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

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Election 2009: Who's your mayor?

Riverside, the "Most Livable City" and the "City of Arts and Innovation" has adopted a new nickname: a "recovery zone", a designation for cities in the country worst hit by the recession. As titles go, it's not quite up there with "City of Arts and Innovation", "America's Most Livable City" or the $38,000 champion, the "All-American City", but it's not bad because it might bring in some stimulus cash unlike its predecessors. And if you have to sell the city's estimated 14% unemployment rate and its hideously high housing foreclosure rate, you might as well get some dollars coming your way.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The City Council voted Tuesday, 6-0, to declare Riverside a "recovery zone," which makes it eligible for the funding. Councilman Andy Melendrez was absent.

To qualify as a recovery zone, a city must have a significant level of unemployment, poverty, home foreclosures or other economic distress.

Riverside's unemployment is about 14 percent, and foreclosed homes represent about 4 percent of the city's housing stock, which is "relatively small compared to some of our neighboring communities, but it is still higher than we'd ideally like to have it," Assistant Development Director Kevin Palmer said earlier Tuesday.

In the midst of all this relabeling of the city, there's a mayoral race going on in Riverside and as you know, two mayoral candidates who have declared are squaring off. Riverside's somewhat removed from the days when individuals who have been charged with manslaughter for stabbing someone literally in the back faced off against those accused of more figuratively, stabbing people in the back (as most politicians are accused of one time or another) but despite the lack of colorful backgrounds of some candidates, the mayoral race proves to be a memorable contest even if the forecast might appear one-sided on paper.

This year should be no exception, with perennial incumbent, Ron Loveridge facing off against former councilman, Art Gage. Loveridge hasn't lost an election for either councilman or mayor for a long time if ever. Gage lost his reelection bid just two years ago to current Ward Three Councilman Rusty Bailey.

Unlike some people, I don't look at Gage's entrance in the mayor's race and laugh at it like it's a joke. It's good that someone stepped in the race to try to make an election out of it rather than a coronation like you often find in some of the county law enforcement and judicial contests during most election cycles. In a contest between two candidates, the issues impacting a city are more likely to receive an airing in both debate forums and in the media as well than in a one-horse walkover. Issues like the economic downturn and its impact on the city's general funds, layoffs and this ever-present reserve of $45 million that we keep hearing and reading about. Is there a much touted financial reserve? Probably. Is it anywhere near that amount? Not very likely. Will it be spun one way or another during this election cycle? We'll have to wait to find out.

Hopefully, more political debates involving the candidates will be held to give the voting public more access to learning about where their candidates stand on the issues, meaning that you won't have to shell out major dollars for a lunch or dinner in order to hear the mayoral candidates talk on the issues impacting this city and how if elected as mayor, they will address them with what few powers they will have in a city with a weak mayor system. Of course, the influence and power of most mayors is felt behind the scenes and as the chairs of city council meetings. A power that Loveridge has developed and welded skillfully during the past decade or so.

But it's commonly speculated that Loveridge was originally going to step down when his current term was up rather than bother raising a campaign chest (which he does very effectively)and waging another trip down the campaign trail which can be pretty extensive in a citywide election. After all, Riverside's growing into a fairly big city, both area-wise (through annexations) and population (through births, immigration and annexations), certainly much bigger than it was when Loveridge first took office in early 1994.

The guy has his own page on Wikipedia but maybe at the time the thought of fighting over an abbreviated term (as part of a election renovation package approved by voters several years ago) didn't really appeal to him.

Loveridge allegedly changed his mind about not running when he decided he wanted to be the next president of the League of Cities, a national organization of elected officials from different cities. In fact, 2009 was previously speculated by the media including the Inland Empire Monthly magazine of being a wide-open election and it ran an article interviewing two men who were council members at the time who flirted with the prospect of running for the mayor's position. Today both of them are unemployed by the city and one of them, Gage is indeed running for mayor but he's running against Loveridge.

