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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Marriage and Micromanagement: The Canary and the Mine

In La Sierra, a public forum was held involving the three candidates for the Ward Six City Council election in Riverside. Councilwoman Nancy Hart and competitors, Ann Alfaro and Bill Scherer. Hart is heavily favored to win a third term as the representative but the two challengers against her expressed concern about some of the actions at City Hall.

The forum was sponsored by Riverside for Responsible Representation. It addresses many concerns with the Alvord Unified School District. You can check out its guest book here and sign it as well.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Ann Alfaro, a retired pharmacy clerk, and Bill Scherer, an amusement park rides mechanic and freelance sportswriter, are trying to unseat incumbent Councilwoman Nancy Hart, who is seeking a third term.

They answered questions from an audience of 50 or more residents gathered in a meeting room at La Sierra Library. A neighborhood group, Residents for Responsible Representation, organized the forum.

Ward 6 includes Arlanza south of Arlington Avenue, eastern and southernmost La Sierra, part of Arlington and the area around and including the Galleria at Tyler.

Scherer made clear that he believes government is often the problem, not the solution, particularly when it comes to business.

"If we give the power to the people and get the government off their backs, they will grow and prosper," he said.

Alfaro said she wants to work with residents to prevent multi-story projects from being built, too many people living in one house and noise and traffic from growing worse.

Hart said she's been working hard to improve the ward's quality of life, including making sure a variety of housing types are built there and that the city takes care of homeless people.

On eminent domain, Alfaro and Scherer said they oppose its use for redevelopment. Hart didn't mention that she has voted to approve the use of eminent domain for redevelopment several times. She said she supports it for public projects, such as roads and bridges.

In case you haven't heard, there are three city council elections taking place in Riverside, in its even-numbered wards. So if you live in these wards, be sure to vote or if you're not registered to vote, go out and do it so you too can participate in the city council elections which will take place through mail-in ballot on June 2 with ballots being mailed out to voters in early May.

There's going to be a new series in this blog about literature which doesn't exist but that you really need to have access to anyway to understand the underpinnings of Riverside's city government and its various agencies.

So we'll start off the series with the following tome which hasn't been written yet (at least not in printed form) but is very necessary to "clarify" what's going on in this city pertaining to various situations. "Clarify" being the new catch word used by various players at the 'Hall to tell city residents who express concern about situations in the city that they're merely confused. Before you get too attached to that trendy word, it will probably be replaced by another one next week.

Micromanagement and You

(part of an ongoing series)

There really needs to be a primer on this issue in the city of Riverside when addressing the crisis of later (rather than late, as it's all relative) involving the Community Police Review Commission. This was figured out in the process of designing a Web site that deals with the complaint process including the role that the commission plays in that process. It's really impossible to do this without including rather comprehensive historic and present day information on the micromanagement of the CPRC, the players involved in that micromanagement and how it impacts the city residents including the voters the majority of which voted to pass Measure II.

That ballot initiative which placed the commission, its powers and responsibilities in the city's charter was a strong statement made by the voters in the city of not only how they saw the commission but that they also were aware of the city council's role in undermining it. This was done by the majority of voters in every precinct in every ward precisely to prevent the sort of minority rule against it which is taking place on various floors of City Hall today. But as much as members of the city council assert that they respected the will of the voters on this matter, none of them really has put these words to practice in the time since.

There's a lot of concern from City Hall about how city residents need "clarification" about what they really want from the CPRC from those involved in said micromanagement including the Governmental Affairs Committee which put together an ad hoc committee to assist allegedly misinformed city residents about these "clarifications" involving the role of the commission in officer-involved death investigations. So in light of the City Hall's concern about the need for "clarifications" and "misunderstandings" about the role of the CPRC in different areas, there will be further information on the deeply rooted efforts of City Hall to undermine it particularly during the past several years. And here's a promise, the words "clarify" and "clarification" won't be included in the text. We'll leave those words with the city to continue to use to insult the intelligence of the populace which can see right through what's been going on.

