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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Riverside's Strategic Plan Closes for Comment; Next Stage creating it without censorship from the 'Hall

"She's the biggest bitch around."

---One of Riverside's legislative aides according to a shocked eyewitness before the evening session of the city council meeting began. "She" was a woman who speaks regularly at city council members and he works for Councilman Chris MacArthur.

[photograph of the arms of an elderly man after he was handcuffed by police officers during raids in the Eastside and other Riverside County cities last week. The man was a retired worker, not a gang member and perhaps City Attorney Gregory Priamos and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis wouldn't have been chuckling among themselves when this person's relative spoke if they'd seen these photos. ]

Over 30 residents from the Eastside including members of the Eastside Think Tank appeared at the city council meeting on Feb. 2 to speak on the raids done by a multi-agency task force led by the Riverside County District Attorney's office and the United States Attorney's office last week.

Councilman Andrew Melendrez, who represents the Eastside encouraged residents to come to a public forum being held on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at Bobby Bonds Park. Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach and Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel are said to be in attendance with no word from the D.A.'s office on whether District Attorney Rod Pacheco or a representative will be in attendance.

This question came up in the Press Enterprise about whether Riverside was a "snob city" or not . Oh lord, I see another effort by the city government to refute that by hiring another consultant to create a plan to create a logo or slogan and so forth... Though it's a bit unsettling to see years of institutional racism including in Riverside (from its racist housing laws, to the racist jokes shared by councilmen at the watering holes in the 1960s) simply labeled "snobbery" that was simply a product of the times. Fortunately not everyone thought that way, or there would have been no Civil Rights Movement.

But the downtown area seems in its path to mainly cater to those who have the money to spend at the Fox Theater which hasn't born well for the usually financially successful Broadway show, Annie in ticket sales. Once there were more family oriented events and now there's very few of them left. The push seems to be to get money from more affluent people especially those visiting and bringing their dollars from adjoining areas including Los Angeles and Orange Counties. I'm not sure how well that's worked so far. But the economic success of the downtown won't be built by attracting that crowd even as $32 million is being spent on the Fox Theater so far (not including the pricey contract given to the "consultant" to run it) and now a planned $25 million for developers interested in erecting a hotel that likely, they were not able to do through doing what most people in this country have to do which is get a loan with interest through a bank or other financial lending institution. Now Riverside, has seen fit to allow that same least for developers who have already in a "gesture" seen their fees get reduced even as those involving more normal people like city residents have seen theirs increase.

Talk about a welfare state! Riverside's long been one for developers particularly those who aren't local which means that "shopping Riverside" obviously doesn't include shopping for developers. But this city's seen employee layoffs, it's been vacancy rates increase including in public safety and it's seen libraries reduce their hours. Yet, the city's flush enough to serve as a lending institution in lieu of banks (who are particularly shy around loaning out money for hotels given the high foreclosure rate for them in the Inland Empire which leads the state) so it's going to have a harder time selling to the wary public particularly with an election cycle on the horizon that it has to make further budget cuts impacting its basic services.

This upcoming $25 million loan for the hotel doesn't seem to be really all that popular with city residents but hey, all the residents do is vote. They don't do what seems to be much more important which is to pay money into the campaigns of politicians including people like Mark Rubin and Doug Jacobs, plunderer of Chinatown who violated the municipal code and his building permit to bulldoze the site even while it was still in escrow.

Strategic Plan Survey Closed

The Riverside Police Department stopped receiving input on its Strategic Plan on Jan. 31 regarding its online survey and it has held several public forums for different segments of the city's population during the past month. Currently, the department including members of the remnants of the Audit and Compliance Bureau headed by Sgt. Jaybee Brennan will review the input they have received and will incorporate it into the blueprint for the department which will span the time period between 2010-2015. It might be heading in some form to the Public Safety Committee which is chaired by Councilman Chris MacArthur before heading off to the full city council.

It's important to remain vigilant in this process because even as this is written, the word is that it's currently being edited by the city manager's office which has never been one to value public input and participation. After all, original attempts by the department to put together the new Strategic Plan ran into interference at City Hall which was unstuck when several councilmen including MacArthur and Rusty Bailey began asking questions about it when they learned that it had been stalled. Still, considering all the chefs...chiefs in the kitchen that is the RPD, one must always be watchful for further attempts to undermine the public process including with the Strategic Plan. This plan of course replaces the former one mandated by former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

It's unfortunate to have to warn the public of such things but history has dictated that to do otherwise is simply negligent.

However, I filled out one of those survey plans and really tried to stick to the 50 word guidelines but eh, that never works out. So here are some of my comments. I doubt any of them will be included in the plan that will be coming out of City Hall to the city council in March. From what it appears so far, there is already some good and important elements included in the Plan and it remains to be seen how many drafts will contain this input as well. But despite the good efforts of the department's audit and compliance bureau and great input from the city's residents, don't expect to see anything really substantial out of City Hall except what will bolster it to continue its current management practices involving the police department.