Lately, Gage has become a populist of sorts, just check out his platform on his Web site. The guy who used to be backed by the once idolized but currently reviled developer, Doug Jacobs (boo! hiss!). Jacobs, (who's the city's current equivalent of Darth Vader until he's replaced and returns to being Anakin Skywalker), was associated with Gage when they were planning to try out Eminent Domain on homes near the Magnolia Center. But now Gage is presenting himself through this platform by turning the focus away from ED (which isn't mentioned on the page at all). Instead, he's retraining his focus towards emphasizing the infrastructure portion of the Riverside Renaissance over the picturesque portion (which includes the infamous downtown business seizures) which makes more sense than digging up street dividers to put drought resistant foliage on them or widening streets and then having to dig them up later to fix water mains and replace sewer systems. This distinction wasn't made by any elected official who starred in the Renaissance unveiling and love-in at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium several years ago and anyone who brought it up was treated like a skunk would be at a pool party.

And it would be refreshing to see a political candidate including in the mayoral race start asking questions about where all this Renaissance money is coming from because of alleged double and triple billing on some projects and a lack of listed financial source on some Riverside Renaissance projects that have gone to project engineers. Not to mention, the question that begged to be asked. How long did it really take the city to find out that a former development employee was trying to embezzle money from the Magnolia Police Station capital project to finance his landscaping expenses (and apparently those included on a list of clients all looking to get theirs done too)?

Paul Davis, the new councilman in the fourth ward ran on a platform of financial accountability including with Riverside Renaissance which has done few or no favors in getting its supporters on the dais elected so far. And he's done some action in that area but what of the mayoral candidates? What can they promise in this area?

Free Speech for Me but not for Thee

Gage talks about increasing public participation at city council meetings by making them more user-friendly, first by trying to push for the reversal of the infamous July 2005 which imposed restrictions on public participation at city council meetings including banning the public from being able to pull items from the consent calendar. That motion was pushed and passed by the city officials like Betro and Schiavone who claimed to be in favor of enhancing public participation. Gage also wants to push for the revoking of the use of speaker cards for public comment, fully recognizing that these cards provide the mayor or mayor pro tem of the meeting to exercise power over who gets to speak, when and in what order. Loveridge has put this power to full use allowing the people he likes including those who have endorsed him to speak first and shuttling those he dislikes towards the end of the list of speakers, perhaps hoping that by the time those speakers are gotten to, most of the audience will have left.

Gage can afford to take a stand on the issue of the consent calendar because he cast the sole (and some watchdogs say, very safe) vote against it. Most of those who voted in favor for restricting the expression of city residents at meetings are no longer on the dais but those who ran at least partly on platforms to liberate public participation have yet to even do an iota to act on their pledges. Would Gage be any different if elected? Perhaps, but it's not like he can cast a vote (except in a very unlikely tie) though he could veto any further restrictions which could come down the pike as long as only four council members supported them.

I (heart) the CPRC (but my fingers are crossed)

There was a time for both Loveridge and Gage when they said they supported the CPRC. Loveridge back in the turbulent year of 1999 when he was quoted as saying that he thought the value of civilian oversight was "symbolic". He must have been shocked when his creation, the Mayor's Use of Force (where he could have come out looking like Frankenstein) came up with the recommendation to research various forms of civilian review to see which one would best suit Riverside. He recovered and eventually the city council passed the weakest form of civilian oversight it could back door into a vote (over a stronger, more independent model it fronted in public) and since then, his support of the beleaguered and currently micromanaged commission has waffled from threatening to veto against any attempt to gut its budget in 2004, when Gage in fact had proposed a motion to do just that, to tacitly supporting the recent decision to gut its charter mandated ability to do investigations of officer-involved deaths. And yes, gutted is the perfect word to use and anyone doubting that, should ask themselves just two simple questions.

