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, September 10, 2009

Are the CPRC and Police Department conducting timely investigations and reviews of personnel complaints?

"Our one pleasure's gone."

----Sandy Valentine, library patron to Press Enterprise about the reduction in hours they will be open.

The Community Police Review Commission’s sustain rate of 2.5% on complaint allegations might be slightly endangered by a two-month spree when they sustained on the vast majority of allegations reviewed during the months of July and August, according to the latest monthly reports here and here.

During July, 15 out of 20 complaint allegations were sustained and three out of four were sustained in August.

The breakdown of allegations for July included eight improper procedure allegations, one discrimination/harassment and nine criminal conduct allegations. Given the high number of sustained allegations, one could calculate that at least three of the criminal conduct allegations were sustained by the commission. If so, it would be the first time that criminal conduct allegations received sustained finding since November 2005 when two police officers faced allegations that they had planted a weapon and lied about it in police reports they filed with the department after being involved in a pursuit in the Eastside during April of 2005. A criminal probe led to no charges being filed against the two officers. Bold

A Look Back at History

That administrative investigation took over six months to complete which may have seemed long then but is a blip in time now and allegedly the disciplinary action of firing the officers took place before the complaint ever reached the CPRC. The firing of the two police officers was ultimately reversed by first arbitrators and then reaffirmed by the city council through a bizarre chain of events which led to six city council members reversing their initial votes on the officers’ futures during a second closed session during March and April in 2008. Initially, all the city council members except former Councilman Art Gage had voted to contest the arbitration finding in Riverside County Superior Court but after former Councilman Frank Schiavone (after being persuaded by the leadership of the Riverside Police Officers’ Association) convinced them to revisit the vote at a meeting two weeks later, the remaining six council members switched their votes as the city council voted 7-0 to reinstate the officers after viewing a presentation put on by Schiavone and City Attorney Gregory Priamos.

If the commission did sustain on any criminal conduct allegations on a police complaint, then it’s not clear nor will it ever be known if the police department’s own investigators from the Internal Affairs Division reached similar conclusions in their own administrative probes. It’s also not clear whether or not a criminal investigation was conducted by the department and whether or not any charges were filed. It will probably never be known what they were accused and possibly found guilty of doing or even if they are still employed. If anyone gets fired and reinstated in arbitration, then it might come up on a city council agenda in about two years or so.

When looking at the monthly report which provided statistical information, one disturbing factoid jumps out quickly and that’s how long it took the complaints to first, reach the CPRC and then how long it took the CPRC to reach its own recommended findings on them. For Category 1 complaints (which for August, were the criminal conduct allegations), it took on average 224 days to reach the CPRC and another 128 days for the CPRC to complete its work on them. That meant that from the date of filing to the date of completion by the CPRC, it took an average of 352 days.

For lesser Category 2 complaints, it took 274 days for them on average to reach the CPRC for further investigation and/or review and another 117 days for the CPRC to reach its own findings. That meant that it took a total of 391 days for the process to be completed by the CPRC from the date of filing.

There were three sustained allegations for the month of July, all of them likely involving category 2 allegations. On average, it took 286 days for these complaints to reach the CPRC and another 119 days to receive findings from the CPRC. Total time to complete the process? 405 days.

Guidelines set forth in the police department’s complaint policy, #4.12, state that category 1 complaint investigations are to be completed in 60 days and category 2 complaints, in 30 days. If more time is needed, it has to be signed off on by the lieutenant in charge of the internal Affairs Division. These “guidelines” make it appear as if complaints that take longer to complete than these time spans were the exception to the rule but it’s clear from reviewing statistics provided in the CPRC’s monthly and annual reports, that these deviations from the 30-60 day deadlines are the rule.

Governmental State Code 3304(d) states that an officer can’t be disciplined for misconduct if 365 days have elapsed since the time misconduct is first suspected. In most cases, that is the date the investigation is initiated, even if the actual misconduct took place at an earlier date. There’s a list of exemptions to this time line including ongoing criminal investigations, civil litigation, multi-agency investigations, incapacitated officers and cases involving a larger number of officers.

