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, April 03, 2009

Election 2009: Forums and follies

"For more nasty pics, accusations, disrespect, and hatred toward Riverside City Officials visit:"

----Craigslist commenter (but I don't do pics but I've seen mine posted on Craigslist a time or two)

"It's ridiculous to hold the city council accountable for" the actions of a "rogue developer."

---Councilman Frank Schiavone on the Chinatown issue and actions taken by developer Doug Jacobs to violate city ordinances and his own permit.

"We need to bring back diversity."

---Paul Davis, Ward Four candidate on the racial and ethnic diversity of City Hall.

The Stratton Center at Bordwell Park in the Eastside was the setting for a stirring public forum sponsored by the Group and Latino Network and involving the candidates from the three even numbered wards up for election this year. Each ward received an hour of time spent having the different candidates give opening statements, answer questions and then close out with some final comments. The event passed very smoothly even though during the intermissions, many people spoke to the candidates and each other before sitting back down.

The city's budget picture, eminent domain and the beleaguered Community Police Review Commission were the primary issues that came up during the question and answers section. All issues that have received a lot of attention in recent years with the CPRC reemerging again, as a campaign issue after a couple years of relative quiet since the passage of Measure II. Not totally quiet but compared to the past year, yes indeed.

The forum started out with Ward Two candidates, Ruben Rasso, Ahmad Smith and the incumbent, Andrew Melendrez.

On the contentious issue of eminent domain particularly the use of it for private development, Melendrez and Rasso supported its use in cases like the motels on University Avenue but didn't believe that it should be used to take away people's property. Smith said it should be used only for the good of the community.

Melendrez appeared more confident than he did at similar forums four years ago and talked about what the city's done. Rasso seemed quieter but appeared to be more enthusiastic about issues outside public safety than he had been during prior election cycles. Still, if he wants to make a strong a showing as he did in the first rounds of past elections, he has a lot of catching up to do.

Melendrez expressed his support for the CPRC in a roundabout way. According to his own campaign brochure, Melendrez has been endorsed by the Riverside Police Officers' Association, which has historically opposed the CPRC but in the past had endorsed former Councilman Dom Betro who supported the CPRC and had an allegedly very interesting endorsement process in picking its Ward Four candidate of choice which ultimately was Councilman Frank Schiavone. But apparently Paul Davis did have his supporters among those who fielded candidates in the association as well.

The most anticipated forum was that involving Ward Four candidates, Davis and Schiavone. People associated with the event had originally said that Schiavone wasn't planning to attend but that he showed up "bright and early" at the center. He appeared polished but made some rather questionable decisions regarding several key issues in his debating. Davis seemed passionate in just about everything he said in a way that Schiavone clearly was not. Watching Davis in a way is like walking the Schiavone of 2001, in terms of generating that kind of campaign energy which is focused on challenging the status quo. There's times when comparing and contrasting the two candidates is pretty ironic. But candidates are political leaders at the level of potential and what each winning candidate becomes is left up for time to decide through the courses of actions taken and decisions made by each individual.

Schiavone did answer several questions well in reiterating that the economy is a huge issue for city residents and one hopes that he's sincere in his pledge not to vote to support any project that developer, Doug Jacobs brings back to the city council regarding the Chinatown property after Jacobs violated a municipal ordinance and his own permit by using bulldozers and backhoes to dig up large masses of dirt, potentially endangering any potential artifacts.

But Schiavone stumbled on issues like the CPRC and at several points, looked like he knew that. He seemed to know there would be questions about it, but not the intensity of them.

It didn't help Schiavone that he based his entire assessment of the CPRC on a report produced by an ad-hoc committee that conducted its entire business through a process which was kept secret from the vast majority of this city's residents in meetings which took place behind closed doors. That's one part of that "report" that Schiavone cited from which he didn't mention, in fact the report doesn't mention that the tax paying residents of this city who fund a lot of what the city does weren't even allowed to attend these cabal-like meetings let alone allowed to offer input.

How can anyone address policy issues involving a commission which was set up to promote "openness" and "transparency" (not to mention accountability) in an environment and through a process which pretty much only doesn't include any of these things but spits on them and everything these words stand for in a democratic society? The answer is, you can't and the Governmental Affairs Committee and the direct employees it gives orders to had the option of creating a public meeting of its ad hoc committee and it chose not to and guess what? At the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting in February, there was no mention that these meetings would be conducted entirely in secret. But Davis mentioned it when he addressed the CPRC without being prompted and said he fully supported the commission's ability to do its job including its investigations of officer-involved deaths. It generated the only cheers of the entire event.

Then there's the mythology about investigators or "civilians" trampling on crime scenes and impeding criminal investigations.

Here's a document request to the police department and the city council, which would be a list of the number of CPRC investigators arrested, cited and/or charged for interfering with police investigations. If this is such an egregious problems, then surely the police department would have arrested the investigators who have been contracted by the CPRC time and time again. What, oh wait, there's no one on that list? Okay, then we have what is known in the world of debating as a "straw man argument".