How many officer-involved deaths have taken place since the Hudson directive? 4

How many investigations have been initiated involving these deaths, including two that have passed or are approaching their first year anniversaries? Zero

So that should quash any doubts that the city's true intent wasn't to delay these independent investigations, it was to eliminate them. And it's likely that both Gage and Loveridge would support the quashing of these investigations, and it's likely that Gage would be the louder of the two. After all, Gage pushed a motion to gut the funding of the CPRC by up to 90% (to put its budget in line with that of the Human Relations Commission) and he called the commission a piece of junk or trash at an evening city council meeting not long after. A comment he has never apologized for making. However, when he first ran for city council and got elected, he said that he had supported it, but having received over $13,000 from the Riverside Police Officers' Association's political action committee during an era when it refused to support candidates who didn't oppose the CPRC, pretty much belied his words which incidentally came back to haunt him after his 180 degree turn on the CPRC became apparent certainly by the "trash" comment.

However, despite that at least a voter knows he can't stand the CPRC and will act accordingly, whereas with Loveridge, he will stand by and tacitly support the gutting of the CPRC's charter powers and then say he's actually helping it perform better and be more accountable to city residents. So while you have two candidates who really are not supporters of the CPRC, at least one is more honest about it than the other but the actions of both when they were in positions of leadership, whether executive or legislative, speak louder than their words.

And really, the last thing the dais needs is another elected official who claims to be a staunch supporter of the CPRC who then votes to dilute its charter powers, in other words, killing it with kindness. The voters in the past two elections certainly haven't been fooled.

Who's endorsing who?

Loveridge has already picked up one media endorsement. He'll probably pick up quite a few more endorsements. But what's more telling is that just when you thought you didn't need a reminder of how the city council is an exclusive club, you'll be reminded once again when it pretty much gives a blanket endorsement to a fellow dais mate. And sure enough if you check Loveridge's scrolling endorsement list on his campaign site, you'll find that virtually everyone in the current city council is endorsing him with the sole exception of the most recent addition, Councilman Paul Davis. Davis, if you recall, was endorsed by Gage in his successful election but so far hasn't publicly endorsed either candidate. So the city council is one short of being a big happy political family.

What's fascinating to see isn't when long-time city council members endorse their fellow incumbents or even when past city officials like Ed Adkison, Dom Betro and Frank Schiavone (all of whom endorsed Loveridge over Gage), it's when the more recently elected officials like Rusty Bailey and Mike Gardner do it, because after all, when they ran for election, they ran against candidates who were endorsed by the partial city council (in Bailey's case though Schiavone played a huge role in his election campaign thus pretty much owning him for a while) or the entire city council as was more the case in the 2007 election where Gardner beat Betro in a squeaker that kept people in suspense for nearly a month.

How quickly they learn the game and become part of it. Just like Betro and Gage before them, only it remains to be seen whether they'll parlay their lessons into reelections two years from now. And how any challengers particularly if there are any grass-roots campaigns launched (which right now looks more likely in Bailey's ward) and how these candidates will view the incumbents during that election cycle. Interesting also, because what the last two election cycles have taught any aspiring candidate or election consultant (and there's quite a few of them out there) is that you don't need a ton of money to win an election (at least not on the council although it still might be to win the mayor's race). You need a good amount of money to work with, but more importantly than that, you need a good campaigning team of foot soldiers to canvass the voters preferably door to door and a lot of shoe leather.

Betro won his election on the campaign trail, not the money trail. He lost his reelection bid to Gardner who won on the campaign trail, not the money trail. And neither incumbent Nancy Hart nor challenger Davis raised a ton of money to wage their successful campaigns in Wards Six and Four during the last cycle. The only winners of high-priced developer funded campaigns in recent years have been Bailey and in another two-round squeaker Adams. It will be interesting to see how Gardner fares in 2011 and Davis fares in 2013 (if either or both choose to run again) and just as importantly, what kind of campaigns they will wage. Will either make Betro's mistake? It all remains to be seen and there's plenty of time to find out.

Loveridge's endorsement list is here. Gage is asking for endorsements here but hasn't provided a list online yet.

Loveridge's campaign site is here and Gage's is here so read up on them before you vote.

