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, March 31, 2009

Election 2009: The beat goes on

The first month of Election 2009 has come to an end and a lot of drama played out on the campaign trail and inside the courthouse in downtown Riverside as the first lawsuit was filed of the election season by Ward Four Councilman Frank Schiavone against challenger, Paul Davis over whether or not Davis could include in his campaign statement whether or not he was a former law enforcement officer at both the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the Riverside Police Department.

The election's been a lot quieter in both Ward Two and Ward Six. The candidates in the latter ward exited the gate and had their first debate in the La Sierra area at a forum sponsored by Riverside for Responsible Representation. However, not much has been taking place in Ward Two's race between incumbent Andrew Melendrez and his two challengers Ruben Rasso and Ahmad R. Smith.

If you look at the endorsement lists for Melendrez and Schiavone, they aren't all that different. Chock full of developer money, although so far the developers haven't been contributing the heaps of money that they contributed to earlier elections, a sign that the recession has hit their pockets. But the contribution amounts of developers and other funding sources alike could multiply now that the campaigns have begun in earnest.

Both have also received funding from the Riverside Police Officers' Association with Melendrez receiving about $500 in December 2008 while Schiavone received five times that amount tuning in at $2500 for the entire year. It's not clear how much more funding Melendrez will see from the union's PAC given that retired Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy and former Ward Two candidate, Rasso has been endorsed by the union in the past and has entered the race this time around as well.

In Ward Four, Paul Davis also received funds from the RPOA but the PAC wound up endorsing Schiavone in what can only be described as a very eventful process. One anonymous source on Craigslist a while ago claimed it was a unanimous vote in favor of Schiavone which is somewhat odd considering that at least some of the RPOA board members who participated in the endorsement process were strong Davis supporters so if that were indeed the case that everyone voted for one candidate, was everyone present?

And if people voted for Davis in spite of his position on the CPRC, then that indicates some very strong reservations about the endorsed candidate which would be a first given the traditional practice of the RPOA of endorsing Schiavone when he runs for office including when he ran for county supervisor last year. Some of the alleged "no" votes for Schiavone have been surprising to say the least and if that's the case that they did support Davis instead of Schiavone, then rather than looking at the RPOA's decision not to endorse Davis as some kind of ominous development (as was done anonymously on Craigslist) perhaps the wrong candidate is being scrutinized here.

But it would have been surprising if Davis had been endorsed by the RPOA given his public support of the CPRC (which is considerably stronger than that expressed by each and every elected official on the dais) and in its history, the RPOA has only endorsed one candidate, Councilman Dom Betro in 2007, who professed support for the police commission. And apparently, there was some vigorous discussion during the process about the CPRC which is hardly surprising as it's the key issue separating the candidates. Yes, Schiavone has said publicly that he supports the CPRC and respects the will of the voters in passing Measure II to protect it from people like him in 2004. But then again, if you believe that, there's some beach front property that's up for sale in Idaho.

Rumors have surfaced that the Riverside Police Administrators' Association might be shifting a bit away from its declared position of neutrality on the election which if true would be a very interesting development indeed. You have to remember that two of its members including its former president, Lt. Darryl Hurt have sued the city alleging political retaliation stemming from the last election. They alleged threats were made against them and another lieutenant (one who usually was seen with them but then kind of disappeared) that if they associated with those two troublemakers as Hurt and Lt. Tim Bacon were called, or didn't support Ward Seven Councilman Steve Adams, then they wouldn't get promoted.

The focus of these allegations were Schiavone and Adams and at the time, Schiavone was allegedly sharing a home with Police Chief Russ Leach. Leach has since moved out of Schiavone's residence and publicly said at the East Neighborhood Policing Center that it wasn't an issue because Schiavone wasn't his boss. But it's clear that there could be a serious problem for the tax money of city residents if this lawsuit should be tried in front of a jury especially if the lieutenant who was allegedly warned away from Bacon and Hurt decides or is more likely, subpoenaed to testify.

But then it's more likely that NASA will discover life on what used to be Pluto than that this lawsuit will ever go to trial.

After all this turmoil, you can't blame the RPAA if it decided to sit the current municipal election out. It's a bit awkward to endorse a candidate even an incumbent who is the focus of a lawsuit of two of the association's members especially considering the membership's not large. And has the association's prior leadership witnessed what happens when the decision is made not to endorse an incumbent running for reelection? Then there's something to be said about opting out of the process entirely and not playing favorites over two individuals, one of whom will eventually wind up on the dais.

