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 10, 2009

The Odd Couple: Internal Affairs and the NPC North

Felix Ungar: In other words, you're throwin' me out.

Oscar Madison: Not in other words. Those are the perfect ones!

---Odd Couple

Reports came in that an inmate escaped from a work crew on Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside. The article didn't state when he first split but stated that a fire captain noticed that he was absent at about 2:50 pm. Did someone do a head count and notice one missing or did someone report it?

Would that inmate be part of about a dozen of them with vests on who were watched by only one California Fire Department employee while working on Mt. Rubidoux? Several other fire fighter employees were seen standing near where a fire truck and two work vans were parked in the lot next to Carlson dog park.

While hiking Mt. Rubidoux at around that time, I encountered about a dozen of them with colored vests and I didn't know where they were from but they were supervised by a single fire department employee, who had his back turned to them a lot of the time from about 20 feet away while they were sitting near some trees adjacent to the roadway about two-thirds up the gradually sloping route up the mountain. I remember thinking that they couldn't be state prison inmates because of the lack of security, but assumed they were under the custody of the Riverside County work detail program for people who work off their jail sentences because those inmates usually are not overseen as closely as prison inmates would be. But they were from the men's prison facility in Norco.

I remember once working a checkpoint in a road race near Pigeon Pass Road and a female Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy dropped off a work crew of about a dozen men where I was standing by myself except for runners passing by during the marathon and half-marathon races. She left but not before telling me to tell her when she returned if they misbehaved or did anything wrong. I thought that was odd as well but the men cleaned up debris from the street which is what they were ordered to do and there were no problems.

Because having spent several years living and attending school near a state prison and amid a population of about nine prisons (and that number has grown since), I thought it was odd to see any type of work crew without a corrections officer. It's difficult to explain what it's like to live in a prison town, which was born after one of its earlier generations power players made a pivotal choice. After helping some powerful politicians win the battle to make their city the state's capitol, they gave the movers and shakers of this smaller town a choice. Did they want a prison or a university as their reward? They of course chose the prison because prisons provide cheap labor. And cheap labor can be used to dig roads, pave streets and build towns from the ground up or make them bigger.

People in these towns like the inmates live their lives not just by the clock but by the prison horn, which blares on a normal day about four times, during lights on, meals, work stoppage and lights out. Then there are the less than ordinary days when it blares because an inmate has escaped or in some cases wandered out of the prison. Sometimes more inmate than one left in the case of power outages which sharply reduced the security of the electric fences and gates for even maximum security facilities. That happened once during an outage that hit the women's prison and according to one student's mother who worked as a guard, they just wandered out of an open gate.

Problems plaguing a newly built medium security prison just outside the town's limits led to numerous escapes. It took awhile for the superintendent of the prison and other employees to figure out how their inmates were escaping. Until they did, the horn blared at least once a week, outside its regimented schedule. The prison administration was so embarrassed, it tried to downplay these escapes even as they continued.

Most of the inmates headed for some reason into the mountains, never mind that at night the temperatures might reach below freezing. They didn't seek civilization out, they tried to run away from it but invariably they wound up being rounded up suffering from hypothermia trying to trek through the unforgiving mountain ranges which surround the valleys which house the prisons. Some of them were ready to go back to prison.

That happened once to serial killer Ted Bundy when he fled his jail for the first (but unfortunately not the last time) and wandered around for nearly two days around Aspen until he was finally caught in the freezing cold while trying to hot wire his vehicle of choice, a Volkswagen Bug.

The second time he escaped, he had a longer head start and picked a warmer climate as his destination. His attempts to disappear into his favorite haunts, which were large universities was undermined when he continued his killing spree in the town he hid in, after borrowing the identity of a college track star.

I once warned a friend of mine to not spend the weekend at her family cabin with her dog because an inmate had escaped on one such cold day which led to a colder night and I had a bad feeling even though her cabin was a small dot in a formidably large mountain range. She heeded me, stayed home and the inmate was eventually surrounded and apprehended about 200 yards away from her cabin.

In prison, these things like freezing weather and rugged mountains might be forgotten and the mind might lose track of the real world. And occasionally one would head towards a populated area.