In fact, the Governmental Affairs Committee including Schiavone who chairs it said they would encourage openness. But then there's a huge difference between what people say and what they do and that's been a huge issue pertaining to the CPRC and some of the city's elected officials all along. That's what this whole process with the Governmental Affairs Committee and the CPRC has shown.

Then there was the reemergence of the DHL issue and why DHL left the building to to speak.

Actually, what did in DHL Express in Riverside County was the same "economic meltdown" that Schiavone talked about a lot in his comments. Before leaving March Air Reserve Base, DHL had reported huge losses to the tune of almost $1 billion in its profits resulting in part from an overambitious expansion into domestic freight, a market already shared by very competitive an established rivals like UPS and Federal Express. It decided to stop the hemorrhaging.

For all the incredible activism that went into exposing DHL, Globalport and the rest of the mess and that really made a difference in the outcome, the economic forces themselves can't be underestimated and the cities that were involved in the March Joint Powers Commission seemed to not take what was essentially a warning. These economic forces were a harbinger of what was to come down the road, the road we're all traveling down now and as the city's reserve shrinks. So for a councilman to act like he single-handedly stopped DHL when the company was simply trying to save its shirt is kind of an interest twist on a saga that played out over several years. Schiavone's to be credited if he did do the right thing by its end but why is it that elected officials do not thoroughly investigate an issue before they vote?

Schiavone invoked the $45 million reserve that the city has which apparently has placed it number one over every city in California in terms of economic health. Which is very interesting when you get to comments made by Councilwoman Nancy Hart in her own debate where she said that the city was spending that same reserve to provide the standard of living "that we've all become accustomed to" because after all, reserves are nest eggs to be spent during times of famine.

Ward Six candidates included Councilwoman Nancy Hart, Ann Alfaro and Bill Scherer who discussed eminent domain, development and other issues. Scherer was the strongest opponent of eminent domain, calling its use to aid private developers, "developer welfare" and said it would lead to further economic woes, not help alleviate them. He also opposed the city using any stimulus money coming from the federal government.

Hart talked about improvements in the ward and citywide. She discussed the departure of Greyhound saying that she hoped it would stay in Riverside but not downtown. She said that major cities didn't have Greyhound Depots, people would instead buy tickets from an ATM-like machine and then wait for the bus. Actually, that's how Greyhound operates in the smaller cities and towns not so much the larger places. She blamed Greyhound for the crime which is actually occurring on the side of the terminal parcel being used by the Riverside Transit Agency. But unfortunately, the same misinformation going out by city electeds concerning that issue as well.

But if you want to get into the topic of misinformation, the Governmental Affairs Committee is the epicenter of the biggest campaign of misinformation currently taking place at City Hall. It's held that record for several months now.

The Governmental Affairs Committee is set to meet next Wednesday, April 8 at 3 p.m. in Riverside's City Hall.

This report was written by Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who mostly rehashed that embarrassingly shallow report that was presented to the committee on Feb. 4 and then added a one-page report from two meetings held behind closed doors in complete secrecy by an ad-hoc committee created by DeSantis and chaired by Asst. Police Chief John DeLaRosa and staffed by CPRC Chair Kevin Rogan. Both employees serve under DeSantis although DeLaRosa serves directly under Chief Russ Leach who was to have intended the meeting but sent DeLaRosa in his stead. And of the two "community" members, one of them was under contract with the city at one time to evaluate the Human Relations Commission.

Talked about stacked.

Then there was the fact that the city didn't announce that these meetings were taking place, let alone make them available for the public to attend and watch them take place. It's ironic indeed that a mechanism that was intended to increase accountability, openness and transparency is being taken apart piecemeal behind closed doors and outside of the public eye.

Ad hoc committees are those set up to accomplish a specific goal in a specific amount of time. Notifying the public, let alone inviting it to participate even if just to bear witness to a process is optional under state law, and the fact that the city chose once again to shield its machinisms involving the CPRC from the public eye was an active choice by the "stakeholders" at City Hall, not the ones in the community.

A hilarious footnote to all this intrigue surrounding the "secret meeting" is that one brave commissioner actually dared to try to get an agenda item up for discussion at the CPRC's next meeting (whenever that is--see below) to discuss the secret series of meetings held at City Hall to discuss the CPRC's investigative protocol for officer-involved deaths. CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan apparently said, absolutely not in response and refused to put it on the agenda. So this commissioner went to City Attorney Gregory Priamos who didn't see any problem with getting it on the agenda. At last word, it might actually be on the agenda after all, if the CPRC ever actually (again, see below) meets again.

Maybe Priamos and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis (who signs Rogan's paychecks) can have a jousting match to determine who really rules the roost when it comes to setting the agendas at the meetings in cases where they're not in total agreement in terms of how exactly how to micromanage the CPRC through its agenda.

But isn't it interesting if more than a bit appalling that the CPRC's policies were the topic of "policy direction" for the Governmental Affairs Committee based on recommendations from meetings the public was forbidden to know about let alone attend? Then when the CPRC commissioner wants to discuss that, he's forbidden to put it on the agenda by one of the individuals involved with those secret meetings.

It would be to many people who believe that city government should be "open" and "transparent". Not on this watch.

