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

Thursday, June 25, 2009

TGIF: Micromanagement comes to Riverside but at least there's icecream

A current police chief of a law enforcement agency in the Inland Empire who spent years working for the Riverside Police Department joked that one of the best things about his job was that he could work as a police chief and that his city manager didn't tell him what to do. That's kind of what you would call an inhouse joke, unique to Riverside if not completely understood in other places around the country.

It's kind of funny to think of a joke like that being made until you look at this city where there's been a lot of questions being asked by different people about the current status of Riverside's own police department including who runs it and how it's being run. Is it being run by a chief or by committee? Ask a different person, you get a different answer shrouded by a great deal of uncertainty.

As you've read in the Press Enterprise, Police Chief Russ Leach has been recovering from back surgery for the past couple of months and working from his house, while meeting with staff members of his agency. Any injuries to the spine can be formidable indeed and any surgery can be more of an ordeal to have to deal with. Hopefully, he recovers well from his medical issues, but even before he had spinal surgery, questions like the ones below were on people's lips.

What is the police chief allowed to do in Riverside when it comes to running the police department.

Leach's response by email to the publication about who was running the police department was the following.

"Again, simple fact is I'm still here, still in charge,"

But the truth is, how much in charge can he really be of a police department given that he is a direct employee of City Manager Brad Hudson and his assistant, Tom DeSantis? These two men have him employed "at will" and seriously in Riverside's City Hall, that means that you pretty much have to tow the party line or else you're out the door.

Just ask another former "at will" employee, Pedro Payne (who served as the former manager of the Community Police Review Commission), who "resigned" in late December 2006 after a particularly contentious meeting with DeSantis (who allegedly ordered him out of the meeting at some point) over the parameters of his duties involving the commission. Now instead of having a CPRC manager who serves the interests and needs of the commission, we have one who is most likely dictated to by DeSantis on which dots to follow often to the detriment of the commission, which hasn't exactly thrived under his tenure. In other words, a very highly paid, under time scheduled puppet.

The fates of other department heads like Human Resources Director Art Alcaraz who was forced to resign with a confidential clause in his severance package after allegedly being unwilling to lower the educational qualification standards for a certain management position which was taken by an employee who lacked those higher qualifications. Then there was Tranda Drumwright and Jim Smith who were pushed out or in Drumwright's case fired because her supervisor who is now an assistant manager told her she didn't look like "management" material. At the time, Drumwright, a Black woman had far more experience and education over a White woman who got the job instead of her when their departments were consolidated.

So with all the assorted labor-related adventures that Hudson and DeSantis have behind them, it's a bit hard to look at a department head like Leach and really seriously believe that he's allowed or even has the freedom to run the police department the way he sees fit, or even pick the people who work closest to him. And with more allegations being raised by two lieutenants about the politicization of the promotional process, that casts even more doubt on any ability for a police chief to work as an independent leader over the police department in this city. It remains to be seen how the lawsuits will be litigated in court but what's in them is indeed disturbing.

The lawsuits filed by the two lieutenants provided much food for thought, including an alleged statement made by a high-ranking police representative about the rank of Captain and exactly what it means to wear that rank.

Captain is no longer a position based on merit-It is a political position and City Hall will have a great deal to do with the next selection."

---comment allegedly made by a high-ranking Riverside Police Department representative according to Tim Bacon/Darryl Hurt v the City of Riverside.

It's interesting that a quote like this which was an allegation made in a lawsuit would surface again at this time and place when another captain, this time Mark Boyer, in the department had abruptly retired. I say abruptly, because during a conversation I once had with Boyer, he said pretty much that he had more years ahead of him in the department. So to hear of his sudden departure was a bit of a shock. But as shocking as it was, it also created the department's second captain's vacancy (after the retirement of Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez, who held the classified position of captain) and this led to increased scrutiny of the promotional process of a management level position and of course, more rumors of who the favorites were or in one case, who the automatic selection was going to be. Because the way the rumors sounded, it seemed as if this recently vacated position was already filled.

