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

Monday, January 11, 2010

Robert Forman Sentencing Postponed and the Finance Committee Meets

"Because if Paul goes, We all go."

---Councilwoman and Finance Committee Chair Nancy Hart about the importance of having "clean" books to avoid going to jail. It's assumed that she was joking.

****UPDATE**** Jan. 15, 2010, the day of reckoning in Riverside's City Hall and its employment roster. The SEIU's "understanding" with City Hall not to layoff employees expires that day and more layoffs possibly up to several hundred are anticipated beginning that day. Let's hope that this is just a rumor.

****Update: Police Department facing up to $12 million budget shortfall. And We bid Farewell to the PACT, Project Bridge, most of Traffic Education and possibly the POPs Division.

Coming Soon:

Has the city been honest about the budget picture in Riverside?

UPDATE : Massive layoffs coming to Riverside County's work force.

Forman Sentencing Postponed

All the parties involved in the criminal trial last month of former Riverside Police Department Officer Robert Forman returned to the old courthouse in downtown Riverside to appear before Riverside County Superior Court presiding judge, John Molloy to argue on the issue of sentencing Forman for his felony conviction of oral copulation under the color of authority and misdemeanor petty theft. Prosecutor Elan Zektser was set to participate in the sentencing portion of the case.

The courtroom was pretty full with Forman's relatives and friends, police officers from the Internal Affairs Division and prosecutors. Forman, himself was dressed in a orange jail jumpsuit having been in custody since a jury convicted him of two of the four counts he was charged with.

Carlos E. Monagas who works in the District Attorney's appellate division was assigned to argue on behalf of the prosecutor against a motion for new trial filed by Forman's defense attorney, Mark Johnson that had alleged that the prosecutor and two Riverside Police Department investigators had tampered with a witness who the defense was expecting to testify before he took his Fifth Amendment rights.

But a crisis took place almost immediately when Molloy announced that he had to recuse himself from the motion for new trial. Why? Because Monagas was a close personal friend and had worked as his campaign manager when he had run for his judge position several years ago. IN addition, he had generously donated to his political campaign. Isn't this county a small one?

"I will recuse myself on any motion," Molloy said, "You cannot appear before me."

By assigning Monagas to this part of the process, the District Attorney's office had "created a dilemma of Constitutional proportions." Molloy, a former prosecutor with the D.A.'s office had thought he had this conversation with Monagas but Monagas said he didn't remember that ever taking place. But it will be difficult to forget this conversation soon because it was quite interesting if a bit of a hint that this indeed is River City and there is indeed never a dull moment if you pay attention when they unfold right in front of you.

He said that Forman had a right to have his motion for new trial heard by the trial judge and if Monagas stayed on the case, he wouldn't be able to exercise that right.

Monagas said that the motion had been handed on his desk because he was the supervisor of the appeals section of the D.A.'s Office. He said that his office needed time to review the motion and respond to it. But what would seem to be the simple thing to do to ensure the rights of everyone including Forman would be simply to assign another prosecutor to the case. And Monagas said that he wouldn't be handling the case.

"Once I recuse myself from a case, I'm recused," Molloy warned.

But Molloy did stop short of actually recusing himself, saying he hadn't heard enough to believe that doing so was warranted in this situation.

Johnson said that he had no objection to how the prosecutor moved forward. When it came to the doctor's report, Molloy said that without it, he would have to, by law, sentence Forman to state prison. The probational report involving Forman had been "favorable" and the recommendation by the probation department was for Forman to be sentenced to less than six months in jail for both counts and to receive probation. Not bad, considering that he could face between three and eight years in state prison but it would actually be surprising if Molloy gives him a harsher sentence than the rather lenient one recommended by the probation department (which is usually quite strict in this county). But it appeared that Johnson was aiming for just straight probation. No one really expects Forman to receive anymore than six months in county jail for this case because the system tends to be more lenient when police officers are convicted of sexual assault under the color of authority. Except for a former San Bernardino Police Department officer who is doing 34 years in state prison. He's the exception, not the rule.

Molloy can override the probational report in his sentencing but judges don't do that very often and it's very likely that Forman will receive his jail stint and spend six months at the most out there wearing a vest and raking leaves among individuals, most of whom have been convicted of misdemeanors. But whatever, want to commit this type of crime, be a police officer. But wait, in order to commit the felony he was convicted of, you have to be a police officer. But him getting lighter treatment is nothing less than what the public expects so it's not exactly news if it happens.

Johnson asked the court if Forman could be released from custody and Molloy denied that request, saying it would be an "abuse of his discretion and power" to release him at this point. But if Forman gets a strict sentence or more likely, he gets wrist slapped, you'll read it about it here.

The motion for new trial and Forman's sentencing have been postponed until Jan. 21 at 1:30 p.m. After that, everyone left the courtroom including Forman who was escorted by two Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputies while handcuffed down the hallway, probably in a position where he never expected to be.

