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, July 16, 2009

The heat wave continues along with nine employee layoffs

This week, some questions have come to mind that bear some reflection, because answers in this city are sometimes, not always but can be elusive.

Is it the right time to build a new office?

It turns out that amid the threats of employee layoffs and denials of MOU raises and bonus pay, that the city council chambers aren't the only facilities under renovation. At the Magnolia Police Station, construction will begin on the relocation of the watch commanders' office and station into a brand new one at this facility.

Some have asked why the money's being spent on this project when there are freezes in both the department's civilian and sworn ranks and some police cars that need to be replaced before they fall apart on the street.

Not to mention the 80 officers who won't be getting bonus or step up pay or now, officers not getting shift differential pay.

Irony abounds in Riverside during these difficult economic times, beginning at City Hall and apparently branching outward.

How will a slew of retirements at the police department impact its supervisory levels: A manager speaks.

One department representative, Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel, of field and investigative operations, who attended the meeting on July 14 said that the officer to sergeant ratios remain at about 5.3 to 1 according to figures from the department's Audit and Compliance Bureau and are the best the department has ever seen, down from the previous 5.8 to 1. However, at least six retirements are expected to have some impact on those ratios although Esquivel said some of the individuals did not work in the patrol division. One of them, Sgt. Orta might be sticking around for another year and apparently the department is hoping Sgt. Don Tauli will stick around as well. If you recall, Tauli was going to originally retire last year but was persuaded to put in another year, which he has planning to retire in December. He's the department's oldest sergeant and has put in over 30 years in law enforcement.

To cope with the retirements during the past two years, the department has been pulling sergeants out of other "special" assignments and been focusing on staffing the patrol division.

Last year, one of these transfers, that of Sgt. Keenan Lambert out of the then-Community Services Division (which Esquivel called "icing on the cake") to return to patrol struck some controversy. Back then, Chief Russ Leach said that the department was trying to decentralize its community policing program to the four different Neighborhood Policing Centers. The department was actually trying to gradually move towards converting to a "precinct" system when the recession hit and this and other dreams were put on mothballs for a while.

The department had been more circumspect about its supervisory ratios lately, than it had been while under its stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office. A CPRA request to the department last year asking for supervisory ratios resulted in a letter sent back not by Leach, but by City Attorney Gregory Priamos (who's apparently one of the "cooks" in the kitchen) sending a copy of a power point by consultant Joe Brann used for an audit he did which didn't include the information requested in the CPRA. Whether Priamos was deliberately trying to be misleading or he sent a document he hadn't read or had little knowledge about, is not clear but since then, the ratios released have been the following:

4.5 to 1 Provided by Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis when sitting in the big chair at a city council meeting in June 2008 when Brann gave his final audit. Attempts to get information documenting DeSantis' figure proved to be as fruitful as getting it from the department via the CPRA process. Like with the department, the response was drafted by Priamos. Again whether he meant to mislead or hadn't read in this case, the city's preliminary budget for 2008-09 is not clear.

6 to 1 Provided by Brann in his oral report of audit at that June 2008 meeting.

6.5 to 1 cited recently by several sources.

"We're not supposed to say this but the numbers aren't what they're supposed to be." which was provided by several other sources.

It would be of great use to the public if the police department as part of its annual report from the chief's office (which actually comes out once every five years), it would provide the statistics and some back material including information on how such stats were collected and calculated on the issue of both officer to supervisory ratios and the percentage of watch commanders on all three shifts who are lieutenants. What would be great too is if the police chief or in this case, chiefs could give a presentation at least twice a year on the work being done by its accountability mechanism, the Audit and Compliance Bureau which has become more deeply buried and thus more secretive in its operations in terms of public enlightenment and education than the CIA.

How many positions are frozen in the police department?

About 10% of the department's positions overall are currently frozen, which means they weren't filled with new employees to take place of those who left. About 30 civilian positions are currently frozen and perhaps up to 19 patrol division positions. The city has applied for federal stimulus grant money to fund up to 15 of these positions for three years.

