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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

CPRC: We're going to wash those charter powers out of our hair...

[The majority of the commission including Kenneth Rotker (l) votes to eliminate minority reports. Commissioner Robert Slawsby (r) cast one of only two dissenting votes for that motion.]

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Minority Report?

The Press Enterprise wrote this article about the Community Police Review Commission in Riverside voting 4-2 to no longer accept minority reports on officer-involved deaths or perhaps on anything. Ultimately, it came down to a petty battle between whether or not it's fair for one person to write a report versus the majority of the commission, which is completely understandable because the majority of the commission has no idea what a minority report is by definition. In fact, they believe that they can vote against a minority report simply because they disagreed with its content. That's laughable indeed because if enough of them agreed with the minority report, it would constitute all or part of the majority report.

One would think, in a logical world, anyway. But River City is its own world.

It's been a disturbing trend by the majority of the commission (which is believed to have its strings pulled by City Hall by many folks) to vote away areas of expression of dissent with the majority, first involving dissent by city residents who attended meetings (through reduction of the scope and time allotted for public comment) and then more recently, commissioners. City residents leave the meetings in disgust before they're even completed and others are starting to turn their focus towards the city council which tacitly approves of the train wreck that the commission has become every time they give the city manager and city attorney high scores on their performance evaluations. And what's interesting is that the discussions people are having about the downturn of the that "most special" commission are evolving towards greater discussions of the next round of city council elections taking place in 2011.

But yes, public participation has been a casualty in City Hall's attempts to remold the commission through its post-Measure GG appointments.

In fact, one commissioner proposed a motion to reduce public comment simply because he didn't like this blog (and in fact, has been badmouthing it all over the Westside) which he made clear through his statements when proposing and pushing that motion several months ago. Oh well.

And a little bird told this blogger about the action to eliminate minority reports before the meeting where it took place. Which indicates that the commission's decision to ban minority reports wasn't exactly as spontaneous as it appeared or was being represented. And anyone who believes that the chair and vice-chair noticed some "error" with the minority report at the same time and duly (or not) reported it using the same legal language, well there's again, some nifty beach front property for sale in Idaho.

For those who have been following the commission and measures taken by its majority to reduce public participation in the process of the city's only oversight mechanism over its police department, the loss of minority reports was no more of a surprise than the dissolution of an ad hoc committee set up to draft proposed language on officer-involved deaths was last year. The majority's scared that the minority will have more airtime than they have and it's true that the minority reports tend to attract greater readership including the two which were banned by a majority of the commission from being released to the public. In fact, banning a minority report is a good way to increase the interest in it.

Just call it the Lady Chatterly's Lover's phenomenon. Banning books in libraries and schools just invokes people's curiosity to read them to find out what the fuss is all about or even further, what a governmental agency doesn't want them to know. When you suppress the release of books or something smaller, like minority reports, you're tapping into a basic element of human nature.

And perhaps in homage to National Banned Books Week which occurs at the end of September, a copy of the minority report on the Joseph Darnell Hill shooting can be included as Riverside's very own contribution to the suppression of public documents. This link which is from the CPRC's Web site used to be that of the minority report but as you can see, it's no longer there. So if you want to read the suppressed minority report on the Hill case, go here. And it's been removed from the Press Enterprise site as well.

The commission hit a nadir when its majority including the two commissioners who didn't show up to yet another meeting where a contentious issue came up for a vote, revealed itself to be terrified of minority reports. But that's not the only thing it's scared of as it turns out.

Q: Okay, what could be scarier than minority reports?

A: Reviewing police policies and procedures and making recommendations, that's what.

Apparently, the power employed by the commission to review police department policy and procedures is the next scary one on the city's list to erase or at least greatly restrict to levels that if carried out, will be in direct violation of the city's charter, not to mention the commission's bylaws. To misread the city's charter, revise the commission's history and to run around painting horrific scenarios not steeped in any facts about what could happen if the commission were allowed to exercise this power may be the latest pattern and practice to govern the commission's direction in its nine-year history. Never mind that like the situation with the investigative protocol of officer-involved deaths, nothing bad ever did happen. The city and police department have survived independent and nearly parallel investigations of officer-involved deaths for six years and the open review and recommendations stemming from departmental policies and procedures for even longer than that. But the powers that be at City Hall and perhaps a few in the police department as well have decided that both powers had been exercised long enough. Proving once again that City Hall fears its own police department which makes no sense considering it's essentially running it.