One prison inmate who had been incarcerated for at least 10 years had wandered into town in uniform and was arrested while asking someone for the time on the street. Another was treed by a dog in someone's yard. And the students in my dormitory spent one night barricading ourselves in our rooms while an escaped convict wandered the halls of the building in bare feet after coming inside the building through an unlocked door. That was after probably wandering from the prison which was several miles away through snow drifts left by a recent storm.

The police showed up after about 40 minutes and apprehended him. I later found out that the bad feeling I had to leave the bathroom before I had finished brushing my teeth might have prevented me from encountering him in there.

Of course, the rules in prison towns are kind of strange. No black lunchboxes allowed on the city's main streets because only prison crews were allowed to carry them. No prison uniforms including employee uniforms allowed to be donated or sold to or by thrift stores for obvious reasons.

So my experiences led me to assume that the inmates on Rubidoux couldn't be prison inmates because surely, they would be better supervised if they were.

Some of them were a bit crude in behavior. After a group of women jogged by and I walked behind those women, one guy said something and then the others laughed from where they were sitting. But being a woman means being subjected to the crude behavior and most women stick close to Rubidoux because numerous women have been attacked while running or walking on the bike trail. The fire captain then led them as they walked single file down a dirt trail that leads back to Mission Inn Avenue, stopping occasionally. He did keep a closer eye on them while they went down that trail. And there were a bunch of other work crews repaving portions of Mt. Rubidoux' roads with even Park, Recreation and Community Services Director Ralph Nunez making an appearance.

The inmate who escaped was to be paroled in December 2010 after serving a sentence for auto theft and burglary was last seen by someone running in the direction of the bus terminal. Speaking of which, comes the next subject.

As you may know, the North Neighborhood Policing Center has now set up shop in the downtown area, sharing a building with the Greyhound Bus Lines. It also shares space with the police department's Internal Affairs Division which also resides in that cramped space.

After the fire department moved its administration quarters out of the terminal building, the police department moved its Internal Affairs Division out of rented office space on Central Avenue near the 91 Freeway and into the fire department's old digs. That was in December 2008

According to the General Services Division, its employees received a scant two weeks notice that the Internal Affairs Division would be vacating its old office when its lease expired last Dec. 31 and consequently, the space in the bus terminal which was to house that division was ill equipped to accommodate it. There were problems with the exterior of the building which is shabby due to the city's apparent neglect of a building it owns (and leases space out to the Greyhound Bus Lines, which is currently set to vacate the premises and possibly the city limits this summer)has led to a shabby appearance and the building lacked any signage indicating that the police department even had a division occupying that space.

Instead, there was one locked sliding glass door which showed an empty lobby with a counter, some complaint brochures and a desk sign reading "Internal Affairs" which was highly visible if you had 20/20 vision or better. This was in late January, over a month after the Internal Affairs Division moved into this space as its employees had packed up and moved over in approximately mid-December. If the city was moving the Internal Affairs Division because as some say, it suddenly discovered that it was paying a big chunk of money on its lease, then one would think that its management would be organized enough to provide more than two weeks notice to those assigned the responsibility of preparing the facility for the arrival of this new tenant. At least, one would think but clearly that didn't happen.

As stated, no signs were present, not even temporary ones. Explanations ranged from City Manager Brad Hudson apparently believing that the facility was "horrible" for signage to some statement about the Internal Affairs being a "private" division, apparently meaning that the public wasn't even supposed to know it was there, despite some sort of effort to make it appear to be a public facility by putting complaint forms in the lobby, right in front of the sliding glass door.

Not only did people not know that that there was a police division in that building but apparently there were some confused individuals who believed that this was the Greyhound Bus Station.

The day after meetings took place with some city council members, the renovation of the new facility space and the building which housed it was bumped to a much higher priority and employees from General Services appeared at the facility and explained the attempts to get signage (which did happen within two weeks except for replacing the cement fire station sign in the north parking lot) and the water blasting which was schedule to give the older building a more spiffy appearance. Also interior renovation was to be done, as there had been issues with equipment and wiring as well. That was to be repaired and problems resolved according to the General Services Division.