At the supervisory ranks, the following positions are currently frozen:

Captain: 2 (vacated by Dave Dominguez and Mark Boyer)

Lieutenant: 1 (vacated by Pete Villanueva)

Sergeant: 3 (vacated by Leon Phillips (promotion), Lisa Williams (lateral transfer) and Kevin Stanton)

The sergeant positions held by Randy Eggleston, Terry Meyer and Johnny Romo have been filled by Dan Warren, Chad Milby and Julian Hutzler.

The department said that all detective vacancies are filled, the latest promotion being Lisa Johnson. An early 1990s era MOU requires that the department fills vacant detective position.

Why can't the NPC North hold onto an area commander?

This neighborhood center has gone through quite a few area commanders in recent months. There was Lt. Chuck Griffitts who was at the helm for a while and seemed to be well-liked by the area residents but then he was transferred to being a watch commander and replaced by Lt. Vic Williams, the first area commander to be housed at the new division office at the Greyhound Bus Terminal. He was pretty diplomatic to the press about the new digs for the NPC North even though most of the people including the neighboring Internal Affairs Division hated the move at least for a while, with the field division wondering if they were there as "security guards" for the Internal Affairs Division which allegedly kept itself behind locked doors until the NPC personnel arrived. Those in the Internal Affairs Division had to deal with a building that still needed work, some signage and had interior problems and some of them didn't like being housed so closely to a patrol division because they didn't want employees in that division to see the arrival and departure of their investigation witnesses.

Eventually everyone got over it because people do adapt given time (and the city did finally fix up the downtown station a bit) and Williams presumably would have had some time to get to know the residents in his NPC and tackle some of the issues. But that was not to be. Instead, he was transferred out of there to be the area commander of NPC East to replace outgoing Lt. Larry Gonzalez (who enjoyed over three years in his post) and presumably will be sitting in slightly better digs at Lincoln Station given that the NPC East, the city's largest area-wise, doesn't have a station of its own to call home.

But compared to the other three NPCs which have held onto their area commanders (including NPC Central when apparently it seemed for a while that it might lose its newest one, Lt. Bruce Loftus to a stint leading the Communications Bureau), this one has seen much turnover. Why is that? Is it the challenge of dealing with downtown politics? Is it being crammed in the bus terminal with perhaps not their first choice in neighbors? Or is it the management and city trying to find the proper fit, whatever that means?

But it's difficult for community members to meet an area commander, get to know them to work with them and then soon enough, he's gone and someone else new replaces them. You're left wondering, why do the work because in six months to a year, that person will just be gone. So hopefully, the department will figure out what works soon.

Now Lt. Chris Manning has taken the position over to make his own. But for how long, will he too be subjected to being transferred in a year or less? Stay tuned...

The Internal Affairs Division has seen some turnover at its helm too recently, with Lt. Steve Johnson who served there about a year out and Lt. Mike Cook taking over. If he's replaced soon, then the turnover in this

Why cutting shift-differential pay increments might not be a good thing

Recently, information has been provided that in light of the budget cuts, shift-differential pay increments have been cut at the police department including its patrol division. This decision appears to have been made by individuals who are unaware of the history of this city and department going back into the 1990s.

In 1998, four police officers fatally shot Tyisha Miller inside her car, narrowly avoiding shooting each other in the process. One of the facts that came to light out of the shooting that was heard around the world was that all four officers had a combined experience level of about eight years. So when the Mayor's Use of Force Panel which examined this incident and the police department in early 1999 in hopes of issuing recommendations to reform its patterns and practices, one recommendation was to provide more experienced officers on less popular work shifts including early morning (graveyard), weekends and holidays. At the time, senior officers could put in bids for shifts and of course, many gravitated towards working during the days during the "work" week. In other words, keeping "bankers' hours" or as close to it as possible.