But as it turned out, the position has been frozen at least for the moment. If there's a favorite or someone who was intended to be chosen, that decision will have to wait until one or more of the captain's positions are thawed.

But as it turned out, the position has been frozen at least for the moment. If there's a favorite or someone who was intended to be chosen, that decision will have to wait until one or more of the captain's positions are thawed as will any analysis of how this position will be filled.

Why was it going to be this person who seemed to top most people's lists when asked?

Because he held the political edge over the other candidates and City Hall liked him the best, was the reason provided. Now comments like these can arise from many different places including speculation, envy, or just a wide-spread perception, but they can also come from a place of truth, gained from observation of what's going on and what's been going on within the dynamic between the police department and factions at City Hall during a period of time lapsing back to several months after the dissolution of the stipulated judgment.

As stated earlier, the position has been frozen as part of the new budget cuts according to Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa (as Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel didn't respond as of yet to an email inquiry on the position's status) for an indeterminate length of time. So there might not be the opportunity to fully study how this newly vacated captain's position would be filled and whether it would come down to a promotion by Leach (from his home), DeLaRosa (who allegedly helped fill in some promotions for an ailing Leach just recently) or a promotion by Hudson and DeSantis?

There's a two month window before all the people who are currently on the captain's list have to reapply before the current list expires. In the running are usually about a dozen people, which is quite impressive considering the department only has about 21 lieutenants. There's a lot of ambition in that group, yet obviously a clear understanding that it's at this level where upward advancement becomes more of an elusive prize for most. For some applicants, they realize it can be a waiting game, given that the competition is tough and the turnover for captains (given that there's only four active positions) is not very high. Politicizing the process by making it come down to who's most liked by Hudson, DeSantis or even as alleged several city council members makes the whole promotional process pointless.

But what will happen to many of those who are at the levels where they can try for these positions is that they might retire out first.

In fact, within the ranks of sergeants and lieutenants, about 3-4 in each rank will retire out before the end of the year adding to the deficit of supervisors that currently exists given that at least four supervisory positions have been frozen and only four filled. In June 2008, consultant Joe Brann looked at the situation involving the supervisors and issued words of caution which of course, were pretty much ignored. Why should they matter, when you have city management personnel like Hudson and DeSantis who are so experienced in managing police departments that they can say in defense of Brann's words, that the department's fully-staffed.

The department has been rather tight lipped about its supervisory ratio averages for its patrol shifts but here are some figures that one concerned individual was kind enough to provide as a basis for discussion.

Average ratio: Between 6.0 to 1 and 6.5 to 1 with a variance between 4.5 to 1 and 7.5 to 1.

Factor that with the reality that you may have up to six supervisors in the sergeant and lieutenant ranks. Some people on the alleged retirement list include Sgt. Don Tauli (who originally was set to retire last year), Sgt. Orta, Sgt. Watters and Lt. Brian Baitx. The usual speculation surrounds whether or not Lt. Robert Meier will retire as well but that tends to be an annual exercise but it's also rumored that this is only a partial list. So take these individuals and any others out of the equation and then check your ratios and that's assuming that the rest of your supervisors are in good health and not out on any type of light duty or personnel leaves. It's also assuming that the lieutenants don't fatigue out from working much more overtime to supervise shifts because they are flat-salaried employees.

How would a police chief handle that situation with supervisory ratios? How will Hudson and DeSantis mishandle it? Who will get to make the decision on how it's handled at all?

It should of course be the police chief who makes that decision and it should be made openly by the police chief because the bottom line is he should be accountable right or wrong, good or bad, or what happens in his department. That's one of the roles of being a police chief. And why is it that doesn't seem to be the case in Riverside? Why is it that in Riverside it appears that decisions that greatly impact the police department are instead made by a group of men hiding behind a curtain at City Hall?