But the CPRC doesn't exist inside a vacuum although it's treated in a sense by the city as if it were the case. It is actually akin to the canary which workers used to take into mines to detect whether or not there were poisonous gases including methane which could harm or kill them. The health of the canary is thus related to the health of the mine and so it is here. In the case of the CPRC as the canary, it's the Riverside Police Department which alas, serves as the mine. Now, that's not a blanket criticism of the Riverside Police Department lest someone jump to conclusions too quickly and label me a "cop hater" or "anti-cop" or some of the disgusting material that showed up online at Craigslist the other night because my postings here have been perceived by some as being too critical of Ward Four City Councilman Frank Schiavone who is running for reelection.

I'm not sure what being critical of some of the campaigning that's been done in this election has to do with "cop hating" but there you go because in this case, I don't look at Schiavone and see him as being especially "pro-cop". After some of the short-sighted decisions made by the city council and their direct employees in the past couple years, it's hard to view the city council as being any more "pro-cop" as they are supposedly "pro-CPRC". And there are some examples which explain why this appears to be the case.

In 2006, for example, the Riverside Police Officers' Association's negotiating team was locked out of bargaining talks for two months because of a conflict that took place when the union discovered that the city manager was divulging negotiating details to two other bargaining units in order to get them to sign contracts which these two unions did (although one of them was truly low balled). This violated bargaining practices and led to several bargaining units protesting through their members at several city council meetings. This was going on at the same time that City Manager Brad Hudson was flubbing up the city council's directive it issued him in March 2006 to sign a contract with a police consultant to perform quarterly audits of the police department's progression through its Strategic Plan. What should have taken a couple of months to accomplish instead took eight, with city council members going about town to meetings claiming the contract was signed when the two sides hadn't even been negotiating for two months. But what can you expect when you hire an expert on economic development rather than city management?

Then there were city council members past and present who while mayor pro tem at city council meetings used police officers assigned as security to serve as bouncers to evict people they didn't like or who spoke too long including elderly women. Including a poor lady of at least 80-years-old who exceeded the three-minute rule when talking about a pipe owned by the city which broke and flooded her own home. If police officers were used as bouncers in that fashion, that's an abuse of the authority but as bad as that is, let's hope that those embarrassing examples were the extent of the use of police officers in that manner. But you just never know, do you?

As a police critic, I find all this rhetoric about supporting police officers from the city government a bit strange because it just doesn't seem to be there except as rhetoric if you watch the actions that have taken place in the past several years including those listed above. But the least respectful thing that you could ever do to a police officer in my modest opinion is to treat him or her as a bouncer at meetings or in other ways. Yet some people might disagree with that contention.

I don't hate police officers as a class and not even ones in particular although I've met some who certainly annoy me from time to time. In addition, I've never been fond of bad police. But I've met good police officers in this city as well. Many who appear to be very professional and try to do the right thing in a city which makes it quite difficult because it often seems that some folks at City Hall are trying to undo the tremendous amount of work that went into the reform process that took place involving the department from 2001-06. Which is easy for most of them to do because some of them weren't actually working for the city when it took place so they make decisions without enough of a historical context to understand that they're bad decisions and why that's the case.

And when it comes to city leadership and how it directs the city management and other direct employees who direct (or micromanage) their direct employees and so on, I think the police department probably deserves better than it receives in this dynamic which has taken root in our city beginning at City Hall. There's some patterns of behavior that repeat themselves and then there's some that seem new and then run off and take on lives of their own. Such is the current case with the latest round of micromanagement at City Hall.

City Hall's role in micromanaging the CPRC has been discussed in great depth here. Its role in micromanaging the police department which is the agency that the CPRC oversees (in several keys areas) has been touched on and somewhat discussed but truly deserves a much more thorough vetting. For all the upset over city residents who want oversight over the police department by the CPRC's critics, there's not nearly as much upset created when the issue of micromanagement (which is a lot different from oversight) of the police department by various factions of the city arises. Then, you can hear a pin drop. And let's face it, more than a few pins have dropped.

But there have been a couple of noteworthy exceptions.

