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

Friday, February 27, 2009

CPRC: A new Web site is coming and so's a new mythology

Coming soon will be a new and separate Web site on the Riverside Community Police Review Commission, including information on the complaint filing, investigation and review process as well as more information about the CPRC's history including the exercising of the different powers it has which are stated in the city's charter and municipal ordinance along with links where you can find different references to many of the events and issues involving the CPRC that are available online. As long as City Hall remains intent on rewriting its present and thus the past at almost every meeting addressing the CPRC, it's important that a detailed chronology can be made available to the public. At least to help people's heads stop spinning trying to keep up.

Alternative resources to access and use while filing complaints with the CPRC and the police department will also be listed on the site including several organizations which have expressed an interest in receiving any reports of complaints involving the Riverside Police Department including the ACLU and NAEJA which is also looking into the Rialto Police Department with the most recent news being is that some sort of federal intervention may be on its way or already there. More information on what specifically is being asked for will be included on the new site.

Yes, this city and its police department have a complaint system. Yes, this city has a form of civilian oversight so to speak. But if you want to to file a complaint, wait a year or longer to get a letter back from the city about its resolution and deal with a sustain rate of about 2.2%, then this is a place for you to go. And that's from the commission (and one that hasn't done any meaningful community outreach in well over a year), according to the statistics provided for 2008 in the recently posted draft of the upcoming 2007/08 annual report. It wouldn't be surprising if the sustain results for the police department and city manager's office were even lower but unless the 2008 figures for these two agencies are provided for the 2007/08 report, this can't be ascertained.

That may or may be an accurate reflection of what should be, but it's difficult to completely trust such a low number because very low numbers like that one are often found in law enforcement agencies from Atlanta (which clocked in at "very low" in both 1998 and 2007) to Chicago (and you can read about its low sustain rates here and its 1% sustain rate from 2002 here ) which have serious problems necessitating federal investigations. Yes, even Riverside in the 1990s which was the decade when complaints wound up in the circular file, right before the boom falls on all three of these agencies either through federal or state oversight. One can evaluate that Riverside's very low numbers this time around might be a product of the five-year consent decree that the city was forced to enter into with the State Attorney General's office in 2001 but given the decreasing lack of transparency in the police department since the dissolution of the consent decree, it's hard for the public to ascertain whether the decreasing sustain rate deserves a gold star or a red flag.

It's likely that it is the passage of time that will be the best judge of that.

Also the issue of retaliation for filing complaints is one that comes up with people wishing to file complaints. Whether it's perceived or real or both, it's a problem on some scale and it's creating concern in communities.

In some cases, it's really best not to file or be involved in the complaint or investigation process at all. It's a decision that each complainant must make taking all the factors including the well being of themselves or their families in consideration. Having had family members read in four different newspapers on Christmas Eve several years ago about comments made by a then-unidentified individual "praying" for harm to myself and them, this is unfortunately an area that I know about more than I would wish on anyone. And having all hell break loose on your Web site by people frothing at the keyboard because of an internal investigation which you really had very little to do with, has taught me about who really owns the investigative process anyway and who doesn't.

Unfortunately as it turned out both the individuals who wished harm on me and my family or not to bother to call the police are or have been assigned to my neighborhood policing center at one time or another. So yes, some of us do have to think twice before calling the police for assistance. Do you really want an officer to come out to assist you who wished you would be the victim of a violent crime by a parolee [in the area where you lived] purportedly to teach you some lesson? Even though it's more likely that a professional officer is going to be the one sent out to respond, do you really want to play the odds that this might not be the case?

A former law enforcement officer who once coauthored an opinion piece on the CPRC and Measure II in 2004 was told by a neighbor that several officers had told the neighbor that "a troublemaker lives in that house".

I was also recently in a situation where I gave some threatening writings associated with a gang that I had found while walking to a police officer which was to be forwarded to one of the department's investigative divisions. Because despite what one patrol officer used to go around telling people, I'm not particularly fond of gangs.

And there's nothing wrong with forwarding it to the division best equipped, staffed and trained to handle it.

The officer who was very nice asked for my contact information and I chose not to provide it because I didn't feel comfortable or safe at all doing it because I didn't know whose it would be given to and I have reason to believe that doing so in this case could impact my safety. It's difficult to want to do the right thing because it's your civic responsibility but to have to worry that the wrong police officer might have to be the one who has to contact you for further information, has to be factored into a decision as well. In this case, I wasn't going to provide my contact information and arranged through a community leader to have any questions that this division might have forwarded through another officer.

But it's difficult to really feel confident calling the police because you don't know which one will respond.