The police chief when he's fully recovered from his injury should be attending more public meetings in the community, at City Hall and at roll call sessions and other similar situations in the police department. He should be out there where both community members and his own officers including those who are recently hired patrol officers can see him. It's only the times when the city management personnel need him out front and center with some ridiculous scripted comments to read (mostly on the CPRC) that he's been visible the past year or so. But what's ironic is that he makes comments indicating one point of view regarding the CPRC's much micromanaged investigative procedures and then when he's done performing on stage, he sits down and if you watch his body language, he appears to be agreeing with most everything his opposition is saying to refute his own argument. So does he believe what he says when performing on stage with Hudson or DeSantis in close vicinity or when he's not under their thumb?

It's episodes like that that help provide a display of micromanagement Riverside style in one of its more obvious forms. When you have an employee who says one thing when his bosses are in hearing range and the opposite when they're not.

But anyway, what will happen in the future with micromanagement, the police department and the host of people behind the curtain remains to be seen. And will ousting former Councilman Frank Schiavone change the dynamic of the police department through any direction given to Hudson by the city council? That's a question that remains to be answered as well.

Ice Cream will be coming to Riverside's Metropolitan Heritage house as part of its annual ice cream social.

This Sunday, June 28 at 12-4 p.m.

In what's become an epidemic of departures, another planning commissioner resigns in Murrieta.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Long, 39, is the third commissioner to resign in the wake of changes made to the commission structure, including the City Council's decision to open up all five commission seats to reappointment. The council also voted to have the entire council select finalists for commission posts as opposed to a two-member subcommittee, and to add a training session for commissioners.

The City Council has defended the changes, saying they were vital to improving the city's planning process and to improving the chemistry between the commission and planning staff.
Long initially reapplied, but then withdrew his application.

Former Planning Commission Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lupro resigned in May in protest of the changes, citing the decision to make incumbents reapply for their posts.

Long said he welcomed the changes, but he said they didn't go far enough. His breaking point came when the city's planning staff reversed its eight-month course and recommended approval of a 50-foot cell phone tower disguised as a clock tower.

City staff said the applicant changed the design to better fit the shopping center's aesthetics. Long said he didn't believe the changes to the design rose to the level of a change in recommendation.

"You can change faces, but if the tools are broken, it is not going to change anything," Long said. "Without those changes, you are just setting up future commissioners for failure."

Wise words indeed, not just for Murrieta's Planning Commission but for another broken commission in Riverside, the Community Police Review Commission.

The beleaguered Maywood Police Department has agreed to enter into a consent decree with the State Attorney General's office. This development should really be of no surprise to anyone after the revelations that have rocked that agency since they were revealed last year. It's the second police department after Riverside's to be placed under a stipulated court order or judgment by that office.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

The court order “paves the way for real reform, enabling the Maywood police department to live up to its potential by truly serving and protecting,” said Atty. Gen. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in a statement.

The order is expected to be filed to the Los Angeles Superior Court, placing the city of Maywood and the attorney general’s office in an agreement to enforce conditions laid out by Brown. Once approved, the city will be forced to install video cameras within the police station and its vehicles. Officers will also be required to carry digital recorders while on patrol.

An Early Intervention System will be established to track and monitor the activities of new officers, while others will undergo retraining. Overseeing the department will be Maywood’s city manager. “The city is very committed to working with the attorney general to complete its commitment to community based policing and the reforms outlined in the attorney general’s report,” said Maywood City Manager Paul Phillips.

Many of the reforms outlined in the court order given to Maywood were similar to those mandated in Riverside's own stipulated judgment that it entered into in March 2001. That's probably the best thing to happen to what must be one of the most dysfunctional if not the most dysfunctional police departments in the country. But a lot of it is up to the people inside the agency as well as outside of it in terms of how the reforms will be carried out and whether they can effect lasting change. And those people must be in it for the long haul, which naturally means years and years and years.

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