In other city bargaining unit news, the city's chapter of the SEIU reported that Schiavone lobbied hard for its endorsement but although the SEIU sponsored forums, no public announcement yet made of its endorsement in the council races. The Riverside Fire Fighters' Association hasn't yet announced its picks either though traditionally this unit has supported incumbents.

Election 2009 is still young. Still much more to come.

I had an interesting conversation with an individual who read the posting on the appointment of former Riverside Police Department Capt. Pete Curzon to a chief's position in a small town in Oregon. The appointment puzzled me because there's been different versions of events behind Curzon's retirement from the police department which happened in March 2005.

Meaning that it wasn't necessary the glowing version presented by the department to the investigator sent up to the police department to do a background on Astoria's newest prospective hire. But then the investigator had some pretty strong positive words to say about how Curzon lived up to what was in his resume and had very strong ethics. So what's the truth? It's not for the public to know it because state laws shield us from learning what we might be told about police officers including those in the highest levels of management may not be the truth at all.

This person told me that the current city manager up in Astoria, John Benoit also had a Riverside Police Department connection as an aviation pilot while employed by the department. This person said he knew both men and that at one point, Curzon had supervised Benoit.

In fact, you can read more about Benoit's involvement as a police department officer and pilot here as he was a witness to the shooting of Summer Marie Lane by a police officer in late 2004. The person I talked to said they didn't know how in hell Benoit could be working as a city manager only because he lacked administrative experience which most people in that position would bring to them on the job. But when he read about it, he thought that Benoit must have held the job open until he could give it to Curzon. Whether or not that's the case is unknown but the events in the article seem a little bit too convenient. He just said he read it and shook his head.

But it's quite probable that the Benoit in Oregon is someone else, given that he spent years there as a community director before being a city manager so the similar name between him and a former police department pilot might just be one of those eerie coincidences that life is filled with.

The Riverside County District Attorney's office still has yet to submit its budget which was supposed to undergo cuts similar to those faced by the rest of the county's departments. No one seems to be very shocked by this update to this department's refusal to make any of the sacrifices that the other county departments have had to undergo including those involved in public safety.

County departments were told they had to cut 10% of their budgets and early retirement packages were offered to eligible employees. But rather than trim the District Attorney's office budget by 10% or even at all, its department head, Rod Pacheco has actually increased his budget.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Pacheco failed to file his budget for fiscal 2010 on time with other departments last month. He submitted it Friday after Supervisor Jeff Stone publicly requested he do so.

In it, Pacheco asks for about $72.4 million in county money, about $5.2 million more than the county budget allocated to his department this fiscal year.

He writes in a letter included with the budget that supervisors should not insist on the 10 percent budget cut that County Executive Officer Bill Luna has ordered. A $60.5 million budget would jeopardize his office's operations, he said.

"You would strike a severe blow to public safety by requiring substantial layoffs in the district attorney's office," he writes. "Inappropriate funding in public safety will undermine the strides we have made and the progress we have achieved."

Actually, there's a way to remedy this situation. If this office won't take a single cut in its budget, then the county can just increase the percentile cuts given to the other county departments including the Sheriff's Department and Fire Department. What kind of "blow" to public safety will result from having to do this to accommodate Pacheco's unwillingness to compromise?

Gottschalks says bye bye as the company liquidates its stores including one at the Riverside Plaza.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Gottschalks' pending departure will leave Inland mall operators scrambling for replacements in an economy that has already claimed chains such as Mervyns, Circuit City and Linens 'n Things.

Carol Scott, general manager of Riverside Plaza, said the center had already received interest from other retailers for the Gottschalks space before Tuesday's announcement. Because the four-story space, including the empty basement, is around 160,000 square feet - among the largest in the Gotttschalks chain - it's more likely that multiple businesses will take its place.

"We have no doubts that we can refill it, but it will probably be a matter of making arrangements with a few smaller tenants," Scott said of the building, which opened as a Harris' store in 1957. Harold "Hap" Harris, the 76-year-old grandson of Harris Co. co-founder Philip Harris, said by phone Tuesday he was saddened but not surprised by the demise of Gottschalks, which had started looking for a buyer about two years ago amid dropping sales.

"It's been coming for quite a while," said Harris, a Redlands native who now resides in Santa Clara. "You would have liked to see them survive, but that's just business."

Riverside County's new radio system faces more delays.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Completion of a $148 million radio system for first responders in Riverside County will be delayed a year, a project official told county supervisors Tuesday.