Finance Committee Meets to Discuss Audit

[Councilman Paul Davis (l) and Councilwoman Nancy Hart who chairs the Finance Committee discuss the annual independent audit of the city's finances. ]

The Finance Committee met for its third month in a row, after a drought of meetings which had extended back into December 2008. Councilwoman Nancy Hart who chairs the Finance Committee

This audit report gives more details on what was actually done by the Mayer Hoffman McCann P.C. firm which is under contract with the city. The city pretty much had a perfect financial audit with a few negligible things.

Councilman Paul Davis said that there needed to be a line item that was much more clearer for documenting the city's reserve or contingency funding and the auditors seemed open to that saying that the process and terminology were always changing.

Sundeen maintained that the city was in the black.

"Not a single fund in the city has a deficit," he said.

But unfortunately, that's not true of most if not all of the city's departments. I did raise some concerns about city departments and Hart did indulge me. The city's about to spend $25 million and yes, it's likely they will spend it because they postponed the afternoon public discussion of the agenda item until they can clear up its more private, closed session part of it, involving negotiations over the property in question. This has created concern among the city's residents particularly as the city gets ready for another round of punishing budget cuts in the wake of the recession which still hasn't shaken its grip on Riverside. I spoke on the police department in particular in part to see how three members of the legislative body that makes budget decisions would react. It was actually a shame that the city manager's contingent wasn't hovering around this meeting per usual as it makes nearly all of the budget decisions on the police department almost down to the dime including on appropriations.

The police department is going to be the target of many of these hits, with numbers up to $10 million being cited for the upcoming year. Casualties look so far to be the PoP's officers and possibly even area lieutenants, as the department has pretty much tapped too heavily into its band of watch commanders. Not too long ago, they allegedly had to be relieved in roll calls by command staff members so they could go on vacations. Most of the lieutenants aren't even being paid the salaries that they are supposed to be receiving, which is very interesting because we could go to City Manager Brad Hudson and ask if he wants to be paid an assistant city manager's salary, or Tom DeSantis could be paid a supervisory salary (which is fitting because he doesn't even have a masters decree in management) or Chief Russ Leach if he'd like to make as much money as his assistant and deputy chiefs do. If these three individuals agreed to take these cuts (rather than take raises before the floor fell out from under the city) then that would put them on more equal footing with supervisory members of the police department who haven't received their raises with their bars. It's also not clear that if these lieutenants aren't making lieutenant salaries, if they are at least able to collect over time that they did in their previous ranks.

When Not If

What's interesting if very troubling is that there's one statement that keeps coming back to me. And that's about the next "big" tragedy, meaning critical incident involving an interaction between the police department's officers and the public. What I hear repeatedly is that it's not a matter of "if" it's going to happen, it's a matter of "when". And it's ironic that I've heard this statement largely from those who were in the city and paying close attention to what happened in the years which led up to the Tyisha Miller shooting in 1998 and that it's coming from both community members and police officers. It shouldn't be surprising that this is the case because when you look closer at the patterns and trends that took place involving the police department in the 1990s particularly the last few years of it, you see a picture that in some respects is nearly identical to what is taking place now. It's too bad the city currently has a government with absolutely no sense of history, beyond what happened yesterday.

In the late 1990s, you had huge budget cuts because the city was hit with a recession and depressed economic revenue. The cuts which impacted city departments were even larger back then than they are now, but Riverside's still at the early level of its current recession and budget cuts, something even the city's acknowledged. Police positions on both the civilian and sworn side were cut or frozen and back then, supervisory positions were inadequately staffed and sergeants supervised during their patrol shifts up to 15 officers. Most of the police officers especially those working the less desirable patrol shifts (and there was a bidding process based on seniority to staff these shifts) were very young and inexperienced, having been hired just before the recession.

And guess what, before this current recession, there was a hiring boom in the police department including mostly fresh out of the academy officers dropping the average age and experience level of patrol officers to about 23.5 and 2 1/2 years, which is troubling because most experts say it takes at least three years before a patrol officer feels comfortable and confident in his position. And despite the hiring of laterals (many of which were placed in assignments where inhouse seniority was short including the field training program), the department's average age and experience level of its officers hasn't changed much in the past three years.

Supervisory levels in the absence of promotions will continue to drop especially sergeants given that at least four and possibly even more (because often it's hard to predict what will happen) sergeants will depart the police department's ranks including through the city's retirement system. Retirements usually increase during periods of promotional freezes which then cycle back and feed the freezes even further. The police department is currently caught in that cycle at both the sergeant and lieutenant ranks.

Across the board, other indicators including complaints (which rose in 2008), law suits (both inhouse and outside), lawsuit settlements (to the tune of nearly $2 million in several years) and inhouse labor grievances (which are included in quarterly statistics given to the Human Resources Board at its meetings) are all showing increases. There are few or no "complaints" generated within the police department because most every labor complaint is handled through the formal grievance process. This trend was also reflected during the 1990s. Litigation by the Riverside Police Officers' Association (mostly writs of mandamus and injunctions for declarative relief) was fairly heavy in the 1990s and the union has filed three lawsuits since 2003, settling two of them. The Riverside Police Administrators' Association filed a lawsuit in 2006 alleging MOU violations which was also settled, and two lieutenants who were leaders of the bargaining unit filed lawsuits alleging professional retaliation and the manipulation of the promotional process by forces outside the department.

