. Is Riverside once again heading in that direction? It's too early to tell but it doesn't look promising since neither the city manager's office nor the city council nor even the mayor have come up with an exit strategy meaning what will happen to address these shortages when the economic picture improves?

As some people have said, they are taking a short-term approach to a long-term challenge which when you think about it is counter to forward progression.

The following are the known vacancies which took place during 2008. Another planned retirement by Sgt. Don Tauli was postponed until December 2009.

Employees terminated: Steve Frasher, public information officer due to budget cuts in December 2008

Supervisory and management vacancies:

Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez: (vacated by retirement): Unfilled

Lt. Pete Villanueva: (vacated by retirement) Unfilled

Lt. Ken Carpenter: (vacated by retirement) Filled July 1, 2008 by promotion of Sgt. Leon Phillips

Sgt. Randy Eggleston: (vacated by retirement) Unfilled

Sgt. Lisa Williams: (vacated by transfer to newly created position in Communication) Unfilled

Sgt. Leon Phillips: (vacated by promotion to lieutenant) Unfilled

Sgt. Kevin Stanton: (vacated by retirement) Filled by promotion of Det. Dan Warren

Sgt. Terry Meyer: (vacated by medical retirement) Unfilled

Sgt. John Romo: (vacated by retirement) Filled by promotion of Det. Chad Milby

What's particularly notable about the sergeant positions and whether or not they were filled through promotions is that the two promotions that did happen appeared to be in the wake of sergeant retirements that didn't appear to be anticipated and weren't exactly on the radar. So if that's the case, then on some level that shows that the department's management and perhaps the city's is aware that the level of supervisors is at its critical level. Whenever a retirement happens that appears to be more sudden, then there's a promotion to fill that position.

Detective vacancies: Unknown. Most vacancies are filled in accordance to an ongoing MOU between their bargaining unit and the city that's been in place since the days of Chief Ken Fortier.

Officer vacancies: Unknown in numbers. Could be as many as 19 vacancies. Hiring was unfrozen briefly late last year to attempt to fill eight positions vacated by retirements, resignations, failures to make probation and separations but hiring even of attrition is currently frozen. A representative from the Personnel and Training Division said that ideally, the department would like to hire 19 officers. Controversy over the department's staffing levels has erupted between the management and the labor union with management personnel saying that they would attend more community meetings where staffing issues were being discussed. Still, given the number of vacancies and reductions in the personnel overtime budget, it's difficult to believe that staffing levels haven't been impacted in some way. It's called doing the math.

All this taking place during a year which saw a spike in the city's murder rate.

Civilian position vacancies: At last count several months ago, at least 24 positions frozen.

Who's said that the department is "fully staffed"?

Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis has said this at a city council meeting held last June when several people including police practices consultant Joe Brann expressed concern about the department's forward progress being hampered by not immediately addressing the department's staffing issues even in difficult economic times. A California Public Records Act request to Hudson's office to ask for documentation of information provided by DeSantis resulted in a letter being sent by City Attorney Gregory Priamos stating to look on the city's Web site for the preliminary budget. However, the information was not included in that report.

It's amazing that the city manager's office which still staffs its own public information officer and which employs an assistant city manager who had been employed in that capacity for Riverside County can't come up with someone who knows how to draft a CPRA response without having to pass it off to Priamos who's probably busy doing the work in his own department without having to do work for Hudson's department as well.

Different parties or stake holders as they are often called had different responses to the situation of the impact of budget cuts on the police department's staffing and training levels and thus its forward movement in terms of reform.

Who have expressed concern?

A rather eclectic but broader group of individuals inside and outside of the department.
Several individuals in this article by the Press Enterprise are among them.


For Mary Figueroa, a Riverside Community College governing board member who served on the panel with Clarke, the lack of diversity and adequate staffing makes her believe the scenario could happen again.

"It's almost the perfect storm," Figueroa said.

While authorized to have 405 sworn employees, the city has funded 395 of those positions, said Capt. Michael Blakely. A report earlier this month showed the department having 382 sworn staff, a 4 percent increase in the last three years.

Blakely said he fills openings when he can while staying within the budget.

"The goal over time is to have more officers but that's not going to happen today or tomorrow," Leach said.

Brann said economic cuts to training and recruitment in the decades before the Miller shooting led to the department being neglected.

"The city could easily find itself back in that type of situation again," he said.

Leach said the department has shortages in every unit from fleet maintenance to finance and records but still wants to respond promptly to calls.

"We don't want the economy to take us backwards," Leach said. "We have to manage through that."

Riverside Police Officers' Association president Detective Chris Lanzillo is also concerned about the need for more officers. With not enough officers, he fears large incidents could quickly get out of hand, endangering residents and officers.

He also said officers do not have enough time to speak with residents and explain situations, contrary to the technique they're supposed to be using.

