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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Survey says...but who's surveyed?

Riverside's City Council has adopted yet another economic strategic plan taken from input by business and community organizations as well as a whopping 300 city residents out of about 350,000 people in this city. That's nice to ask for some input but how about next time, put a general survey in the utility or gas bills for example and offer them at City Hall and community centers and libraries so that more people can provide input about what's going on in their own city? That way, it's not always the same advice coming from the same crowds.

And does this work with or contradict or serve as a redundancy to the city's general plan, some are asking.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the plan and asked City Manager Brad Hudson to come back in two months with specifics on how to make it a reality.

"In the past we've kind of let our destiny be handed to us. This is the opportunity to plan better, to do better, to make Riverside be what we want it to be," Councilman Mike Gardner said.

The plan, called "Seizing Our Destiny: The Agenda for Riverside's Innovative Future," includes 11 broad strategies to create jobs and a sought-after workforce, encourage the arts and education, and market the city as a desirable place to visit or live.

Each strategy includes actions, such as using zoning and other government tools to create an artists' colony, making a master plan for the citrus greenbelt, expanding the downtown convention center, offering incentives to encourage green businesses, and working closely with UC Riverside to ensure its planned medical school benefits the economy and health care in the city.

Here's what some people who probably didn't get surveyed have to say about it so far.

(excerpts, PE)

Every "plan" presented to the City Council has something about an artists colony in it. You can't zone in or plan an artist colony! Artists will settle into a place that's interesting and vibrant. Create that first, and the artists will come.

One thing the council CAN do, however, is not chase off street performers during the Festival of Lights! I witnessed a City Employee chasing off a violinist off the mall a couple of weeks ago, despite the fact that what he was playing was seasonal, pleasant, and people were enjoying it. City of the Arts, indeed (as long as you have a permit).

These plans also invariably talk about promoting Riverside. As my English teacher used to say to us, "Show me, don't tell me." The City can come out with as many slick promotions as they want ("Freeway Close!", "Only an hour away from everything you want to do!", "Midway between LA and Palm Springs!"), but if people come and find there's very little to do here, they won't find it a desirable place to locate a business or live.

I don't like to be so down on the City I have grown to love, but seeing it trot out study after study, and plan after plan, and have very little to show for it after 20 years is frustrating at best and disheartening at worst. When I see all the people downtown during the Festival of Lights I imagine what it could be all year long, but after January it all fades away...

Right on, whoozincharg. Mayor Love loves to spend other people's money. Further, every day I encounter too much traffic because these geniuses promoted too much growth too quickly before infrastructure could be developed. And with all the homes/people added over the last decade, each month my utility bill has a money wasting flyer about conserving.


One commenter commented on the last line of the news article which stated the following:


Officials won't know until later in the process how much some of the plan's initiatives might cost or who would pay for them.

This is the silliest line ever written in an article or farmed out by elected officials. Who's going to pay for these initiatives? Who else, but the city residents? This confusion about where the money will come to pay for high ticket items appears to be more of an avoidance of just coming out and saying that the city residents will do that. Because the city residents are the ones who usually pay for the manifestation of the city's strategic plans even though the input opportunities for the majority of residents are minimal. Not that these items aren't sometimes necessary or desirable, but it's usually just best to cut to the chase and just tell the public that it's paying for these things up front and get it out of the way. But what too often happens is that City Hall promotes these "economic strategic plans" or "Riverside Renaissance" with a lot of fanfare and more than a few bells and whistles but holds back the check until later on down the line.

RPD Strategic Plan Update

Speaking of surveys, the Riverside Police Department has put out this survey to get input on what it's calling its Strategic Plan for 2010-2015. The police department's been at work trying to get more public input on the process of creating the strategic plan which will replace the original one which sunsets at the end of the month and that puts it one step ahead of the city's latest economic extravaganza plan from the start. That Plan was mandated under the police department's stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office.