Residents of the city and the county square off again over the controversial closure of Dufferin street.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Bonnie Salazar, who lives at the corner of Stewart Street and Dufferin Avenue, has waited a long time for the road closure, which she said was supposed to happen six years ago. For her and others who had to deal with large amounts of traffic on a street that wasn't equipped for it, she said, the closure has been a relief.

"I think that we still have a few people that honk when they go by, and I know they're unhappy, but they didn't have a freeway in front of their house," Salazar said.

However, county residents in subdivisions south of McAllister say it made things worse for them.

Alicia Hoyer, a county resident who organized a community meeting on the issue in August, said she's worried because her son needed medical attention in May, and ambulances and fire trucks have typically gotten to her neighborhood through Dufferin.

The city promised to install emergency access gates when the street closure was approved, but that won't be done until permanent changes are made to Dufferin. The work should be done by December, said Tom Boyd, the city's deputy public works director. For now, temporary barriers block the street.

Instead of taking it quietly, some county residents have been pressing city and county elected officials to find a solution -- reopen Dufferin for now, build Street A, or extend Stewart Street to connect to McAllister Parkway.

Residents also have opted to vote with their wallets, launching a "Shop Corona" campaign once they learned the city planned to close the street.

County resident Jerry Close said he buys his woodworking supplies at a Corona store instead of the Lowe's in Riverside, and he doesn't spend money at the Galleria on Tyler any more.

Has the Riverside County Superior Court system eliminated its backlog on trials?

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

There is still a huge caseload in civil and criminal courts, including about 49 pending death-penalty cases, which can take on average 10-to-12 weeks of court time. Neighboring San Bernardino County has 11 pending capital punishment cases, by comparison.

Riverside County's judges and commissioners are far fewer than the population requires, and rely on a supplement of retired judges to help keep things running.

On Aug. 26 there were 16 retired judges hearing cases in Riverside County, about 21 percent of the county's 76 funded judge and commissioner positions. A caseload study used by the state Judicial Council says the county should have 142 judicial positions.

One year ago there were five courts available in Riverside County to hear civil trials, four of them initiated by then-presiding Judge Richard Fields and specially funded by the state Administrative Office of the Courts to reduce the county's civil case backlog.

The fifth was Superior Court Judge Gary Tranbarger's court. He is automatically challenged by the district attorney's office to block hearing any criminal case assigned to him.

Now there are eight courts dedicated to hearing civil trials. Cahraman ordered one open in February, under objection from the district attorney's office, and has opened two more since

"It is up to the court to assign courtrooms," Chief Assistant District Attorney Sue Steding said in a recent interview. "The court is well aware of the issues of criminal case backlog, and the issues that need to be addressed with that."

Civil trial judges are still being used for criminal matters. There currently are 12 courts formally designated to hear civil trials.

But having eight courts available has stepped up the number of resolved cases. They either go to trial or settle with an open courtroom waiting.

From January to June of this year there were 145 civil trials, on track for 290 for the year -- "More than we have ever done," Cahraman said.

Speaking of criminal trials, will there be a change of venue in the case involving a high-ranking fire fighter from the Los Angeles County Fire Department who's been charged with animal cruelty?

An Early Warning System devised for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department appears to be working quite well and has shown a relationship between the number of complaints a deputy gets, sustained or not, and the amount of trouble that deputy causes the department.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

The study concluded that there is a strong link between the number of complaints filed against a deputy -- proven or not -- and the possibility that the deputy will eventually get into serious trouble and become a liability for the department

The monitoring system, which tracks complaints, conduct and use of force, was established in 1993 after a scathing report by a special commission found a "disturbing" pattern of excessive force and mistreatment of minorities in the Sheriff's Department.

The early-warning system was the first of its kind in the nation, according to Merrick Bobb, special counsel for the county Board of Supervisors.

Known as the Personnel Performance Index, the system has succeeded in identifying deputies with a likelihood of getting into trouble and has allowed the department to mentor the officers and monitor their behavior, Bobb said.