The department's initial response to to this recommendation was to promote more than a dozen officers to be detectives only instead of being sent to investigation units, the majority of them would be assigned to work patrol shifts such as graveyard and weekends. Because detectives start at a base level higher than that of officers, in a sense for at least some of them (discounting the financial impact of over-time worked as officers) would earn more money so in a sense, there were shift-differential pay increases to increase the experience level on these less popular work shifts. After this one action, a former department management employee said that most shifts boasted having 50% of their assigned officers bringing more than five years patrol experience apiece.

Later on, shift-differentials were given to officers who worked night and early morning shifts and provided incentives for more experienced officers to work shifts that were considered undesirable, in part in hopes of diversifying the work experience on a shift and causing a decrease in polarization in shift assignments between more experienced and seasoned officers and the newer, less experienced ones. Cutting that incentive pay as the city has done or plans to do might reverse this trend back to where it could cause the same imbalances which contributed to at least one officer-involved shooting in April 2003 where the two officers had three years work experience between them and the details of that shooting which took at least one year for the department to investigate reflect a lack of experience and seasoning by the two officers including the one who allowed his patrol car to be stolen by the man they were chasing.

That incident allegedly took place on an early Sunday.

So there's concern that if shift-differentials are removed from the equation that might impact the experience level on early morning and weekend shifts. Currently, week day shifts are more skewed towards experienced officers with more newer and inexperienced officers working on the weekends. Without shift differentials, will that increase? And if so, what will the impact be?

Another city councilman got arrested. This time in Grand Terrace from voting to put the city's legal ads in his wife's own newspaper.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The arrest came just hours after Jim Miller attended a Tuesday night City Council meeting and voted on the fate of embattled Acting City Manager Steve Berry, who was accused by the Sheriff's Department seven years ago of embezzlement and fraud in connection with the tinting of windows at city buildings by a jail work release inmate.

"How did this perfect little quaint, quiet city turn into a cesspool?" Grand Terrace Councilman Walt Stanckiewitz said by phone Wednesday. "Why is this going on? I'm at the end of my rope with it."

Stanckiewitz said he does not expect the council to press for a resignation from Jim Miller, who has served since 2004 and would face re-election in 2012.

"If it is a legal matter, that will need to be resolved" before Jim Miller's status on the council is addressed, Stanckiewitz said. "I think that's how our justice system works."

Despite a sea of turmoil surrounding them, three planning commissioners in Murrieta received new terms of service

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Butler, Cohen and Goodman were unanimously appointed, and commissioners voted 4-1 and 3-2 to appoint Long and Daigle, respectively.

When the selection process was over, both council and commission applicants hailed it. .

"While I was initially nervous, the selection process turned out to be a very good thing," said Cohen, who was applying for his post for the third time in three years. "I thought the process was helpful for them to get to hear more about the candidates than they would've heard otherwise."

The council on April 21 voted 4-0, Randon Lane absent, on sweeping changes to how they selected the commissioners, opting for an entire council panel interview session as opposed to voting on the finalists selected by a City Council subcommittee, and voting to institute a training program for the commissioners.

They also placed all five seats up for reappointment, which prompted former Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lupro to resign. Long also withdrew his application, but resubmitted it after officials addressed some of his concerns about the timing of wholesale changes to the city's chief planning documents.

One city council member is fighting in Norco to have that city directly elect its mayor.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

n Norco, as in a majority of California's cities, the mayor is a largely ceremonial position which council members take turns filling, usually on an annual basis.

The alternative is that candidates run specifically for the mayor's job, which holds varying degrees of power in different cities. In Riverside, the elected mayor is the city's spokesperson and a liaison for residents but doesn't have a vote on council matters.

Sullivan, who left the council in 2007 after two terms, said he believes Norco would benefit from a sort of hybrid mayor -- someone who would head the council and basically run the city, but could delegate work to a city administrator.

Norco's council now uses a city manager to run day-to-day operations such as services and finances.

Sullivan believes the current system gives the city manager too much power to set the agenda, and he said he's heard from residents that they don't know who to go to when they need something done.

With an elected mayor, Sullivan said, "They (would) have someone that they feel like is in charge that speaks for the city, that they can go to and get some action."

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