The department's made some degree of progress since only several months ago when it had appeared that City Hall had placed the newer strategic plan process on ice, after it had been promoted by Chief Russ Leach especially the solicitation of public comments from city residents earlier this year. At any rate, the process was clearly delayed for a while and only began a month or so ago. This situation mirrored somewhat the stumbles that the original Strategic Plan took after the city and state dissolved the stipulated judgment in March 2006. But it did appear to get out of this quagmire somewhat quicker than happened in 2006 which hopefully means that this process will continue in some meaningful direction. But it needs to stay in that direction and history has already shown, that's not necessarily a given what with all the chefs or chiefs in this kitchen including those from the seventh floor at City Hall.

If you can't access the survey online, then you can go to the Orange Street Station and pick up a hard copy at the front desk. They're available only in English and hopefully, there will be some Spanish language versions available soon. But the department is putting together some meetings of select community leaders by invitation for upcoming meetings to discuss the Strategic Plan's development so hopefully that will provide groups with good opportunities for feedback on this valuable process. But if you're a mere mortal like most of Riverside is when it comes to any strategic plan survey (see above), fill out the survey and provide some input. I think we've been given space for about 50 words for suggestions and well, for me that's out the window because I've got much more than 50 words and so do many others. So it might be better to get a hard copy and then supplement it with some more pages.

Well, the survey's a great start but actually its greater role is to serve as a starting point rather than an ending point for discussion of what's on it and it's an excellent tool for doing that. That's where its greatest value comes from rather than just being a survey where the input stops there.

Hopefully, the police department will expand from the focus groups involving community leaders and hold forums for the more general public before the March city council meeting where it will present its first draft of the new strategic plan.

Still, there are a lot of great suggestions out there for making the police department's new strategic plan better than the one which preceded it, which relied on input from some "focus groups" mainly from the chief's advisory board (when it met regularly), Cops and Clergy (when it met at all) and the Greater Chamber of Commerce. The average city resident had very little to no opportunity to provide input on that first plan and it was a really good blueprint as it turned out but it was missing a few things. Still, this process is a jumping point for further discussion of the department's future rather than a end point. But how will the department's management treat it, that's still an unanswered question.

RPOA Safety and Working Conditions Chair Kevin Townsend wrote this letter to the Press Enterprise's Readers Forum. The union's negotiators have had a somewhat quiet year given the city's budget pictures as all, well most of the city's employees saw themselves not getting a 2% merit increase this year. Townsend's a pretty good essayist and has written some interesting articles which he circulates around occasionally. The letter asks for the police union (and other labor unions) to be partners in making decisions regarding public safety ahead. It's an interesting letter given that it's not even all that clear whether or not Chief Russ Leach is a "partner" in the decisions being made about the police department or whether he just does as factions in City Hall direct him.

But here's Townsend's letter which comes even as his union has elected a new president to lead them for the next two years, having ousted an incumbent for the third election in a row.


Preserve decent wages

Members of employee unions, particularly law enforcement, do the job first and foremost because it is something they love and chose to dedicate a large portion of their life to.

During the good times, many unions, including ours, received modest pay raises needed to attract and retain qualified employees. A stable paycheck also draws and keeps many employees.

There is no chance to get rich, but there is an expectation of steady, decent wages and retirement at the end. It's a trade-off that police officers, firefighters and many other union members choose over work in the private industry.

Unions are not blind to the terrible economy we are going through. Law enforcement and others in the public sector should not have a blank check and should be subjected to reasonable budgets. We are in this together.

We have expressed to police command, the city manager's office, and the City Council our desire to stay involved in the decision-making process.

Leaders in Sacramento, our county supervisors, and our City Council have some tough decisions ahead. Our hope is that public safety remains a key priority throughout these difficult times.