"I see us today falling back in the same rut," he said.

It remains to be seen what the future holds in terms of whether or not staffing levels will continue to drop or remain level. The department also made other changes in recent months including dissolving the community services division (under the decision made by the management to "decentralize" it) and have the audit and compliance bureau double as the public information office. Not to mention moving the Internal Affairs Division on two weeks notice to a building which inside and outside wasn't ready to be used by that division during at least the first month it occupied that space.

Police Chief Russ Leach has begun talking about life after the completion of the agency's five-year Strategic Plan in December 2009 and proposed creating another similar strategic program for the department's operations. One component of it should be to have a blue print in place for restoring the frozen positions to the police department at all levels when its feasible to do so. Part of the danger is that when positions get eliminated or frozen, people in power forget they were ever there. That's what happened in the 1990s. History shouldn't have to repeat itself to be learned.

The Riverside Transit Agency is changing bus routes and raising fares.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In addition, bus agency officials are considering raising fares to $1.50 by 2013. Two options for raising fares have been discussed; either raising rates to the 2013 level immediately for all types of fares, or gradually raising fees annually until 2013 when the charges will be at the full rate.

Weaver said staff do not have a preference between the options.

The rate increase, if approved, would start in May.

The goal is to keep fare collections about 18 percent of the agency's total budget, Weaver said. As a result, the prices of all services will increase because of additional costs to running the system.

The increase comes as the bus system contends with two years of declining sales tax collections. Weaver said in fiscal year 2007-08, the agency received $38 million from county sales-tax collections, representing 70 percent of the system's budget. By the end of this fiscal year on June 30, officials expect to receive $28 million.

The news is bleaker in fiscal year 2009-10, when officials expect bus system sales-tax revenues to slide to $25 million.

Riverside's city electeds are asking and searching around for funding for the proposed medical school at UC Riverside.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce, a medical school proponent, is seeking letters and resolutions of support from elected officials as well as healthcare, education and business leaders, said Cindy Roth, chamber president and CEO.

Health Executive Exchange, a 75-member Riverside healthcare-coalition group, voted Monday to send a letter of support, said Dan Anderson, president and CEO of the Riverside Community Health Foundation, which created the group.

Riverside Councilman Mike Gardner said he expects the City Council will vote to do the same at its next meeting Tuesday.

Supporters of the medical school, including UCR Chancellor Timothy White, argue it's critical to solving a physician shortage in the Inland area and an important economic engine, especially as the economy continues to deteriorate.

Plans to can the city attorney in Hemet due to budget cuts have put him on the defensive and he's fighting back.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The effort calls for a review of the duties and costs of the city attorney, prompting Tuesday's presentation.

Vail, who spoke for more than an hour, said he charged the city for the hours he was asked to do work.

"Over the years, we have been asked to get the job done, and I think we have gotten the job done," he said. "I was told, 'You do the services, we'll deal with the budget.' "

Vail said the city took on a lot of work in recent years, when its housing market was booming and its economy was flourishing, and completed a number of major personnel-related projects that required intensive legal work.

Vice Mayor Jerry Franchville, who first asked for the review, asked Tuesday why the city's legal costs were so high compared with other cities.

Based on his research, he said, neighboring cities' legal service budgets ranged from $600,000 to $1.2 million.

"What are they doing to keep their costs down?" Franchville asked.

Riverside County doesn't like proposed cuts to outpatient mental health services by Sacramento.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to redirect about $227 mil- lion collected from Prop. 63, a 2004 measure to expand outpatient mental health services, and put it toward existing state mental health care programs. The redirection would alleviate shortfalls created by the state's estimated $42 billion budget deficit, he has said.

Patricia Ryan, executive director of the California Mental Health Director Association, said Tuesday that Schwarzenegger's plan violates state law and would end up costing taxpayers more for hospitalizations and law enforcement.

By law, Prop. 63 money can't fund existing programs or involuntary institutionalized mental health care. It pays for counseling, job training and housing to help mentally ill people care for themselves.

"That is the entire intent of the act," Ryan said. "The governor's proposal would put us back to where we were if not worse."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Lisa Page said the state's budget deficit has required the governor to make some tough choices.

"The governor has put out seven budgets this year, and as we move along, as we have said all year, the problem gets worse and the options for solving the problem get worse every time," she said. "He understands how difficult this is, but with a $42 billion deficit, there simply are no good options."

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board blasted sealing of search warrants involving an investigation against San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus.


The court ruled then that prosecutors failed to meet the "especially high burden" for keeping documents from public view. There is no reason to believe secrecy is more justified this time.

Postmus is a public figure who has been under intense scrutiny since last June, after a grand jury report found he abused his office and authorities arrested his top aide. And the search this month resulted in Postmus' arrest on drug charges. The case has been high profile for months, which undercuts any argument that a few new details about a search will harm the investigation.