It could be the one who wished harm on your family. It could be the one who told you not to call. It could be the one (or more) who you've never met who may have written harassing and threatening things about you on the internet. It could be the officer you've never spoken to who told his partner he hated you just last month for reasons only known to him.

The majority of officers in the police department are good, professional and hard-working officers who do their job because they love it, they're called to it and they value themselves and what they do. That provides hope that the police department is going in the direction it needs to go and that it will go in that direction.

But some don't fall in that category and it's those ones the blue wall of silence protects first and last. The majority of the good officers in most law enforcement agencies aren't protected by the blue wall but they do participate in it. Because if they don't, they get ostracized and punished by those who do and often too, because in an unsafe profession, their lives depend on the bonds that exist between officers and each one of them knows that. There's both good and bad in those bonds. They are both necessary and detrimental at the same time and often it seems that the ones who behave badly can unfortunately leave a much stronger impression than those who outnumber them who don't.

You do have to really think about whether it's worth it to file a complaint that's going to take up to a year or perhaps longer to process on average just to have a letter telling you it didn't happen. And even if anything is sustained, there's no reassurance that the officer responsible is disciplined or at least encouraged to learn from a mistake or change a behavior. Having seen at least one of them (if not more) standing on award podiums at city council getting civic awards not long after the investigations are completed, the "sustained" finding's not worth anything either and it makes you wonder about the department that is issuing it. That it can do things very well and get some things right but still trip over the fundamentals. That's what makes it difficult to have confidence in its management, especially during a period where it appears the department has busy and successful managers but no real leader at its forefront during a time it very much needs one.

One of those fundamentals that the department stumbled over is when it gives awards to officers who have been caught misbehaving. Yes, that happened at least once and it's too bad because there's plenty of officers in the Riverside Police Department who richly deserve awards that they never receive. I once emailed the police chief after one such case that if he needed a list of officers to give awards to, I could provide him with quite a long one. I didn't receive any response.

Civil attorneys joke about how often they have seen an officer who's a "bad apple" or being sued is given an award and it's hard to believe it at first that this could ever happened. But I've seen it and it's hard to believe that it can be considered anything but a red flag about that law enforcement agency. Unless anyone can give an explanation of why that should put the department in the "gold star" category.

The complaint and investigation system of either the CPRC or the police department (and both together of course) is ultimately only as good as the intentions that motivate each of them and the hard work (or not) that goes into delivering a complaint and investigation process that is objective, thorough, timely and truly representative of accountability within a law enforcement agency. If that's not what is happening, then you've pretty much discovered what the intentions really are through action. And if that action conflicts with the words that are spoken, then it's the action that speak the truth.

But the Web site will also address the present and past of the CPRC because what the past events during the past few months have shown is that one is sorely needed.

It's become necessary to do this because of all the rhetoric and frankly, revisionist history coming out of various corners of City Hall regarding the CPRC, its history and most lately, the situation involving its investigative protocol for officer-involved deaths. What's funny is that listening to the various players in this situation talk about it is like walking in quick sand. What the "present" situation is constantly changes as time passes (or from one meeting to the next) and because this "present" has changed, so does the history which preceded it so that it can fit this envisioning of reality. Even if when the past was the present, it was something different than it is represented now by the city.

It will be interesting to attend the next meeting just to see what "reality" has become.

But as it turns out why wait until the next meeting? You can read about the newly revised history on the situation here.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Police Chief Russ Leach said he became concerned last year from media reports that the commission was trying to assume a greater role in investigations. He began discussions with Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco.

Leach, Pacheco and City Councilman Frank Schiavone say they fear a private citizen may trample evidence in the most sensitive of cases, an officer-involved shooting.

Schiavone said the commission always has a private investigator, and that is not in question.

The issue to him is timing. He said the city charter says the commission is to "review and investigate" in that order.

Leach said his relationship with the commission has soured over the years. Its early work was insightful, but more recently it has become politically charged, he said.

"I think that does a tremendous disservice to the review process," he said.

In September, City Manager Brad Hudson issued a directive that the city would not fund commission investigations until law enforcement had concluded its portion. Hudson cited concerns of potential interference with police investigations.

Leach said the Police Department will never allow the commission's private investigator to collect evidence, such as blood or gun casings, at the scene.

"If they door knock and try and find witnesses, that's not up to me," he said.

If you're a city resident and ever heard Chief Russ Leach mention at a meeting that he and Ditrict Attorney Rod Pacheco got together to discuss this issue, raise your hand. One of the first versions had Pacheco initiate the discussion with the city not vice versa but that was very early on in this storyline.

