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, January 12, 2010

Jan. 15: The Day of Reckoning for up to 200 City Employees

"Their priority is public safety."

---Riverside Police Department Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel at the community forum, when talking about City Hall's sentiment about the police department. Currently, the department faces up to $12 million more in budget cuts.


Are Riverside's local politicians telling one of the top campaign fund raising firms to shut out one of their own as a client or they'll walk?

Two standoffs handled by the Riverside Police Department including its SWAT Team ended peacefully without any use of physical force by police officers.

What was interesting to read was the role that was played by the police department's new mental health crisis intervention training and program, in one of the incidents that took place near Walgreens near Central and Magnolia. That program took about two years for the department to implement as part of its personnel operations and its training curriculum. What's more important however, is that the handling of these two incidents which were resolved without injuries or death to anyone involved took place in a department which has seen major budget cuts including in the form of staffing positions, both civilian and sworn, that have been "frozen" during the past several years and that it's going to be more difficult as time passes for outcomes like this to take place if the department continues in its current direction. This includes many entry level officer positions as well as at least seven sergeant and five lieutenant positions, which as of today, remain unfilled. It's not anticipated that they will be filled anytime in the future. At least four more retirements at the supervisory level are anticipated next year. The city might point to these two incidents and say, see there's nothing wrong with the police department and this is proof positive of that and that a few budget cuts here and there hasn't impacted the police department at all.

But if the city does indeed make those statements, it would be wrong. Because what's "wrong" with this picture is that the police department is facing up a $12 million shortfall and is beginning its latest round of budget cuts which have eliminated many of its programs that were left after the previous round of cuts and might take a division or two with it, at least for the near future. What's wrong is that it's creating a situation where positive outcomes such as in these two cases will become more difficult to achieve.

In December, there were murmurings that at least one lieutenant's position would be unfrozen which most likely would have been done to fill a vacancy in the traffic lieutenant's spot (which was vacated through the retirement of Lt. Rick Tedesco) but that didn't happen. Pressure from the dais by one or more individuals allegedly led to the police department being hit by at least $2.5 million of the latest $4 million round of budget cuts that took place that month and that refroze the lieutenant's position along with the rest (although the "step" pay associated with these positions was frozen a while ago). But the point is that the ability of the police department to perform its duties over the long-term is heavily impacted by what's going on with its staffing levels and whether or not it has access to the resources, including financial, that it requires. And with a $12 million shortfall coming, it's not clear that this is going to be able to happen and whether the city is setting itself up for a tragic situation much as it did when it made similarly shortsighted decisions in the 1990s, before the shots were fired at a gas station at the corner of Central and Brockton which were heard around the world.

And I don't know about anyone else but I'm feeling a little bit misled here by the city, which only a year ago was led by people like ex-Councilman Frank Schiavone saying that the city's financial picture was pretty rosy (even as he painted the recession around Riverside as a "global meltdown") and if you wanted to see really "bad" cities including in regards to layoffs, look at cities like Corona and then he and other individuals would apply totally different statistical standards (like using frozen positions and part-time layoffs to count in Corona's layoff statistics but omitting them when providing comparable statistics for Riverside's own work force). If you're going to say anything unpleasant about the budget at all, you should just shut up. After all, we all know how well some elected officials take news they don't want to hear, because they insult people from the dais and launch personal attacks that have nothing to do with the issues being raised. And usually once they come up for reelection when the public gets tired of their public tantrums, it votes them out of office. Councilman (and current mayor pro tem) Steve Adams and those like him really wish everyone that doesn't praise the city unconditionally would just shut up and go away and he's hoping that his rude behavior will chase them away. And unfortunately due to recent behavior by him at another meeting, this site will be adding a new section, "A Mayor Pro Tem Steve Adams Dais Watch".

It would be interesting to open up a betting pool on how long it takes Adams as mayor pro tem to order police officers at the meetings to evict people from the chambers or arrest them. I give him about five minutes at his first meeting, and that really makes you wonder what kind of a police officer Adams was during his 15 year or so career if he comes so unglued any time he counters any dissenting opinion.

Analogies and comparisons based on false information like that was used by at least one ex-public official to mislead the public (and possibly boost his own reelection bid) but no one stepped forward from city government or elsewhere to correct his misinformation and a truly accurate picture of the city's financial picture was never really provided to the public. Well, that's all changed now and not because of any more accurate vision given by city leadership but because the walls are crumbling around them in ways that are becoming harder and harder for city residents to miss.