The most clearest example of the micromanagement of the police department by City Hall which took place in the very public arena of a city council meeting occurred in March 2007 when controversy arose through attempts to change two deputy chief positions and one assistant chief position to being classified as "at will" positions. Meaning that they weren't just "at will" in terms of the rank (which is customary for upper management positions in some law enforcement agencies), but that the people who filled these positions could be fired, period. Only it wasn't clear from all the rhetoric, by who. Concern arose in the leadership of two police associations and throughout their ranks that anyone filling these "at will" positions would be "yes men" of factions outside the police department including the city manager's office. But how many "yes men" are there inside that department and if so, how have they become "yes men" and when?

So what does the police department look like from the outside? Because it's almost impossible for the public to know what it looks like from the inside, given the insulation and isolation found inside most law enforcement agencies.

As one police officer told me once, "isolation is our specialty", and this creates an image that's almost like a double-sided mirror where both sides can see themselves but not each other.

But who's in charge?

For Riverside, that's a difficult question to answer. Yes, the city has a police chief, which it's had in place for nearly nine years who's had to lead the agency through some rocky periods of tremendous change. But in recent years, it's seems like the rosters of chiefs has grown. If so, why would that be?

Which is an odd question to ask because police departments in general, have one leader at the helm. You have had William Bratton in Boston, New York City and Los Angeles heading departments there. You've had Commissioner Raymond Kelly in New York City and Heather Fong in San Francisco. Tom Potter in Portland. And Jody Weis in Chicago. Now, people have a lot of opinions about these and other well-known police chiefs including whether they were good or bad (and it's one or the other sometimes among different factions) and in some cases, somewhere in the range between. But for better or worse, the chiefs, commissioners or superintendents or whatever they are called, are seen as visible leaders of their respective police agencies.

But in Riverside, the picture is much more puzzling.

It seems that especially lately that's a more difficult question to answer. This week, it's been Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa who's been assigned to fill Chief Russ Leach's position on an ad hoc committee created by Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis addressing the approved motion by the Governmental Affairs Committee to create a highly stacked committee to "clarify" the language associated with the CPRC's investigations into officer-involved deaths. The job of this committee is merely to meet a couple of times and agree to ratify what's been called the Hudson protocol which will then be taken back to the extremely passive city council for a vote. If that happens, don't expect much discussion from the city council on this issue. Ironic that this issue was left to accomplish by a city employee who was once the subject of a 911 call in another city which led to a police response.

The police department seems as if it's more governed by managers over pieces of it which have been parceled out rather than by a leader who pulls it all together. But who knows? Maybe that's just how it looks on the outside. Hopefully, what's inside is a brighter picture. It's certainly not a very transparent one.

Take the stipulated judgment which was instituted by former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer for example. During those years, the department was far more transparent in terms of providing information under public records acts about its accomplishments and its challenges under the mandated reform program that it is now, under the Police Chief of Information, Gregory Priamos who is the gate keeper for any information that city residents receive about an agency that is paid for by tax dollars. And information is being withheld now that was public only several years ago. By Priamos and by Police Chief of Management Brad Hudson.

Top secret information worthy of CIA clearance being protected from the all-too-nosy public here?

Well no, actually it was simply documentation of the police department's officer to supervisor ratios and the percentage of watch commanders who are sergeants during the daily work shifts. This information is very important to have available to the public because it's a means for the public to have factual documentation to utilize to determine which of the variety of statistics tossed out there by the police department's management and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis regarding these statistics is the truth, or at least closest to the truth. What Priamos will do instead is to mail you a document that he claims contains the statistics in question (if not the documentation that proves it's not just a number), only when you read it, you find out that the information you requested isn't even there.

It makes you wonder whether Chief of Information Priamos even reads the documents that he cites as appropriate responses in accordance to state law to document requests or if he's just being coy and engaging in passive aggressive behavior by providing documents that don't provide the information requested.

There's much more of this story to be told and hopefully it will be. Hopefully, it will be a better picture than it appears to be now, without the problems of intense micromanagement. But that's not the case today.

But I think that if you look long and hard at the micromanagement of the police department and the oversight mechanism entrusted by the public, you will find that the two entities really might not be that much different from each other at all.

So how does one address micromanagement of public agencies whether they involve oversight or not, there are different strategies that can be utilized to determine the extent of the symptoms of micromanagement and then treat the disorder itself. A topic of future postings.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors picks its city clerk.

San Bernardino is setting meetings for the development of its downtown.

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