However, one of the most critical issues that arose from moving the Internal Affairs Division to the bus terminal was the fact that it was to be sharing space and rather close and cramped space at that with a field operations division. This created the concern about whether the Internal Affairs Division would be sufficiently separated from uniformed police officers as it had been when it was transferred out of the also-cramped Orange Street Station after the city entered into its five-year court-mandated stipulated judgment with the office of former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer. In fact, Lockyer was a strong advocate of creating geographic separation of this division from the other divisions of the police department and Chief Russ Leach said publicly on different occasions that he agreed with this assertion.

Concerns were raised about how investigators in that division would bring in complainants or witnesses who were part of their complaint and internal investigations into the facility for interviews without them being seen by or coming into close proximity to officers including uniformed officers working outside the Internal Affairs Division. But the argument against this was that people had problems locating the division at its prior location inside a corporate building near the Riverside Plaza and that it would be easier to find it at the bus terminal building. Also, that many interviews took place at locations away from the division's headquarters anyway. If that's the case, that's truly fortunate because as it stands, the division is practically sitting on top of the NPC division, despite the adequate physical separation that was assured by a city council member and pledged by members of the police department's management.

Concerns were raised about whether or not the division was properly equipped and whether or not this equipment was working properly so that the division could perform its duties. As stated in previous postings, the division was forced to relocate amid a tremendous investigation backlog stemming from the influx of internal investigations, which naturally impacted complaint investigations.

The backlog was enough of an issue (as it has been for years) to necessitate the transfer of a lieutenant from the Office of the Chief to the Internal Affairs Division last autumn for a period of time to address it. But it's been an ongoing issue going back to at least 2002 and probably even before a CPRC existed. After all, the very first complaint processed by the CPRC involved a complaint that it took 150 days for an investigator to even begin an investigation which involved among other things, investigating himself for allegations of misconduct. Oh, the days. But Lockyer swore on several occasions that those days of self-investigation were truly done. But according to the CPRC's annual reports, it took a couple years after Lockyer made these statements for them to actually approach reality. But even after it did, the lengthy time it took to investigate complaints still remained a serious issue. One that both city residents who filed complaints and police officers complained about.

Statistical figures for the average time it takes for both the CPRC and the police department to process complaints are available both monthly and annually through written reports also available online. The figures for the police department are calculated using the date the complaint is initially filed until the date it reaches the CPRC.

Monthly Report Index

Annual Report Index

If you access these reports and read them, you'll notice that the average times that it takes complaints (of which there are two major categories) from the time they are assigned to departmental investigators until the time they reach the CPRC is significantly longer on average for the most part than the length of time for investigation suggested in the guidelines below.

And what are those guidelines and where are they found?

If you access any of the annual reports (i.e. the most recent, 2006), you'll find if you scroll down the pdf document to the index, a policy submitted by the police department titled, #4.12. This is the police department's complaint policy, which was thoroughly revised after it entered into its stipulated judgment in 2001. Contained in it, are written guidelines for how long it should take for complaints to be investigated from the date assigned, under Section D: 5,6.

The nuts and bolts of these guidelines as stated in this provision of the policy are the following:

For Category One (which is the more serious allegations including excessive force and criminal conduct), the guidelines recommend 60 days.

For Category Two (which are the less serious including improper procedure and discourtesy), the guidelines recommend 30 days.

If more time is required, authorization must be sought from a Personnel Services/Internal Affairs Commander. The completed investigations are then forwarded to the CPRC in addition to the other appropriate channels within the police department's own structural hierarchy.

While the Internal Affairs Division was trying to adjust to the challenges of its new location and the city was grappling with figuring out how to put up signage, the next police division relocated from Lincoln Field Operations Station (which housed both the North and East NPCs) to its current location in cozy quarters with the Internal Affairs Division.

In the lobby now, parked alongside the counter with the complaint forms and the "Internal Affairs" sign are two Segways used by the field division's officers. Which kind of symbolizes the closeness of a field operation division with the division that according to Lockyer and Leach, needed to be separate. But what's puzzling about this newest NPC headquarters or station is its locked doors. Why would anyone open up a new neighborhood policing center and then keep its doors locked?

Yes, there's a doorbell. One assumes it must work but you would think that in a police station that is built on the community policing philosophy and serves the city's residents, the doors would be unlocked at least if not open.