A Look at History Part Deux

One famous misstep that the police department took when botching this timeline happened in 1998-99 when Officer Roger Sutton was under investigation for a controversial incident involving his canine biting a female officer. Initially, the intent was to at least suspend him, according to officers who testified during his trial. However, Sutton didn’t receive his intent to discipline notice until two weeks after the statutory deadline had passed making any attempts to discipline illegal. So what the agency did instead was to transfer him out of the canine unit as a form of discipline. It would be vague enough not to be as easily provable as a form of discipline like a suspension or termination would be yet it would still serve a disciplinary purpose. The problem was they notified Sutton of his “nondisciplinary” transfer on a memorandum which stated on its top, “Notice of intent to discipline”. Not one of the police department’s smoother moments as became clear when this all played out in a public forum known as a courtroom.

The delay in Sutton’s administrative investigation in one sense was easily explainable. The internal investigation was farmed outside of the Internal Affairs Division and handed off to then Canine Sgt. Wally Rice who would go on to be shot and wounded in the rescue operation at City Hall in October 1998. It took the department months to replace him with then Sgt. Leon Phillips who completed the investigation. The cited Governmental Code section doesn’t make exceptions for investigations compromised by incapacitated investigators (as the incapacitation clause applies only to involved officers) so the clock was ticking away the entire time and in this case, time ran out.

Internal Affairs Investigation Backlog

[The front entrance of the Riverside Police Department's Internal Affairs Division sharing space with both the North Neighborhood Policing Center and the Greyhound Bus Lines office]

Internal Affairs (in a nutshell):

Lt. Mike Cook who originally came out of the Chief's office to help its previous head, Lt. Steve Johnson deal with the backlog last autumn then took the division over when Johnson went out on leave earlier this year. But the backlog still continues...

His staff of investigators:

Sgt. Brian Dailey: Three years and counting, he's the senior investigator in the division.

Sgt. John Capen: Is this his first stint?

Sgt. Pat McCarthy: The former president of the Riverside Police Officers' Association created some stir this year when he briefly held a board position while assigned to Internal Affairs. He resigned as chair to the union's PAC but still serves on the committee.

Sgt. Frank Assuma: The long-time head of the department's gang unit now wears a suit.

Sgt. Marcus Smail: The guy who stepped up to live in the Antitoch House (still owned by the city but unoccupied) is now assigned to Internal Affairs.

The Internal Affairs Division was abruptly relocated while trying to address its backlog last autumn and the General Services division (which was assigned to assist its relocation) received only two weeks notice. Consequently, the first month that the Internal Affairs Division was operating from its new digs, it experienced problems including with equipment which may have impacted its operations. Hopefully, those issues were resolved a long time ago and the city manager's office has finally advanced to the level of at least micromanaging the department without hampering its function. But unfortunately it's not clear that the strategies imposed by the department to battle or at least reduce the backlog have really been effective.

It’s been an unfortunate pattern and practice of the police department to take nearly a year or longer to complete its complaint investigations during the past several years. Attempts by the department to alleviate this backlog including placing an extra lieutenant to man the unit for several months last autumn did little to address the ongoing problem. Responses to inquiries involving this issue tend to be defensive with the insistence that professionally done and thorough investigations should be paramount before meeting time lines and that’s difficult to argue against. It’s disingenuous to keep hiding behind that excuse because the lagging investigations may be caused by other things beside their complexity (such as the prioritizing and organization of investigations which seems somewhat disorganized and their time lines as well as the number of internally generated probes) and the increasing time taken to investigate complaints may threaten the rights of complainants and police officers alike to a process that not only is objective and thorough but also just as important, timely.

And I don’t think anyone not even a City Hall inspired puppet can argue that complaint investigations done by the police department are timely. Perhaps they can try but who will believe them?

After all, when former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer wrote the lawsuit he intended to file against Riverside for not promoting a sustained effort to reform and update its police department as well as the stipulated judgment, he stated that investigations were to be timely as well as thoroughly and fairly done. Are they being thoroughly and fairly done? Unfortunately, due to confidentiality laws, the police department is the only one that can be sure of that. The commissioners on the CPRC who review their work product might have some idea, the few on the panel that actually do review the entire case files for the complaints. But even though the department's practice of conducting fair and thorough investigations might be debatable primarily because so much of it is shrouded in secrecy, what's not so secret is the department's failure to do timely investigations during the past several years.