But apparently CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan after being advised by City Attorney Gregory Priamos sent emails saying that the issue of Border Patrol wasn't under the purview of the CPRC at all and that being involved at all would infringe on the boundaries of the discussion of that issue by the HRC. This contention kind of melded into a broader contention that policies and procedure review and recommendations could only be done if they were related to or tied into complaints that were filed. After all, the argument raised by Rogan in an email to one of the commissioners was that no complaints had been filed in relation to the arrests and detentions done by Border Patrol and/or the police department.

Apparently that meant that the CPRC couldn't tread into the waters of the immigration issue even through examining it as a policy and procedure issue which according to all written language is a rather broad power afforded the CPRC and certainly allowable. Meaning that the CPRC should be able to review the policies and if there aren't any, the procedures of the police department on this issue without getting its hand slapped by Rogan or his handlers at City Hall.

The idea that the CPRC can't examine this issue because the HRC is, is as the British would say, absolute rubbish. The idea that the CPRC has no purview at all to examine this issue belongs in the same garbage pile as well. And unfortunately, the deliberate barriers put up by Rogan and his handlers at City Hall cloud the issue further and cast the police department in a light of having done something wrong whether it did or not.

The gross misinterpretation of the joint histories of the CPRC and the Human Relations Commission by Rogan (who's an extension of the City Manager's and City Attorney's offices in City Hall who direct him) as well as separately deserves its own blog posting to set the record straight on that issue. And included in this misinterpretation and misrepresentation is the period of time under the city management of the interim, Tom Evans (working with interim Asst. City Manager Jim Smith) when the CPRC and HRC held joint meetings. Part of this was related to the fact that at the time, the CPRC and the HRC shared a director. Part of this was related to the fact that Evans and particularly Smith had their own vision of the role played by both commissions both individually and in tandem.

Those joint meetings apparently weren't included in Rogan's "history" of the CPRC and HRC were they?

Now,why would that be? Because his handlers in the city manager's office have no reason to educate him on the true history of both commissions. After all, this office lost control of the HRC after cutting its staff apparently in response to a letter it received from the HRC asking for statistical information on the ethnic and racial makeup of the management employees being fired, or resigning from positions in City Hall in the wake of the departures of Smith, Art Alcaraz and Tranda Drumwright. Currently, the HRC is under the umbrella of the mayor's office where it's not fared much better losing nearly all its staff including its director Yvette Pierre to the first round of budget cuts.

But it's disturbing that a history was built between the two entirely based on minute records for both commissions (especially since the CPRC's traditionally kept better and more accessible minute records than the HRC) rather than extending the research further especially by an individual whose stint in Riverside is little more than two years.

But you can't really blame Rogan because in all likelihood being an "at will" employee of City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis, he has to do what he says or say goodbye to his rather impressive six-figured salary for what essentially is a part-time schedule. And when Rogan is stating policies of the police department as factual when they're not really part of the Riverside Police Department's policies and procedures irritating more than a few individuals at the department (who don't consider themselves to be similar to Pomona's Police Department where Rogan was from), then that's probably through City Hall's direction as well. After all, Rogan's predecessor "resigned" not long after DeSantis kicked him out of a meeting on what else? Officer-involved investigations in December 2006. You don't go lockstep with DeSantis' program, you essentially go home and you don't collect that six-figured salary.

But then DeSantis brings the same skills to the CPRC that he brings to...labor negotiations with the city's bargaining units.

The issue with the Border Patrol's relationship with the police department and the police department's detention and arrest of individuals to determine immigration status arose at the CPRC strictly as a question about the police department's policies and procedures on this contentious issue even though according to the language in the city's charter regarding the CPRC in this area is broader than that as can be seen by those who read the language in both the charter and the commission's bylaws which are linked to on this site.

The question being, what policies and procedures if any, did the RPD use to perform the functions of detaining and arresting individuals to determine their residency status and in addition, what forms of identification did it accept as proof of residency? Did it accept various forms or did it ask specifically for drivers' licenses as were alleged in at least one case? That question was to be sent to the Policies, Procedures and Bylaws subcommittee but then that committee along with Outreach was dissolved and future creation of subcommittees was forbidden by the majority of the commission.

So what role does the commission play in policy and procedure review and recommendation? The first place to look is at the text in the city's charter, which serves as its constitution.