It's most probable that all these upward trends will continue in 2010. It's disheartening indeed to see the same apathy towards this situation that existed in the city government in the 1990s. It's even more so to see that it goes beyond apathy and that there's involvement from outside the police department in its operations. Something I first saw firsthand in 2006 while researching the process of the city manager's subversion of a city council mandate on a plan to ensure the continued implementation and monitoring of the department's original strategic plan. The city council finally stepped in and acted but it had to be embarrassed to do so, much to the chagrin as it turned out by the State Attorney General's office who apparently was watching the entire time.

Do the Math

Currently, you have budget cuts, a lot of frozen patrol positions and the supervisory ratio still checks in at about 5.5-6 to 1 due mostly to the attrition rate and resultant freezing of patrol officer positions. At a time when the department should actually be adding positions both at the entry and supervisory levels (as it should in the civilian division to match this growth as there are critical support positions that are needed to supplement patrol), it is losing them. And make no mistake, no matter what fancy language the city surrounds it with, they are cutting police positions, both civilian and sworn. And if the city is doing this out of confusion, here's a quick way to clarify this point, with some simple math. Say your police position is net zero. The person leaves and it's vacant so it's now -1, showing a deficit. If you don't fill it to return it to the net zero position, it will remain at -1, which is the exact same thing that would happen if you cut the position entirely. If you have 200 patrol positions for example, if you cut five positions, then you 195, which is a deficit of five. If you lose those individuals through attrition and then don't fill them, well as far as I know, 200-5 equals 195, which also puts you at a deficit of five positions.

I raised these issues and I didn't receive much response except from Hart who said that all departments had to take their fair share of cuts and what about Public Works? I said, her points were well taken. Everyone's taken cuts including the police department and I really don't disrespect the important work that Public Works does, and I don't think that department should take more cuts than it can handle. But I did say that public safety departments including both the fire and police department are involved with people's lives and welfare in ways the other city departments are not and in addition, the police department is involved with people's rights meaning its exercise of police powers. There have been proper exercises of this power and as we have seen, there have been improper exercises of it.

I did mention that I'm sure the city believed that its budget cuts involving the department in the 1990s as now, saved money and maybe they did back then but guess what, we've paid all that money and more besides through the 2001-06 consent decree with the State Attorney General's office and I really think it's a good exercise for anyone to go to the city and get a copy of the writ mandamus and settlement of that process and read them because you'll find a lot of language about the consequences of the staffing cuts and cuts in the training funds that took place in the 1990s. Maybe the current city council members need to go back and reread those documents plus the Riverside County Grand Jury's report on the police department that was conducted in 2000 and also addressed this issue.

By the way, these Finance Committee meetings are all audio taped and available through the city clerk's or city council's offices for a nominal fee to burn the CD.

Someone asked Sundeen about the city's internalized audits and why that information wasn't released to the public. Sundeen said that he "frankly didn't know" whether this information was public, even though it involved the oversight of how a public agency paid for by tax payers' dollars raised and spent funds. Then he said they weren't public because they were internal audits.

Several people in attendance also mentioned that the city manager's administrative powers are dictated under the city's charter and those that weren't, were given to him through the city council by vote. Since micromanaging city departments doesn't appear to be included in the language of the citys' constitution, I almost asked the Finance Committee when the city council authorized through vote of course in a public forum to give Hudson and company this particular power. Maybe next time, because if the city manager's office is engaged in micromanagement, then why are there department heads in the departments alleged to be experiencing this dynamic?

Hart and Sundeen also emphasized that Riverside's structure of separating its powers including over its finances were no different than those in other cities but is that right now or back in 2005, when the city council voted not long after hiring Hudson to transfer the city's finance department from its separation of power position apart from the city manager's office to being under the power of that office. In fact, Sundeen's the first employee to actually fill his current position because again, before Hudson, there was only one assistant city manager, now there are three of them.

And none of those positions are currently vacant.

Speaking of the city's finances, the city says that Riverside Renaissance's project costs are down but the projects are up.

More earlier retirements in Riverside County this time in the courts.

Both Banning and Beaumont are still standing after a spree of earthquakes hit the twin cities yesterday.

Coming Soon:

The city's cutting or reclassifying a list of positions and it's being passed on the consent calendar. And guess what, the Office of Neighborhoods is going back into storage packed in mothballs as it did in the last recession. Not surprising given that trend and the current upheaval that's been taking place in the Development Department the past year or so which has lead to a massive exodus of employees from that department through retirements and resignations. No, they are not leaving to play elsewhere not even in Orange County, they are leaving because apparently working here isn't much fun.

And there are positions being cut like "police community services manager" which I've never even heard of and some key positions in the finance department, although the workers' compensation manager position is being reclassified to being a supervisor.

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