Occupying forces lock doors. And if a police department puts a facility that includes the word "neighborhood" in its title and then locks the door, the message it's sending is that the police force in that area is more along the lines of an occupying force. If you've been to the nicely built and kept (and recently renovated) Magnolia Police Center and Lincoln Field Operations Station, their doors are unlocked and there are people at the counter there to assist visitors and answer questions. These elements of police stations help make them user-friendly and part of the area which is served and protected. What would have been nice is if the city had held a small ceremony officially opening this new facility as it had done for its other field operation stations when they were first opened or opened after being renovated. On a much smaller scale due to the budget crunch, but it would have been nice or would be nice to see some event like that scheduled.

Nothing like that exists at the little station called the NPC North station. Which makes it wonder if it's just there so police squad cars can be parked around it or drive through it, to serve as the "visible deterrent" to a property labeled a crime magnet? Is it there to provide uniformed police officers to serve as "bodyguards" to the Internal Affairs Division's own employees which include police officers? And if this latter argument is the true one, what does that say about the Internal Affairs Division's ability to remain unbiased and objective in its investigations of uniformed officers if it feels that it needs their protection while it's housed at the terminal?

Is the building there locked up tight because the officers there are frightened of working so closed to the already defamed Greyhound Bus Lines station (which was labeled as attracting criminals whereas most of them spent time in the RTA outdoor section of the terminal property). If they are indeed locking the doors of that facility because they're scared to be there then why are they there?

No division should have been moved in the terminal without having a facility prepared to house it, whether it's the NPC station or the Internal Affairs Division and the city should had ample time to figure out the logistics of both moves (and the problems of moving these two divisions on top of each other) and be able to plan accordingly. Do they not believe that the civilian and sworn employees that staff these divisions are worth that consideration, let alone the members of the public that use these facilities?

More updates on the recall efforts against a Lake Elsinore city councilman.

One of Riverside's top companies, Fleetwood Enterprises files for bankruptcy.

Temecula seeks the return of its youth court program.

Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco still has enough prosecutors left in the office to designate some of them top in their respective award categories.

More controversy involving, this time from Portland involving the police department there.

Rate My Cop Web site includes this page on the Riverside Police Department. It's modeled after the RateMyProfessor sites used by millions of college and university students to rate instructors.

In a city in Michigan, the police department's internal affairs is under scrutiny.

The mayor of Fresno has announced the creation of a police auditor's office. Civilian oversight was something that many people in Fresno wanted over the city's police department for years but until now, there weren't enough elected officials who were responsive to their constituents to move forward. But the political climate mostly because of the election process has started to change.

Police Brutality: Deal with it, an article written by former Seattle Police Department Chief Norm Stamper addresses among other things, the videotaped incident involving the 15-year-old woman getting assaulted by a King County Sheriff's Department deputy inside a jail cell.

(Huffington Post)

So, how do we prevent this kind of behavior in the future?

Please don't say through (1) more thorough screening of law enforcement candidates, or (2) better training. They're both important, of course. Critical, in fact. But law enforcement, for the most part, doesn't pick bad apples. It makes them, and not through academy training.

Forty-three years ago I was an idealistic, vaguely liberal 21-year-old when the San Diego Police Department hired me. The last thing on my mind was taking to the streets to punish people. And lest there be any doubt about the department's policy, the police academy, even then, drove it home: excessive force was grounds for termination.

So, why did I abuse the very people I'd been hired to serve?

Not to get too psychological, I did it because the power of my position went straight to my head; because other cops I'd come to admire did it; and because I thought I could get away with it. Which I did--until a principled prosecutor slapped me upside the head and demanded to know whether the U.S. Constitution meant anything to me.

It comes down to this: real cops, those with a conscience, those who honor the law, must step up and take control of the cop culture.

The SEIU (Southern California Public Service Workers) 721 are holding
the SEIU 721 ENDORSEMENT TOWN HALL meeting for Riverside City Council Wards 2, 4, and 6

Saturday, March 14 at 1:00 p.m.

at the Riverside Union office, Board Room, 4336 Market Street, Riverside, CA 92501

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