Even as the city spent a fortune and then some on the Riverside Renaissance capital projects. Oh, the two funding sources have nothing to do with each other, city management and the city council reassured the public and chided the public. Oh yes they do, as far as tax paying residents are concerned because ultimately the city residents and future generations will get stuck paying off or paying for (through diminished city services) on much more than $2 billion for the "Renaissance". And as new buildings have been built, even Mayor Ron Loveridge (who is working on his annual State of the City address) admitted though it took him a while, that the city might be building new facilities that it might not be able to staff adequately or at all. Loveridge took the approach of channeling both FDR and Barack Obama in his speech last year. One wonders how he will proceed this year, whether you can afford to pay to have lunch while you listen to his speech sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce or whether you hear it from the cheap seats.

But my feelings about the situation with Corona (and I've blogged about the misrepresentation of its labor statistics by Riverside's officials several times in the past) is that it's all a matter of when that city chose to dole out its rounds of pain. It seemed to me that Corona was just doing it during the first year of the economic crisis and that Riverside delayed it until the second and more severe year of that same crisis, but actually, Riverside will be doling out its next round of pain to its work force beginning on Jan. 15 when everyone in its workforce most particularly nonunion employees (those that are left and not in some safe management positions) and members of the SEIU General Unit (which is the city's largest bargaining unit) will be bracing and crossing their fingers to get through what's anticipated to be the largest individual round of layoffs so far numbering possibly as high as 200 pink slips being handed out within the month. Yet the city management will continue to have three assistant city managers who will do the work of what one assistant city manager and one budget director did less than five years ago even as some city employees are individuals doing jobs that 3-5 employees use to perform in better economic times. And will the city keep hiring "conceptual" consultants to help it figure out essentially what the word, "city" means? Why not pick up a dictionary and look it up, because it's a hell of a lot cheaper. But if the city does enforce another round of layoffs, will it then go out and approve the hiring of more consultants?

Anyone who didn't see this one coming, raise your hands. There probably won't be many hands going up in City Hall but among the public? Well, we had been sold a bill of goods including during a key election year in 2009 that the city was in great financial shape and we weren't like those other cities. Now we know that this was never the case and it's interesting how the information that's put out grew worse as time went on (which is not uncommon in recessions when it becomes clear that the emperor to speak is naked) and as we started a year with no municipal election cycles. But we're well within a period which no doubt will help define the parameter so the 2011 election cycle.

Asst. City Manager Paul Sundeen who's in charge of the city's finances told the Finance Committee earlier this week that not one single city fund was "in the red". It's too bad he wasn't talking about city departments, as all of them are in the red. And the departments which usually see major financial cuts last in the trimming process are about to be hit hard again with major cuts including the city's public safety departments. This day was coming but the city never informed the public that it would be. What the city seemed to care most about in terms of its public image was how it compared to everyone else around it, as if this were some form of competition. Because most people don't know that more employees, many of them, likely will be losing their jobs. They don't know the major cuts faced by many city departments except that hours at the public libraries have been rolled back and many of the city's services are no longer available.

January 15 is usually a critical time in the fiscal year because it's pretty close to its halfway point when cities including this one and counties (including Riverside County which is also planning tremendous layoffs that it tried to ward off through early retirements and "furloughs" up to this point) and because the city's currently under a moratorium against laying off city employees which are members of the SEIU but of course, it expires on Jan. 15 which is this Friday and concerns are flooding the workplace that massive layoffs are eminent beginning that day. It's hoped that the fear which has permeated the city's work force is for naught but it would really be naive at this point to put too much hope into that. One city watcher said the upcoming layoffs would make for interesting conversation at the opening gala of glitz involving the Fox Theater this weekend. And it will be interesting to see how Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout spins these latest layoffs if they indeed come to pass at the next meeting with the Human Resources Board.

But the city really needs to stop using every other city as a measuring stick to bolster its claims that it's doing much better than they are, so there! Because that's going to be a hard story to keep selling to employees who are given pink slips and laid off and it's gong to be a hard story to sell to city residents who are going to be left with some hefty bills in upcoming bills stamped, past due.

Because yes, another election year is just around the corner.