It would also be helpful if Leach would elaborate on why he reached his conclusion that the CPRC was trying to "expand" its role in investigations and why on earth he's relying on "media reports"and didn't talk to the CPRC directly about his concerns. Why is it that the leadership in this city whether it's over departments or the city government can't ever address their issues with entities they view as having problems with them directly instead of doing it through the press, whether it's through articles like this one or opinion pieces?

Where are the leaders in this city? Where are the leaders in the city government? Where (or who's) the leader in the police department? Does it even have one? If it does, is that leader really running it from the halls of City Hall and not inside the walls of the department?

Not that many people in the community didn't suspect that Leach played a larger role in this situation than he had said at public meetings but it's interesting to see him actually come out and say it now months after this situation started. Especially when he didn't mention any such thing in quite a few other venues where the issue's risen.

Also notice how the history has shifted away from the insistence that the concerns about the commission's investigative patrol were its lack of written procedure (which hit City Hall like a lightning bolt last June) and now it's about some concern dating back last year that the CPRC was trying to expand its investigation power even as it has been essentially doing its investigations the same way since 2002! Because where in the above chronology is the commission's lack of a written procedure for investigating incustody deaths even mentioned? Remember, as of last month or so, it was the cause celebre of excuses and explanations for the round of actions taken by factions at City Hall involving the commission.

I guess it fell out of favor or became passe' this week.

But before you get too excited, wait another week and you'll probably see another version of what the problem involving the CPRC's protocol of conducting independent investigations really is about. And maybe the next time, they'll really mean it! This time, it will be the real explanation, not just one to carry them over until they can come up with another one!

Perhaps it might be useful to do what some entertainment magazines do and have a special What's hot/What's not column for all the various "real" explanations. Or one better, have a What's Hot/What was Hot Five Minutes Ago/What's Not.

Is it possible to have more than one issue raised? Yes, but that's not what is happening here. It's more like a Teflon throwing contest.

Oh what tangled webs we weave...

To be continued...

The Riverside Border Patrol office is the subject of further investigation by federal agencies. It's already under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for allegations that agents were forced to implement a quota system.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein writes about the $1.1 million bungalow otherwise known as the house that stands on top of the site of the Kawa Market.

If you're a Riverside customer of Western Municipal Water District, you will be facing a water ban while a water plant has been shut down. If you've lived in California for any length of time, you know the drill.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The restrictions will affect about 22,500 of Western's 25,000 retail customers. They are in the city of Riverside in the Hillcrest, Mission Grove and Orangecrest neighborhoods and in the unincorporated areas of Woodcrest, Lake Mathews and Lake Hills, as well as March Air Reserve Base and Air Force Village West.

Western's 2,500 or so customers in Murrieta are not affected.

The prohibitions cover both business and residential customers.

Customers who believe they merit a waiver on the restrictions -- such as a resident who grows vegetables and sells them for income -- can contact Western to discuss the matter, said Michele McKinney Underwood , senior public affairs representative.

Taking an early retirement in Riverside County was this prosecutor.

The San Bernardino Police Officers' Association went to court against the city.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The union sued Wednesday to block city leaders from cutting officers' working hours and pay by 10 percent as leaders try to erase a budget deficit.

The lawsuit claims the furloughs violate Section 186 of the city charter, which sets a formula for determining officers' pay. Further, the city failed to meet a contractual requirement to meet and confer with the union before reducing officers' hours, the lawsuit argues.

In a new filing Friday, Sgts. Rich Lawhead and Travis Walker, the union president and vice president, argue that the reduced hours work out to the equivalent of removing 34 officers from the streets, which would increase demands on the officers remaining on duty. That will make it harder for officers to give each other essential backup support, the sergeants wrote.

"This is a serious risk to the citizens of this city and to the officers," Lawhead said in a brief interview Friday.

In a third affidavit, Sgt. Steve Filson, a union board member, cited a time when he was supervising officers handling two homicides when a third shooting occurred. He had no more officers to send in a timely manner, Filson wrote.

In statement written in response, Police Chief Mike Billdt noted that the union could have helped the city ease its budget woes by voting for a 10 percent reduction in pay or benefits.

And that's not all in San Bernardino! City Hall closed its doors for Friday, because of budget issues.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League lost a battle at the federal court of appeals after it overturned a ruling opposing financial disclosure rules imposed by the federal consent decree involving the department.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

The unanimous ruling by a panel of judges from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals released Friday likely brings an end to a lengthy and contentious challenge by the Los Angeles Police Protective League and clears the way for the LAPD to impose the controversial policy.