At least, the commission and/or department have made it a practice to at least send notification and update letters to complainants every 90 or so days to inform them at the very least that the complaints haven't gotten lost in the system. But the fact that complainants might receive on average three or four of these letters, is somewhat disturbing.

Aggravating the problem no doubt, is the current field sergeant shortage that has resulted from t up eight positions at this rank being vacant by the end of this year. This matters because field sergeants conduct at least 70% of all complaint investigations and fewer sergeants supervising the same number or more officers on shifts means less time spent on investigations which transfers to more days and weeks spent conducting investigations. This and the prioritzation of internal investigations and category 1 complaints probably explains why the average for category 2 complaints for one month this summer was over 400 days.

And being an officer with an outstanding complaint hitting over 300 days can't be much fun either. It's not in alignment with the Peace Officer Bill of Rights to have a complaint hanging over an officer's head for one or two years. But if the police union isn't raising a fuss over this, then it's likely that these complaints are actually being adjudicated long before the 365 day mark, meaning long before they reach the CPRC which is then left to serve as the powerless, rubber stamp and public relations tool (borrowing a quote from Commissioner Robert Slawsby's interview) that City Hall intended it to be.

The CPRC as an Accomplice to the Backlog

[The CPRC during one of its public meetings. Behind closed doors, it reviews and issues recommended findings on complaint allegations and is currently contributing to the backlog of citizen complaint investigation, review and disposition]

But blame also lies with the CPRC which has seen its average time span of 30-60 days spent on receiving completed investigations and reviewing complaints burgeon to first an average of about 90 days and now that number has been bumped up to 119 days. Part of that might be the process of sending investigations back to investigators in the department for further investigation but most of it probably has to do with the decision of Chair Sheri Corral and Vice-Chair Peter Hubbard to reduce meetings including case reviews from twice monthly to just once. Since they made that fateful decision, the backlog at the CPRC level has clearly grown.

The greatest increases have come since they first took their respective offices in March and almost immediately began reducing the number of their meetings arguing that they were all caught up and there was nothing to do. Not surprising coming from no doubt the synergistic effect of having the two commissioners with the worst attendance records in 2008 heading the meetings. But their poor attendance records probably made them more attractive as prospective leaders to City Hall. Combine them with three commissioners who really can’t do anything other than a) play follow the leader who follows City Hall or b) vote against anything proposed by the vocal minority without even hearing it and you have a process that not surprisingly has hit enough of a gridlock to see the kinds of average numbers for complaint processing that are currently appearing on the commission’s own monthly reports.

Internal Affairs’ pique appears to be that the commission is slow to respond to its requests for information given the back and forth that probably exists between the two agencies. Given that it probably sustains about 2% of all complaint allegations (and it's a guess given that this division stopped releasing its own statistical reports in 2001 but it's comparable to police department's in Atlanta and Chicago), it's not likely that there's much to be concerned about in terms of exhausting statutory limitations on disciplinary procedures. But here's an interesting idea to consider and that's whether or not the police department initiates disciplinary actions against officers on sustained allegations before the complaints are adjudicated by either the CPRC or the city manager's office. After all, Chief Leach's office said it did so in the case of the officers fired in 2005. If it waited, how would it approaching applying discipline in relation to sustained allegations against officers that are over 365 days old?

Another missing part of the equation is whether or not there have been any grievances filed by police officers in relation to the department's time line issues. The number of grievances filed by police officers has increased this year according to statistics provided on grievances filed by city department provided by the Human Resources Department to the Human Resources Board. But it's unknown what the focus is of these grievances let alone whether or not there's any common denominators. After a debate held by the League of Women's Voters regarding Measure II in 2004, then Riverside Police Officers' Association Secretary Christian Dinco complained to then commissioners Bill Howe and Jack Brewer along with then CPRC Executive Director Don Williams that there were complaints that took one to two years to complete their process of investigation, review and disposition.

For cases involving sustained criminal conduct allegations, it may or may not be an issue depending on whether or not the police department through its Internal Affairs Division actually initiated any criminal probes in these situations, not necessarily a given in allegations of criminal conduct made in complaints. If the department does conduct criminal investigations and/or another investigative agency does, then its statutory limitation for that investigation is exempt from the state's governmental code. But what about the rest of the sustained allegations coming out of complaints over a year old? What happens with them?
To be Continued as long as the backlog does...