Keeping the warrants secret is a matter of prosecutorial convenience, not necessity. Releasing the documents would not sabotage the investigation, but would provide voters with insights into the actions of their assessor and the accusations against him.

And that public interest far outweighs prosecutors' desire for confidentiality.

After a recent state appellate decision in California, questions are being asked as to whether red light cameras are legal and any evidence they obtain is admissible in court if the contracts which led to their adoption and installment by cities are not.

After officer-involved shootings, civilian oversight is very much needed.


It would be better to already have in place a review process that's not tainted with the idea - fairly or unfairly - that the police are protecting fellow officers.

If not a civilian review board, what?

Would adding one or two civilians to the current review process work?

Would it be better to involve the U.S. Department of Justice in questionable shootings?

Is there something else that would be better?

The Times-Union reported that of the 28 people police shot last year, 23 were black.

Understandably that has raised concerns among some African-Americans.

Eddie Staton, one of the founders of the anticrime group MAD DADS, said during the TV-7 program that something needs to be done to instill trust in the police in many African-American neighborhoods.

Once again, if not a civilian review board, what?

That's a debate that still needs to take place.

A woman in Atlanta used her taser to help a police officer in trouble.

(excerpt, WSB-TV)

Cross said while others gathered to watch, she sprung into action.

"I went straight for my kid’s diaper bag and I got it and asked it if he [officer] wanted me to do it and he said, 'Yea,'" said Cross.

Cross said the officer had a hard time defending himself because the attacker had taken the officer's radio and managed to rub pepper spray in the officer's face and eyes.

Jolting the attacker, Cross' timing couldn't have been better. Cross said she tasered the suspect in his arms and legs.

If you have a My Space or Face Book page and apply to be a law enforcement officer in New York City, that city's police department is going to check it out. In an officer's presence, you will have to show them all your public and private postings.

(excerpt, New York Post)

The measure is designed to weed out would-be cops who litter their Web sites with violent or explicit imagery, racist rants and any other material deemed objectionable, a law-enforcement source said.

Applicants Processing Division officers are demanding any recruit with an account log on to their pages, even if those pages are private and not accessible to the public, the source said.

Without the applicant logging on, only a subpoena could get the NYPD that much access to the private Web pages.

The policy has successfully alerted the department to some decidedly unsavory would-be cops - including one whose pages included a picture of himself jokingly pointing a gun at his buddy.

"He said it was just his friend, but at that point the interviewer thought it best that he not join the New York City Police Department," noted the source.

In Sonoma County, a rash of officer-involved shootings has led to discussion of mental health intervention.

(excerpt, Sonoma Sun)

Many audience members wanted to discuss the recent shooting death of Craig Von Dohlen, as well as officer-involved shootings and citizen review committees. Interrupted by a raised hand from the audience, Cogbill was asked for comment on what many believe has been a rash of deputy-involved shootings throughout the county. He said there have only been six of these shootings in the past nine years.

Cogbill said he couldn’t comment on the Von Dohlen case as it is still under investigation, but went into a lengthy explanation of the protocol involved. He said that the Santa Rosa Police Department is handling the investigation and that all cases automatically go to a court-appointed grand jury for review. He argued that this serves as a sort of citizen review, which didn’t convince all community members present.

Cogbill and Brown also criticized budget cuts to mental health services and drew attention to the impact of methamphetamine use.

“What’s been a huge factor in deputy-involved shootings has been not just mental health, but drugs as well,” said Cogbill. “When mental health services were cut back years ago, I predicted that law enforcement would be left to deal with it. A large percentage of inmates in jail have mental health issues. They shouldn’t be there - they should be getting treatment. We have to find a way to help these people.”

Investigators of the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer are examining more video footage which showed him being slapped by a different officer earlier in the incident while he was lined up against a wall with other individuals.

(excerpt, San Francisco Chronicle)

The cell phone video, one of a handful that have surfaced, aired Friday night on KTVU-TV. It shows a male BART police officer walking over to three men lined up against a wall near a female officer, and then striking one in the face.

The victim of the punch - identified by Channel 2 as 22-year-old Grant - slides to the ground. The video then shows the moments preceding the shooting, then the shooting itself. It appears that the officer who punches the man is the same person who later is seen kneeling on Grant's head when he was shot.

Sources have identified that officer as Tony Pirone. He and the other officers present at the time of Grant's shooting all remain on paid administrative leave while the investigation continues, but until Saturday BART was not investigating the conduct of anyone besides Johannes Mehserle, 27, who shot Grant.

Mehserle later resigned from the force and was charged with murder. He pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

Police investigators have said Grant put up a brief struggle with officers but was restrained and had both arms behind his back when he was shot. It was not clear whether the struggle investigators referred to was the same incident caught on the new video.

The Oakland Police Department's chief has resigned. Anyone surprised after the latest round of scandals in that department?

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