Anthony Pacheco, president of the civilian board that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department, welcomed the court's decision and said he expected Police Chief William J. Bratton to move quickly to enact the plan.

Pacheco emphasized that the financial disclosure plan will fulfill one of the few remaining reforms called for in a sweeping consent decree imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice in the aftermath of a scandal in the late 1990s involving misconduct by anti-gang officers from the Rampart Division.

Under the terms of the plan, officers joining anti-gang and narcotics units that frequently seize cash or other contraband will be required to disclose to department officials a wide array of personal financial information every two years. The roughly 600 officers already assigned to the units will be granted a two-year grace period before having to complete the records.

Some bail bondsman allege there's some illegal coercion going on with inmates in Orange County's jails.

Blogged about at Injustice in Seattle was this videotaped beating of a teenaged girl in a holding cell by a King County Sheriff's Department deputy who is facing an assault charge. The videotape was released to the Seattle Press Intelligencer. The videotape is included in the link and shows the girl flicking off her shoes. Because one of them hits the deputy in the shin, he moves in the cell and grabs her, throws her against the call, on the ground and then punches her twice while another deputy is restraining her. He complains that his shin is contused from her shoe but most likely, that injury happened when while slamming her forward, he struck his shin against the metal toilet in the holding cell.

Maybe he beat up people in high school and the department either didn't know or heard about it and said, we got have him. King County Sheriff's Department is well-known for its serious issues including in its jails.

He plead not guilty to the charges while appearing in court.


Monday, March 2 at 4:00 p.m. in City Hall's fifth floor conference room: Human Resources Board meets on the first Monday each month. If you recall, the board members just found out that the city council amended an ordinance that apparently (but not quite) stripped them of their investigation powers in 2006, about one year after City Manager Brad Hudson came to the city. That issue is being researched by the chair of the board on what exactly transpired.

But it's sobering indeed. Could you imagine what would have happened to the CPRC's investigative powers if they hadn't been stated in the charter?

Tuesday, March 3, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall: City Council is holding only an evening session this week. The agenda is a bit sparse with a "receive and file" report serving as the "discussion" calendar and a list of items on the consent calendar which involve rather sizable expenditures of city money. Otherwise, business as usual.

Included in the closed session is this workman's compensation case involving a police department employee as well as contract negotiations with the city's bargaining units. What's going on there? Not a whole lot. The city's not at the point where it's apparently doing much negotiation right now. Several contracts expire on June 30. While the situation involving Riverside's police officers isn't as serious as it is in San Bernardino, Hemet and other cities in the Inland Empire and Southern California, it's important that the police officers get a new contract that they can live with and on and that efforts are taken to minimize freezes and prevent layoffs in the civilian and sworn divisions of the department.

Wednesday, March 4 at 3 p.m. on City Hall's seventh floor: The Governmental Affairs Committee meeting brings back the Mobile Home Park issue.

There has been no more news from this committee or any of its staff on whether or not there will actually be an ad hoc committee addressing the CPRC's investigative protocol which has already been diluted down enough to consist of some sort of quasi-get together meeting between city employees and community members to hash out differences in language, wording and other semantics. But seriously, it will be surprising if there will actually be any update on this situation at all by this committee which might just exercise the oft-used strategy of letting something hang or "die" in committee which allows them to keep the status quo of noninvestigation* in place while allowing the city council members especially those running for reelection this year to keep the fray away and out of their campaigns.

*The word "noninvestigation" is used here because it's unlikely that by the time any of the four officer-involved death investigations get to the CPRC, that there will actually be any investigations conducted by the CPRC since so much time in the past. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see efforts made at that point to actually discourage any investigations from being done. The purpose of doing this wasn't just to delay investigations but given that the difficulty of conducting independent investigations grows with the passage of time, to probably eliminate them.

Carlos Quinonez: 180 days

Robert Luis Sanchez: 170 days

Marlon Oliver Acevedo: 120 days

Russell Franklin Hyatt: 42 days


Russell Franklin Hyatt (InstantRiverside)

Speaking of city council standing committees, here's a list of all of them and their meeting schedules. Even when they are scheduled when few people can attend them, it's important to check them out if at all possible because the majority of city business that's still conducted from outside closed doors is done at the committee level. However, if you look at the meeting schedules for most of the committees in comparison with previous years, you will see that quite a few of them don't even meet very often anymore.

Wednesday, March 4 at 6:30 P.M. at Orange Terrace Community Center: The Community/Police Summit meeting for Neighborhood Policing Center West, an event sponsored under the five-year Strategic Plan.

The 100 worst bottlenecks in the United States Is the bane of your commuting existence here?

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