(excerpt, City Charter Section 810 (h) )

Review and advise the Riverside Police Department in matters pertaining to police policies and practices

As you can see, the Not to mention that another provision from Section 810 in the city's charter gives the CPRC the power to advise on all police/community matters ot the city council and the mayor. This provides the CPRC with a fairly wide purview on reviewing and making recommendations on departmental policies.

When the bylaws were being drafted, the CPRC's Policy and Procedures Committee (which has been abolished, recreated and abolished again) was handed a policy and procedure manual (the one referred to in the bylaws below) by then Deputy Chief Andrew Pytlack and asked to go through it and pick and choose which policies to review and make recommendations to then submit to the police department. Given that the committee had a spotty meeting record and was chaired by minimalist and former commissioner, Jack Brewer, not many policies were reviewed but some led to policy recommendations including one which dealt with the handling of property belonging to a person arrested and/or detained.

The police department including Police Chief Russ Leach and members of his management team also said at public meetings including that involving the CPRC that the police department would be sending recommendations on policies to the CPRC for review and feedback which would later be sent back to the department. So the history points towards a rather broad scope provided for the CPRC in the area of policy and procedure review and recommendations.

The commission also drafted sections in its Bylaws defining its roles and responsibilities for reviewing and making recommendations on the police department's policies and procedures. The text for the bylaws borrows heavily from the municipal code which was passed by the city council in 2000 which created the CPRC.

(excerpts, Bylaws)

Article VI (Authority, Powers, Duties)

G. To review and advise the Police Department in matters pertaining to police policies and practices, including making formal recommendation for amendment to the Police Department's Policy and Procedures Manual and on Police Department proposed amendments to the Policy and Procedures Manual.

K: Review and advise the police department in matters pertaining to police policies and practices.

When you read that language, you notice that the provisions are crafted in a manner which provides greater detail to the exercising of 810(h) but they don't include restrictions on when policies and procedures can be reviewed and when they can't. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any prohibitions on accessing policies and procedures for reviewing and making recommendations. This language actually thrusts it in the leadership role of reporting both on police/community issues to the city government as well as reviewing policies and procedures for the police department and forwarding any recommendations to the police chief, especially considering that the language giving it this power and responsibility is explicitly stated in the city's constitution.

At best, the HRC would have similar language in the municipal ordinance since it's not a board or commission included in the city's charter.

Human Resources Municipal ordinance language makes no references to reviewing the policies and procedures of any city department let alone the police department but engages in issues including that of immigration and racial profiling from the perspective of trying to investigate or determine whether ethnic or racial discrimination (along with other forms) or prejudice are taking place. It also has powers to investigate or examine allegations or complaints on these grounds or any that jeopardize equal access for all city residents for private and public agencies.

Despite this, it was the HRC which created a subcommittee which performed the role of addressing policies and procedures in the police department and making recommendations and that was the Law Enforcement Police Advisory Committee (LEPAC) which was created in the 1980s after public uproar from a controversial incident involving a K9 officer and a disabled city resident in her home. LEPAC remained in place and even played a role in advising and reviewing on the implementation of reforms included in the Mayor's Use of Force Panel's report on the police department, including the creation and implementation of an Early Warning System.

However, when the CPRC began its operations, LEPAC was permanently disbanded because the role that it played in reviewing departmental policies and making recommendations would be adopted by the CPRC. Does this enhance the argument that the CPRC has the power and responsibility to do all forms of policy and procedure review and recommendations? Of course it does. Does it bar or deny the HRC from exercising any purview over the immigration issue and/or the relationship between the operations of U.S. Border Patrol and the police department? Of course not. Each board and commission can exercise some form of jurisdiction over the issue from a different angle as defined by charter or ordinance and it's purely ignorance to imply or suggest otherwise.

Why has the HRC taken the lead on this issue? It's not because the CPRC has no right or role in doing so itself. It's because of the two commissions, the HRC frankly has the fortitude to embrace its roles and responsibilities as defined by ordinance and the CPRC has very little interest in doing anything but minimizing its role and responsibilities governed by the charter and its bylaws. To put it simply, the HRC which is under the mayor's office has more guts and slightly more freedom to take the lead on this issue and perhaps the lack of having a director or manager at the helm (though Pierre most likely would have strongly served her role as staff support for the commission) might be to its benefit.