The county and its contractor, Motorola Inc., planned to complete the public safety radio system by the end of 2010.

But project officials now say they need until October 2011 to finish it and until October 2012 to make added improvements.

The Public Safety Enterprise Communication Project aims to improve radio coverage for police officers, sheriff's deputies, firefighters and other responders, who have long struggled with communication dead spots in the county's 7,400 square miles.

Delays in environmental reviews for some of the project's roughly 50 tower sites have slowed the project, its team says in county documents.

Design changes to enhance coverage will require months of additional work.

County Executive Officer Bill Luna said the delay was expected, and the work remains on track.

"We have had to make a midcourse correction on time. We anticipated that when we started this project," he said Tuesday. "We expect at the end of this, we will have a system within budget cost that will have greater coverage than what we projected."

Capt. Louis Featherolf of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department is now chief of a police department up in Salinas.

Banning lays off six employees to try to balance its annual fiscal budget to the tune of about half a million dollars.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The city has taken other steps to fill the budget deficit. On March 10, the City Council gave staff permission to make reductions in non-payroll expenditures. A month earlier, the council agreed to offer early-retirement incentives to eligible employees.

Jim Earhart, director of the city's electric department, has accepted the early-retirement package.

Earhart, 52, said that he has a month to change his mind and that he's "very, very much on the fence. I don't want to leave."

A San Bernardino Police Department sergeant is back to work after seven months out on unpaid administrative leave.

(excerpt, San Bernardino Sun)

Sgt. Brad Lawrence was placed on leave Aug. 7, about a month after the first of two fellow officers filed separate complaints alleging that Lawrence was keeping suspects in jail "on ice," which means holding them without probable cause.

Lawrence, who had headed a narcotics team since 2007, will now be a patrol officer.

Police Chief Michael Billdt said he could not confirm the closure of the interdepartmental investigation or talk about specifics because state law prohibits him from discussing personnel matters.

"It's a personnel issue, but he is back to work," Billdt said Wednesday.

Lawrence could not be reached for comment.

In the meantime, the city of San Bernardino is struggling to save its community services.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The Operation Phoenix eastern headquarters, a former San Gorgonio High School building at the edge of Speicher Park, was to be the newest expansion of the city's anti-crime program.

Hawkins said he's negotiating with another local agency to form a partnership to keep the Nicholson Community Center on the city's West Side open as well.

"We're not giving up," he said. "Our charge is to find community partners to maintain the services that the community so desperately needs."

City officials are struggling to plug a $9 million shortfall in the $150 million general fund by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Budget reductions have brought pay cuts for city employees, layoffs and decreased services.
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Despite the promised reprieve for the Norton center, Recreation Supervisor Ann Kassel-Wilkes said she's not sure what the future holds.

"Today's a wait-and-see day, for sure," she said.

A federal judge nixed tossing out a conviction against former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.

A lot of Los Angeles Police Department officers are sitting at desks because of the department's hiring freeze in the civilian division which led dozens of unfilled positions.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

More than 115 of those officers are able-bodied and fit to serve but have been pulled off the streets either full time or part time to fill jobs left vacant because of severe shortages among the civilian ranks. The tasks, such as crime statistical analysis and grant writing, while mundane, are important to keep the department functioning, Papa and other officials said. The remaining officers are temporarily or permanently sidelined because of injuries or other disabilities.

Although the total is not as large as LAPD officials had previously anticipated, it is roughly equivalent to removing one or two patrol cars from each of the department's 21 stations -- a significant handicap for a police force that is far smaller per capita than those in other major American cities.

The audit underscores how widespread the civilian shortage has become in the LAPD, which, like other city agencies, is chafing under the civilian hiring freeze Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa approved late last year in the face of an estimated $500-million budget shortfall.

Currently, 17% of all civilian jobs in the department -- about 640 positions -- are vacant. The department has had some success getting exemptions from the city to fill civilian positions that require special skills, such as 911 dispatchers, DNA analysts and guards for the city jail. The department is still trying to get approval to fill at least some of the 42 vacancies in its garages, where a shortage of mechanics, electricians and the like has caused backlogs in repairing cars.

Capt. Bob Green, who runs the department's 77th Street area station in South L.A., said he had taken four officers off patrol assignments to perform such duties as crunching statistics for crime analysis and writing reports.

"Any time I pull a police officer out of the field it makes an impact," he said. "I'd prefer they be out on the streets doing police work, but some of these positions have to be filled."

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