Kevin Townsend

Political Action Committee chair

Riverside Police Officers' Association

What Townsend has written in his letter is something that's foundational to any strategic plan and that is a well-trained and well paid (and benefited) work force, both on the sworn and civilian (which offers necessary support to the officers and assistance to the public) divisions. Much of the stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office addressed this very issue because it was necessary to do so. Before the state came down on it with a court-ordered mandate of reform, the police department's foundation had grown very shaky in the preceding years of neglect, internal turmoil and mishandling including by City Hall.

Items like the mandate for the 7:1 officer/sergeant ratios and lieutenant watch commanders were set up for this purpose of improving supervisory accountability on the department's patrol shifts. But the judgment also addressed the issue of staffing at the rank and file level, albeit not directly. One department representative once told me that there was nothing in the stipulated judgment that said they had to increase their staffing levels of patrol officers. Literally, that might almost be the case but it's really not and the reason why is as I told this individual, the lawsuit threatened by the State included allegations of inadequate staffing in several areas including those involving community policing programs to the point where the department could not consistently engage its officers in community policing efforts. The stipulated judgment remedied that by mandating under its reforms that there had to be enough departmental staffing, civilian and sworn, so that the police department's officers could engage in community policing.

But right now, the department's going to have a tough time implementing any form of community policing given that it's operating without 10% of its positions being filled and high number of vacancies in the sworn division but especially the civilian side. Supervisory levels including sergeants and lieutenants are being thinned out by retirements which will be fueled even more in the next year or so by the freezes in promotions at these levels. And key positions including that of the Traffic Bureau lieutenant have been vacated through retirements and need to be filled. Ironic, given the prominent placing of Traffic in the Strategic Plan survey. And it's easily predicted that traffic concerns and suggestions will figure prominently in this survey.

Promotions are thawed, then refrozen and then thawed again and then refrozen as news came out recently that about $2.5 million of the latest $4 million budgetary shortfall would come out of the police department's budget. Some of the costs were already covered through personnel vacancies but that decision which came out of City Hall's government meant that any traffic lieutenant position for example would have to come out of the current pool of lieutenants which is about five people short already. The situation with lieutenants reached a peak earlier this year with discussions that lieutenant watch commanders would have to be relieved for days off by members of the management staff.

The freezing on officers' positions was temporarily lifted when six positions were authorized by City Hall to be open and within several days, the city received over 80 applications. Those positions won't be noticed by city residents until at least a year or so. Some elected officials including Councilman Paul Davis have said that they ask City Hall for more officer positions and the city itself applied for federal stimulus money to unfreeze as many as 15 spots, but didn't receive any money from the federal COPS department.

The survey doesn't make much mention of the proponents of the stipulated judgment which encourage accountability and thus public trust in the department except in one of the questions near its end where it brings up the core values of the department and asks survey takers to rank them. The problem is that you can't rank core values in order of importance, because they're all like branches of the same tree, coming together to create a police department that promotes public safety and public trust. All of them are important and absolutely necessary to achieve that. Community Partnerships and commitment to community policing are almost the same thing and both of them go into public trust and safety and in order to have these and the other core values, you must have a well-trained and compensated (which isn't mentioned but is important) work force. The police department as it stands now is pushed to achieve these "core values" but it can't do that unless it incorporates all of them together rather than separating them and trying to rank them in the order of importance or choose to emphasize some and not others at all.

But one thing that should be an integral part of the Strategic Plan before a survey is put out is a commitment to adequate staffing of the department on civilian and sworn sides as well as keeping in place key reforms in the stipulated judgment including staffing ratios, regular performance evaluations, the Early Warning System (as this has been an issue with the arrests and/or prosecutions of two police officers in 12 months), the critical review process and strengthening training programs for both new and current employees. Exploring less lethal options and making any necessary improvements to the accountability and enforcement of the policies regarding the use of digital audio recorders especially in light of the testimony by several current and former officers of the police department including one who alleged he hadn't been following the policy regularly and had flagrantly been violating it since it was imposed in 2002. Lest anyone think that's too harsh, remember those were his own words.