Unlike the CPRC which foists most of its workload and nearly all of its composition of public literature on its manager (and thus his managers), the HRC commissioners appear to exercise a far greater role as commissioners in determining their own community work. The CPRC could have played its own role from a policy and procedure perspective but instead has Rogan fronting it and claiming that there's a lack of purview to look at this issue and because its majority is 1) not motivated to do anything but what City Hall dictates and 2) is very hostile to the same communities that HRC serves so it's pointing its finger through the manager at HRC and saying that out of respect to HRC, it can do nothing but sit on its own hands.

At the same time, the commission is purportedly showing respect to the HRC, it's being very disrespectful and dismissive of communities where this issue in particular has hit home and because of the CPRC's apparently and fairly obvious loathing for serving as a public forum particularly for controversial issues (particularly sad, considering its origins) by ignoring this issue. It's hard to explain in 20 minutes the CPRC's lack of action or interest in dealing with "hot" community issues when a mere five minutes at a CPRC meeting can illuminate that to city residents more effectively and more readily as many have found.

The HRC has one minute record online for its June 18, 2009 meeting here that doesn't give much specific information about the HRC's work in this area except for the creation of an ad hoc "Immigration" committee that was going to meet with Chief Russ Leach on the police department's role on this issue after he returned to work after an extensive medical leave. According to these minutes, Leach had expressed willingness to meet with this committee even as a CPRC commissioner alleged that he had refused to meet with the CPRC to give a presentation on the policies and procedures involved in the police department's detention and arrest of individuals for the purposes of establishing residency.

Being ad hoc allows it to become yet another covert subcommittee that meets entirely in private without any allowances for public attendance, input or even notification. Hopefully, this example of an "ad hoc" committee will be more accountable and transparent than those surrounding the charter powers of the CPRC.

But simply because it's taken the initiative which the CPRC had a chance to do but didn't in any meaningful way, doesn't mean that the CPRC can't step up to the plate and actually abide by a charter responsibility albeit way after the fact. But then if City Hall doesn't want it to do any such thing, it naturally won't.

To be continued....

CPRC Score Card:

Independent investigations of Officer-Involved Deaths as charter mandated

Police Policy and Procedure Review in a broad scope as charter mandated

Standing Subcommittees

Bi Monthly meetings

Timely complaint investigation and review

Recording CPRC findings online

* Charter powers

Which door at City Hall is the next CPRC commissioner hiding behind?

Speaking of the CPRC, interviews to fill the Ward Two vacancy left by Commissioner Jim Ward in March will finally take place on Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 2 p.m. in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room. If you want to spend 90 minutes being entertained by the city council, you could do a lot worse than the interview process for the city's boards and commissions. So who will get appointed after interviews are done? Hint: It's not usually the person who actually a) exhibits the most knowledge about the CPRC and b) provides the best thought out responses to the questions.

After all, if you remember when current vice-chair, Peter Hubbard, the guy who is regionally directing a company which has a public safety contract wit the city. When he was interviewed, his reason for wanting to be on the commission was 1) he felt a great "hole" in his life since terming out of 10 years of service on the Board of Public Utilities and 2) He missed the free and special parking provided for commissioners when they attend meetings.

1) Amy J. Aldana

2)Trey V. Pittruzelle

3) Daniel W. Waldo

4)Garth Newberry

5)Christopher L. Lorenz

6) Joe R. Vazquez

More information on the six people chosen to be interviewed here.

Ethics, where did thou go?

Also approaching is the annual review of the ethics code and complaint process by the Governmental Affairs Committee, according to this agenda.

But the Governmental Affairs Committee has a brand new chair, Councilman Andrew Melendrez who had never served on this committee before his appointment by himself as mayor pro tem and Mayor Ron Loveridge (backed by a city council vote)

It's interesting that page 2 in the report states that Riverside is one of very few ethics processes that undergoes an annual review, according to a survey that City Hall conducted on best practices for ethics codes and complaint processes. Yet the city embraces its unique status as something that sets it apart from most others in a positive light. That's an interesting contrast to what's been going on with the CPRC and the radical changes done to its investigative protocol for officer-involved deaths which was bolstered by a "study" done by some individuals in the city that was used to justify the dilution of the CPRC's investigative powers by claiming that Riverside was unique in conducting its independent and nearly parallel investigations of officer-involved deaths. Its so-called uniqueness in this area was viewed by the city as something bordering catastrophic and certainly shameful rather than a standard that set it apart in a positive light compared to other forms of civilian oversight.