"An outstanding officer suddenly going bad is rare," he wrote in his semiannual report on the Sheriff's Department. "Far more often, the thinking goes, officers involved in an incident especially harmful to the department or the community have a history of substandard or worrisome performance."

The study examined the records of 561 deputies and found that officers who had been named in use-of-force complaints, even if the accusations were unproven, were more likely to be involved in shootings and successful lawsuits against the department.

For every four to five allegations of improper use of force lodged against a deputy, there was an average increase of one shooting, Bobb said.

Although the system cannot predict whether a deputy will become involved in a shooting, Bobb said it "can say deputies with five allegations are generally more likely to be involved in more shootings on patrol."

Is the Pittsburgh Police Department trained on how to address the First Amendment? The ACLU in that city is going to court to find out.

In Rhode Island, a state police officer punched out a sergeant at a fund raising event.

Jericho Police Department in Arkansas is under investigation.

The investigation stems from this disturbing incident where a fire chief was shot by a police officer inside a courtroom over a dispute involving speed bumps. That's taking the tension that exists between the two professions a little bit too far. The fireman is recovering but not surprisingly the incident has attracted investigations.

Also the subject of a deepening probe is the New Orleans Police Department which is being investigated by the United States Justice Department.

(excerpt, The Times Picayune)

Federal agents, meanwhile, have been studying police e-mails and documents obtained by subpoena -- as well as through a surprise search warrant executed on the New Orleans Police Department homicide office -- in an attempt to ferret out exactly what happened in the chaotic days after the storm.

The feds also have sent subpoenas seeking photographs to The Times-Picayune, and they have ordered a former photographer for the paper to testify before the grand jury.

Observers and authorities say the investigations, and the charges they are likely to result in, could shake the very foundation of the New Orleans Police Department in ways that haven't been seen since the Len Davis murder-for-hire case in the mid-1990s. Davis, who essentially ran a drug-protection racket comprised of fellow NOPD officers, was sentenced to death for ordering the execution of a woman who filed a complaint against him.

But the reverberations from the new cases could extend well beyond the department. The cases are likely to get international publicity and heighten already-deep mistrust of the Police Department. And, as did other notorious Katrina cases -- such as allegations of euthanasia at Memorial Medical Center and of gross neglect at St. Rita's nursing home -- the cases will force New Orleanians to confront an uncomfortable and perhaps unanswerable question: How accountable should people be for the actions they take in desperate times?

Led by prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division and conducted by FBI agents, the simultaneous federal investigations are focused on two separate police actions -- one on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans and the other in Algiers. Federal authorities are also exploring allegations of vigilante violence by civilians in Algiers Point.

After changes were made in Milwaukee Police Department's complaints system, the number of them increased.

(excerpt, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

He attributes the jump to the fact it has become a lot easier to file a complaint since an overhaul of the commission last year, pilot changes that were formally adopted this summer.

"We're much more accessible," Tobin said, and registering a beef about a police officer "is a much different, much simpler process."

Prompted by a consultant's report, a Supreme Court opinion and growing citizen frustration, the commission announced last year major changes in how it would handle complaints. The Milwaukee Police Association sued the agency, saying the new approach was unfair to officers.

But the lawsuit was dismissed last month after the commission and the union agreed to new parameters about mediation. The commission agreed that its investigators would follow the same rules of notice and representation for officers that apply when the department's own Professional Performance Department investigates officers internally, according to Tobin and union president John Balcerzak.

"I commend the city," Balcerzak said. "They kept the integrity of the process but heard our concerns."

Last year, the commission accepted a record 120 formal complaints. This year, however, it began distinguishing complaints as formal or informal. The majority of this year's complaints - 122 - were of the latter type. More than 90% of them had been closed by the time of the report. Tobin said they are often more like inquiries than complaints, by residents who want to know if something an officer did or didn't do is standard procedure. They get a "rapid resolution," in the form of a response from a police supervisor, which Tobin reviews.

Of the formal complaints, 42 were still under investigation in July.

Race Day for Rachel Alexandra
provides kind of an interesting look at an afternoon in the life of a racing legend in the making.

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