Bye Bye PACT and Project Bridge

The current direction of the city strongly indicates that the budget cuts will continue and the police department will see a lot more of them, with one individual saying the department is getting "hammered" having already seen the decimation of the Project Bridge program, the disbanding of the Police And Corrections Team and the dismantling of most of the educational programs provided by the department's Traffic Division which relies heavily on the components of education and enforcement and said goodbye to its successful street racing education program. All three divisions or units figured prominently in the department's first Strategic Plan which covered the period between 2001-2006. And all of them are gone, which gives one a bit of pause when recommending anything for the upcoming Strategic Plan. PACT when it was active led to a decrease in recidivism in Riverside's parolee population though it experienced problems through its tenure of having access to all the resources that it needed. Project Bridge spent most of the past seven years being treated like a hot potato between the police department and the Parks and Recreation Department, neither of who either wanted it or knew what to do with it.

The problem with cutting police programs, most of which are focused on crime prevention is that this virtually guarantees that there will be a greater need for patrol officers to address the increase in crimes which will happen as a result of losing these programs, which sets it up for even more shortages. Gang suppression as it's called in law enforcement is at best short-term without intervention and prevention programs and is then dependent on cycles such as one generation of gang members replacing the previous one often through familial ties as well as the cycling of gang members in and out of the state's prisons (which teaches them to be even better gang members given how many gangs have their roots inside the penal system which will increase as more gang members are shipped to other prisons including federal institutions to alleviate overcrowding).

After the city threatened budget cuts to the program which provides gang intervention and prevention services to people beginning in junior high, City Manager Brad Hudson promised that the program would be expanded. Just after he fired two key employees including its director purportedly to send the program in a "better direction". Actually, that wasn't really the whole story. One of the employees who was employed was actually fired within three days of filing a grievance against the city for fostering a racially hostile work environment. Instead of taking the grievance seriously and investigating it, the city fired both him and his director within three days. They had to be escorted back into their offices of which both were locked out of to get their belongings. But then this employee is hardly the first to be "laid off" not long after filing a grievance and it won't be the last.

The Strategic Plan Community Forum

About 50 people, many representing different community organizations appeared at the Magnolia Police Station on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to discuss the creation of the police department's new Strategic Plan and offer suggestions to what should be included in it. This public forum among with others that have been held with the Chamber of Commerce and governmental leaders was to solicit input for the police department's next five-year Strategic Plan which will replace the one which expired last month as soon as it's approved by the city council possibly as soon as March.

Police Chief Russ Leach who was supposed to deliver the opening address at the forum didn't appear, having to cancel at the last minute.

Members of the command staff including Asst. Police Chief John DeLaRosa and Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel along with Sgt. Jaybee Brennan, who serves in multiple roles including the chief's adjutant and Lt. Mike Perea from Investigations. Representing the city government were Councilman Andrew Melendrez and Councilwoman Nancy Hart. Providing interpretation for Spanish Speakers were Officers Christian Franco, Richard Aceves, Trinidad Lomeli and Don Nelson. Brennan had come up with the idea to hold public forums, something that hadn't happened during the process to develop the first Strategic Plan while the city was under a consent decree enforced by the State Attorney General's office. The idea to have forums was a great one, and for those who didn't attend the meetings, there's the survey. More forums would have been a good thing but the Strategic Plan was constrained for much of this year until this autumn by City Hall, including the public input portion of it. And given how much certain factions in the 'Hall loathe public participation (but were hired anyway by a city council which knew that), this stalling process wasn't surprising.

Both DeLaRosa and Esquivel spoke to the people, with DeLaRosa praising the turnout, and said that "the representation is very energizing". He added that without the participation of the public, "this triad would fail", referring to the three partners of public safety, the public, the police department and City Hall. Esquivel told the audience that the times were "uncertain" but that the department would guarantee public safety.

Riverside Community College Trustee Mary Figueroa said that the Hispanic population in the city is increasing and that there's this perception that this population doesn't care about its community or vote. Melendrez said it was a "great turnout" and Hart said that she was there because many of her ward's residents were in attendance.

"We have a great police department," Hart said.

Brennan along with two administrative analysts comprise what is left of the department's audit and compliance panel, which stemmed from the original Attorney General Task Force which was created while the police department was under its consent decree with the state. They put the forums and the process for the strategic plan together. But questions remain on how much of people's input can be implemented in a plan when the police department and city has eliminated programs like PACT and Project Bridge which were to have been expanded under the original plan under its goals and objectives. Ditto the department's traffic division including its educational programs, most of them are now gone. So the public might be a bit leery believing that it's submitting input for a plan that's essentially already been written by the city manager's office. There appears to be some individuals dedicated to the successful implementation of an inclusive plan from different corners but will it be enough?