The report is here. Read it so that you too can be prepared for the annual review of the ethics code and complaint process which has been watered down with City Hall's equivalence of a hose to turn into a meaningless public relations tool to provide an allusion of accountability and transparency of city government. Kind of like the CPRC in that regard which has been as Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein put it, spayed and neutered.

There's so much that one can say about the ethics process and that will be done in several blog postings. There's the renewed importance in it being accountable, independent and transparent in the light of the Bradley Estates situation as well as the attempts made by San Bernardino County (aka the Den of Scandals) Board of Supervisors trying to discourage the creation of an ethics process there.

Riverside's first Latino councilman, John Sotelo has died at age 84.

Arts comes to the Eastside and this interesting article about stage productions taking place at Caesar Chavez Community Center at Bobby Bonds Park includes quotes by residents including the amazing and tireless activist, Christina Duran who took her daughter to several productions. Christina's daughter recently had major heart surgery so let's keep them and their family in our prayers and thoughts. The city needs about 10 Christinas but we're very lucky to have one.

Norco grapples with leasing facilities to political organizations.

Can the San Bernardino County assessor's office repair the damage done to it by a major scandal? That question is answered in a sense by the Press Enterprise Editorial Board.


Bringing professional management to the assessor's office, however, is not enough to reverse the county government's pattern of scandal and corruption. County officials need to change the political atmosphere Postmus exemplified, where officials treat government as a personal perk and view ethical standards as applicable only to others.

Still, replacing political self-interest with public service in the assessor's office is a good start. Putting public business first should be standard practice in county offices -- even without the prompting of another scandal.

Chicago Police Department Police Chief Jody Weis implored the city to take police lawsuits to trial rather than settle them.

(excerpt, Chicago Sun-Times)

Last month, Weis notified Chief U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman of the change in strategy.

"I have asked the Department of Law to litigate those cases which would have been settled [as] a matter of financial concern," Weis told the judge in a July 23 letter obtained by the Sun-Times.

Weis told the chief judge he realizes his decision may bring increased litigation in federal court. But he added that "if plaintiffs know their complaint will in fact be litigated, more focus and concern will be given to the factual validity of the complaints signed."

Attorney Jeffrey Granich, who represents clients who claim they have been victims of police abuse, said of Weis' strategy: "They are making decisions that are going to cost the city millions of dollars."

Granich said Weis isn't addressing the underlying problem of officer abuse.

But the city's Law Department is moving forward with the new strategy.

"We have seen an increase in the number of small-value lawsuits being filed" against the police, said Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle, who defined such cases as those that seek less than $100,000.

In the past, city attorneys might settle such a lawsuit for $2,000 if they thought it might cost $10,000 to defend against it, Hoyle said.

"We believe that taking a more aggressive approach in these cases will lead to a decrease in the number of lawsuits being filed," she said.

Federal agencies raided a police department in Florida after a whistleblower alerted them to allegations of overtime pay abuses.

(excerpt, Sun-Sentinal)

Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams said Wednesday he was disappointed the anonymous tipster did not come straight to him and other city leaders, but promised his department would cooperate fully with the investigation.

The police department, meanwhile, has opened its own internal affairs investigation into the allegations that some officers claimed overtime pay for hours they did not work, Williams said.

In Tennessee, a captain with the Murfreesboro Police Department has been suspended for making racist remarks for the second time in 18 months.

(excerpt, Tennessean)

Watkins was first suspended for inadvertently broadcasting a racial slur over police airwaves on Feb. 22, 2008. He received a three-day suspension without pay for his use of the “N” word then.

“I did use the word ... while speaking to these men,” Watkins wrote after the first incident. “This is not everyday conversational language I use with my family or citizens from other parts of the city.”

Watkins, in his response to the latest complaint, explained the use of racial slurs, including the “N” word and foul language was needed “to keep my finger on the pulse of things going on, as that barbershop on State Street is a pipeline for illegal activity.”

“Just remember, this is the same barbershop where a gentleman was shot and killed in front of about three years ago,” Watkins wrote, in response to the internal affairs complaint. “I had to role-play with some of them to get information, thus the reason for me using some of the language.”

Atlanta Police Department officers have refused to answer questions asked by the new civilian review board there.

Kentucky Derby winner, Mind That Bird while recovering from minor throat surgery plays with his Jolly Ball.

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