But there's still a lot to be said about this Strategic Plan process in the weeks and months ahead but the most important thing is that it remains on track and doesn't get sidelined again.

The Water is Safe, Folks

One of Riverside's elected officials told me that the Press Enterprise would be writing an article in response to the controversial study done of water quality which placed Riverside in second place on the worst water list for cities over 250,000.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"Our water is absolutely, completely safe to drink," said David Wright, general manager of Riverside Public Utilities.

He made a presentation to the City Council to assure city leaders and residents after the report ranked Riverside water as some of the worst in the nation. The Environmental Working Group says state records show some tests of the city's treated water from 2004 to 2009 contained high levels of nitrate, arsenic, uranium and other pollutants.

Wright called the group's analysis erroneous and untrue, saying the figures released by the organization were for untreated groundwater, not what comes out of the tap. If city water violated maximum contaminant levels set by federal regulators, customers would have to be notified; Riverside had no violations of state or federal drinking water standards in the five-year reporting period, Wright said.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit stands by its analysis, said Richard Wiles, senior vice president for policy.

Most pre-treatment data for Riverside was removed from the report after its initial release; test results on raw water were left in if there were no post-treatment numbers, Wiles said. Riverside water never violated state or federal limits for contaminants, but it did report samples to the state that were over the legal limit, he said.

More Indictments in San Jacinto

More indictments in the case of the San Jacinto Probe including members of the families of two of the individuals under indictment for corruption already.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"These are not the masterminds," District Attorney Rod Pacheco said Tuesday in a phone interview. "These are the folks who helped the masterminds."

Pacheco said the six were named in a complaint separate from the indictment because their claims in front of the grand jury had to be investigated before the charges were filed.

Prosecutors said each of the new defendants gave political contributions to Jim Ayres' 2006 state Assembly bid, although the money came in 18 months after he had lost the primary.

Each defendant was illegally reimbursed for those contributions, prosecutors believe. They said forensic accounting showed money of equal amounts was deposited in bank accounts shortly before or after they made the donation.

When they were asked about the donations during grand jury hearings earlier this year, they lied about whether they were reimbursed and the possible true sources of the funds, a complaint filed Tuesday charges.

Wi Fi Switch

The City of Riverside has taken over the Wi Fi network from AT&T and launched its new home page. The only problem is that when you try to click the link for "limited bandwidth" access (meaning free), you get a page which says "file not found" and it tells you to call a toll free phone number to report it.

Relaunch your browser and you get your home page, although now it takes a little longer to load than it used to. I'm not sure that the issues with the Wi Fi are so much that so many people are using it but that it's hard to maintain connectivity with a wireless broadcast outdoors and across such a wide area of terrain, much larger than private networks in the home. Surveying results reveal that most prospective users have connectivity issues from desk tops or lap tops (more than 100 feet away from access points) and are leery of investing in external antennaes and other equipment to strengthen signal until they're sure that the Wi Fi will still be around when the moment of truth comes next autumn when AT&T's contract is up for renewal. If the city intends to hold onto it, it needs to do tremendous outreach to the public, many of whom seem to think that if AT&T parts ways with it next year, then the city will as well.


If you can't receive emails in your blackberry this morning, you're not alone. You can still send them but you can't have them sent to you.

RIM has confirmed that there's currently an outage on receiving emails by Blackberry folks who rely on that service for their Blackberries. They're working on the issue as we speak to resolve it. It's the first major email outage to affect the mobile device since early 2008 but it's all over North and South America except for corporate accounts.

The latest is that some users are getting email service back but it could be several more hours until service is restored elsewhere and the tremendous electric blockage of millions of backlogged emails is resolved.

The timing couldn't be better as the corporation which sells the device was set to report on its quarterly financial state later today.

UPDATE: Email snafu fixed. Those emails that were sitting idle should be trickling in right now. The cause of the hours long outage is still unknown.

Unfortunately it's curtains for the wild boar caught wandering through Loma Linda.

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