People in Riverside are adjusting to fewer hours at the city's libraries. These along with numerous layoffs at the libraries including the firing of dozens of pages last year come as a result of city budget cuts.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Library officials agreed in August to shorten and adjust hours to save money. Riverside has faced a reduced budget citywide this fiscal year and a small number of layoffs, including the library's volunteer coordinator.

"The library is just one of the departments in the city that had to reduce its budget," Nancy Melendez, president of the library board of trustees, said in a phone interview. "We did not want to reduce hours, but that is one (area) that we felt that we could make those cuts."

The cuts to library hours, which are about a 13 percent reduction from current service, mean that all of the city's seven libraries open later and close earlier Monday through Thursday, although the main library stays open later Thursday nights. Friday through Sunday hours remain largely the same.

Some library users said the change doesn't pose a problem for them. Tattoo artist Mike Quill, who was waiting for the downtown library to open Thursday morning, said he'll adjust his schedule accordingly.

"It's only a one-hour change, so I don't think it's that big a deal," said Quill, who usually visits the Eastside "cybrary" to use the computers. "It's not a big inconvenience for me."

Laurelle Coon, a job coach with a Riverside-based program for mentally disabled people, brought a group of clients to the main library Wednesday. She knew about the change but doesn't expect it to affect their library use, she said.

"With the economy the way it was, I wasn't really surprised (by the reduced hours)," Coon said.

But for a group from Cole Vocational Services, which also serves disabled people, a too-early arrival Wednesday meant the trip was wasted. Staff member Sandra Spencer said the group's bus picks them up at 11:15 a.m., so they would have to come out and wait for it almost as soon as the library's doors opened.

"We'll have to do something different now," she said. "That's kind of a shame."

Corona's mayor wants to lower the cost of traffic citations.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Corona Mayor Steve Nolan told City Council members recently that he was shocked to learn that Debbie Igo, a bartender at his restaurant, Backwoods BBQ, received a $446 red-light traffic citation that dwarfed her paycheck of $367 for two weeks' work at minimum wage.

He would like to turn the vehicle code violation into an administrative citation, allowing the city to set the fine and collect the money. The city of Roseville, near Sacramento, has taken a similar approach to other traffic citations, issuing tickets through the city's municipal code rather than the state vehicle code.

If citations are issued administratively, violators would not pay county and state fees that balloon the cost of a ticket. Drivers also would not likely receive points against their driving records, and insurance would not be affected. But the city would be responsible for processing costs.

"It just started eating at me -- what that amount of money would do to a family," Nolan said.

Cities have been installing red-light cameras at intersections where the most accidents have occurred in an effort to prevent injuries and deaths, the same reason why Corona started its red-light program, City Councilman Eugene Montanez said. The cost of red-light traffic citations vary according to the county -- which tacks its fines and court fees onto the state fine -- and the person's driving record, whether they qualify for traffic school and other factors.

There will be no venue change for the trial of a high-ranking member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department charged with animial cruelty.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

During a brief hearing in Riverside Superior Court, Judge Ronald Taylor denied the change of venue motion to try Glynn Johnson, 55, in Los Angeles County on felony animal cruelty charges.

Johnson is accused of beating the 6-month old German shepherd mix, Karley, to the point that the owners had to have her euthanized. Johnson said he was acting in self defense after Karley bit him repeatedly and latched onto his hand as he was walking the dog home .

If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison.

Johnson's attorneys had filed the motion last month seeking to move the case due to local and national publicity. The story gained international attention on the Internet and drew multiple protests outside the Riverside courthouse and district attorney's office.

In a brief hearing, the judge read the previously submitted motions, then denied the matter. Taylor set a Nov. 10 trial date to begin the case at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

"We have other defendants charged with molesting 6-year-olds and we still try those cases," Taylor said. "You can't tell the court what may happen."

Upcoming Meetings

Monday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. The Human Resource Board meets at City Hall in the Fifth Floor conference room at City Hall.

Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council meeting at City Hall.

The meeting agenda is here including the keynote discussion item, which is the Governmental Affairs Committee's recommendations for amending the Ethics Code and complaint process which are detailed in this report.

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