But anyway, the department had a very lively and interesting public forum on the Strategic Plan and people had great ideas but also concerns and sitting in Perea's discussion group, he listened and then he challenged the people in his group with questions. Some of the areas discussed were the objectives of the new plan, which includes the following:

Management Practices and Visionary Leadership

Perea had people give different grades to different levels of the police departments, making divisions between management and rank and file. I got into a little trouble here because supervisors aren't management (and certainly aren't paid as such) but are unique from management and rank and file because they have a foot in the "office" and one out in the field and have to balance the demands and realities of both worlds. But the grading process that Perea used was interesting. Management got a mixture of grades from "A" to "D" and Chief Russ Leach received an incomplete from me because frankly, I don't have enough data from the past two years to "grade" him because he's been mostly invisible. Concerns about the lack of visibility of Leach (who's rumored to have more physical issues and hopefully that's not true) was expressed in both groups but then that's not surprising, considering it's expressed most everywhere else.

Officers received grades based more on individual officers rather than in a group. One woman said she couldn't grade officers because she didn't know much about them, and their lives. So both Aceves and Franco in English and Spanish, provided information about their backgrounds. Aceves seemed a bit more comfortable in the group setting than Franco did initially and provided a lot of information about the department but Franco warmed more as the process continued.

Key components mentioned over and over were communication including between members of management and accountability. With officers, it was more along the lines of presentation and communication, in terms of how they came across when encountering the public including in difficult situations.

Embracing Diversity

A lot of time was spent on this topic and the issue of the police department's relationship with Border Patrol came up several times.

As did disparaging comments that officers made to motorists during a DUI checkpoint run in the Eastside where they asked Latino drivers, "Are you sure you weren't drinking? It's Cinco De Mayo" which seemed based on a racial stereotype about Latinos because not all celebrate that holiday (and not all of them have Mexican origins) and not all of them drink while doing so. Someone asked if they made similar comments to people of Irish backgrounds on St. Patrick's Day and the response was they do checkpoints near the Irish-themed pubs on that day. An individual who was working that particular checkpoint in the Eastside did report to a representative of the department that racially objectionable comments had been made at that particular checkpoint while working at it. The department representative said that they would investigate that complaint even if weren't filed by this person who was discharged from a division of the department within days of filing a hostile environment complaint to the supervisor.

The police department didn't bring its statistical breakdown on the race, ethnicity and gender breakdown so they received a little help there. The issues of workplace behavior in light of the unfortunate incident involving a group of male officers who played with and joked about a woman's officer was discussed and one individual in the department said that was one reason why "professionalism" was included in the Strategic Plan.

Suggestions were incentive programs for officers to become bilingual (and they receive a percentage bonus increase for proving proficiency) and expanding the language base to fit the increasingly diverse population as well as the hiring of professional interpreting services.

Traffic Safety

Sentiments about this division, not surprisingly as always, were passionate particularly involving how dangerous it is to be a pedestrian in Riverside. Since the Traffic Division has received major cuts due to grant funding that's no longer available (and traffic education programs are 100% grant funded), it doesn't seem like much is going to be accomplished with this division which is short of two budgeted positions that the city council promised it and currently has no lieutenant. But it received a lot of discussion.

Improving the Quality of Life within Communities

This involved more outreach between the department and communities, more officers being seen around schools when they released their students in the afternoon to prevent assaults.

Community Access to Police Services

One major idea expressed her was 24/7 access to the police facilities. The police department had decentralized its operations several years ago when it switched to the precinct system. This was after it had eliminated its store front operations (which was its last attempt at decentralization) due to budget cuts. A planned addition of a police facility or two including a new administrative headquarters as well as a communication and dispatch center has been tabled due to, budget cuts with capital projects. The dispatch center should have been a higher priority than making sure that a couple of failed condo projects were constructed in downtown Riverside.


This turned into a discussion on how the police department will report its progress on its final Strategic Plan to the communities in Riverside once its implementation begins. Ideas included the production of a written annual report as well as annual appearances by the department before the city council. An annual meeting of community residents similar to that of the forum was also suggested.

The meeting was felt by most people to be both successful but frustrating which is how most community forums go but the interest in the department was definitely there in that room and it needs to continue and be sustained in the weeks and months ahead.

The Fox Theater will be hosting its gala but free tours to the public will be available on Saturday and Sunday.

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