Speaking of the CPRC, one of its commissioners said that after finding out that once again, the CPRC meeting had been canceled, he had called Chair Sheri Corral. She said she canceled this meeting (and an earlier meeting was canceled due to lack of quorum) because she didn't think there was any work to be done and the commission had "caught up". That's very interesting considering the CPRC has yet to conduct its administrative review of the Douglas Steven Cloud shooting that occurred in October 2006 and has been working on drafting its public report into the shooting of Joseph Darnell Hill, which also happened in October 2006.

Not to mention that the closed session allegedly had cases that it needed to hear and the city hasn't been "caught up" in processing its citizen complaints in years. The average time that it takes for complaints to get to the CPRC after being filed is usually around or longer than 100 days. Not to mention that the CPRC is about one year behind on producing its charter-mandated annual report to the city council and is so delinquent on doing so that this year's report will actually cover both 2007 and 2008. The commission is also in the process of trying to approve at least four changes to its bylaws, policies and procedures and is working on other similar issues.

So after perusing this simple laundry list of chores left undone, is the commission really all that "caught up"? But considering the dismal attendance records of both its current chair and vice-chair, some might say that instead of just missing meetings, they'll solve that problem by just not holding them.

Former Riverside Police Department officer Jose Nazario is trying to find a job with another law enforcement agency.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

He's no longer a candidate for employment," said Police Chief Russ Leach on Friday.

Leach said he could not discuss why because it is a personnel matter.

Nazario was the first veteran ever tried while a civilian for his actions in combat. The former Marine sergeant was accused of killing two insurgents and ordering two squad mates to each kill an insurgent who were found in a house during a raid on Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2004.

He was tried in federal court because he had left the Marine Corps before charges were filed.

Nazario was a probationary officer with the Riverside Police Department at the time he was arrested and was later fired.

His attorney, Kevin McDermott, said local law enforcement agencies have refused to hire Nazario because the Iraq allegations could be an issue if he is involved in a contested shooting.

That's not the only hurdle that Nazario had to cross. This article in the Wall St. Journal detailed comments that Nazario made to another U.S. Marine sergeant, Jermaine Nelson during a phone conversation that was taped by the NCIS about his stint in the Riverside Police Department. He said that his job there was like COPS and that he "beat the shit" out of criminals and then would "find a reason to take them to jail". On another site, a commenter identifying himself as a Riverside Police Department officer alleged that the police chief had promised Nazario his job back if he were acquitted but then later commented that the city manager was "backsliding". It's quite possible that Nazario had been promised his job back if he wasn't charged (as he was fired before being indicted by a federal grand jury) or convicted of what were manslaughter charges, but that the inclusion of the comments by Nazario about the police department in one of the nation's most widely circulated department might have shifted the intents in the other direction.

And as it turned out, even though Nazario applied online for a job at the police department, apparently he's been turned down.

The issue of subpoena powers for a police commission headed to a courtroom in South Florida.

A mayoral candidate in St. Louis responds to questions about civilian oversight of the city's police department.

(excerpt, The Vital Voice)

CM: Could you talk about how you would tackle crime in St. Louis and do you support a Civilian Review Board for the St. Louis Police Department?

MC: Absolutely, I do. I have sponsored legislation over the past few years to build a Civilian Review Board in the city of St. Louis and legislation relative to local control. So I do believe that we are missing the boat on the police department and the responsibilities that it should have to the city. Too many people think that if you let this police department be run by the folks who govern this city that too many improper things will happen. Believe me—it’s already going on and the problem with it is it’s done in such a clandestine-type-way that it creates animosity and concern among, I think, law abiding people. People can be intimidated by the police.

When it comes to crime—what we’re going to have to do in order to get rid of crime in this city is number one, we’ve got to find the resources to help our police department. We’ve got to give them more money to put more officers on the street. But at the same time there needs to be some community involvement. I would say the majority of people see the police and they either feel that it’s not their responsibility to get involved with problems in the community—that it’s just the police department’s responsibility or they feel that they can’t have a working relationship—they’re afraid to even work with police.

If we create some community policing program with citizens working in conjunction with the police department—this has been tried before—riding with them, brainstorming on how to solve certain problems in the neighborhood, I think it would work very well for us.

Columbia, Missouri is drafting the rules for its civilian review board.

(excerpt, Columbia Daily Tribune)

Members of the Citizen Oversight Committee and Police Chief Ken Burton discussed the proposal prepared by City Attorney Fred Boeckmann during a meeting Wednesday. The group will meet again next month to iron out details of the ordinance before making a recommendation to the city council.

Committee co-chairman Rex Campbell said he expects the committee to send an ordinance to the council by the middle of May.

“I think it’s a good first draft,” Campbell said. “There’s some fine-tuning that needs to be done.”

Burton, sworn in as police chief Monday, said he would work with a civilian review board but hopes the board eventually becomes unnecessary.

“If the citizens of Columbia want a review board, I think that’s where we’re headed,” Burton said. “It’s going to be something that takes a little work.”

Burton said his biggest concern is that the rights of officers and citizens are protected during the review process, but he said he thinks the committee is working well. “The first draft, I think, is just that — a first draft,” he said.

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