1) That all the elements in place pertaining to the Stipulated Judgment between the City of Riverside and the California State Attorney General’s office be implemented, as the city council had voted in March 2006 that this be so. Of course it didn’t take the police department long to stumble after that vote and the dissolution of the stipulated judgment due in part to decision making in City Hall. This is why it’s prudent to include these prior mandates in any Strategic Plan as a reminder that in order to keep the police department on the right path towards becoming the “best of the best”, these should be followed. These include:

*Timely personnel evaluations
*Maintain 7 to 1 officer to sergeant ratios
*Critical Incident Debriefing
*Early Warning System Monitoring (expand to other misconduct besides excessive force)

*Audio Recorder policy and procedure compliance
*Purchase/deploy less-lethal weapons
*Complaint process, compliant with policy and state law
*Diversity training
*Lt. Watch commander assignment 24/7
*Pretext Stop Training
*Use of Force monitoring and reporting
*Complaint procedure audits
*Dash video cameras maintenance

Add to this, the following elements of the Mayor’s Use of Force Panel (1999):

*Determine the need for more officers in Riverside
*Increase the representation of minority and/or female officers at all levels
*Firmly commit to community policing
*Ensure experienced patrol officers on all watches and supervisors in the field

These above elements are vital to the police department and critical for keeping this department on the path it needs to follow to continue its evolution into a healthy and professionally outstanding agency. Without them, the latter won’t take place and the department resists regression back into an agency which was plagued with many problems. I’m well aware of the fact that several of the above elements especially that pertaining to the officer/sergeant staffing ratios are being negatively impacted by high attrition/vacancy rates in sworn positions including at the supervisory ranks. I’m also aware that the watch commanders are being included in the calculation of these ratios which is not a good practice and does not provide an accurate representation of that ratio because watch commanders do not spend very much time out in the field during their work shifts as it’s the sergeants who do the vast majority of the frontline supervision.

Continued depletion of the sergeant levels which is expected to continue into 2010 with at least four retirements will put the police department in a bad and potentially dangerous position which could impact the safety of its officers and the public. It’s hard to overemphasize the need for adequate supervision in all the department’s work shifts particularly in a department like Riverside’s with a predominantly “young” patrol division. If this isn’t done, then it won’t be a matter of “if” the next critical incident that puts this city on the national map in a bad way, happens, it will become a matter of “when”. After watching the budgetary decisions being made by the city in the past year or so, it’s clear at this point that a statement of goals or objectives on the department being committed to having sufficient staffing within its ranks in both the civilian and sworn division including at the supervisory level needs to be included in the Strategic Plan to show that commitment and make it clear to the city that the future of the police department is dependent on its ability to be fully staffed and have access to the resources it needs to operate as a public safety agency

The department has been facing severe budget cuts with at least $5-12 million in more cuts coming this year. It has already eliminated key programs including PACT, Project Bridge, much of its traffic education programs and other community services which provided vital services to the public. Its vacancy rate if you combine the civilian and sworn positions is currently around 10%, with the civilian level (which provides valuable support to the officers and services to the public) being particularly depleted. And it’s difficult to buy into its commitment to community policing when this was the first to go in terms of the budget decisions by the city. The cuts as well as other factors have pushed the department away from that burgeoning philosophy back into what’s known as reactionary, “watchman” style policing. In the long-term, this is not a healthy or particularly productive road to take by the department and the city.

Having witnessed most of the trial that took place involving former Officer Robert Forman, there were issues impacting the department which arose from that process. While it’s true that Forman is responsible for his own criminal conduct, there are lessons to be learned from this horrendous incident that could assist the department in improving its own practices and help to prevent more officers from engaging in behavior like that exhibited by Forman. A gentleman had complained to me once about alleged misconduct involving Forman two years before his arrest in autumn 2008, with homeless women in one of the city’s parks. In addition, anther male officer is currently the subject of much rumor in a neighborhood about his conduct involving a woman or women. Complaints were made by a woman at a recent community meeting about the conduct of a former police officer who she said regularly sexually harassed her and the response from department personnel was dismissive, when he allegedly chuckled and said it was because she was so beautiful. This shouldn’t be the practice and if even one or several officers do not take these allegations seriously then it reflects badly on the agency and it could prevent an allegation of misconduct which might be involve a crime from being investigated by the relevant authorities. Fortunately, in the case of the Forman incidents, several police officers did do the right thing when made aware of these serious allegations.

That reflects much better on the department and places it in a much better light.
There were ethical issues that arose from that trial as well as issues involving accountability and the importance of maintaining a professional work environment at all times and not engaging in racist, sexist, sexual or homophobic behavior as well as demonstrated clearly in a couple of cases, veracity on the witness stand.

Unfortunately, the conduct of several male officers at the scene of a woman’s apartment in that case made it clear that there are still issues in the department pertaining to how it treats women both in the field and in the workplace. Two immediate issues came to mind when watching officer after officer testify in this trial (mostly contradicting each other and minimizing Forman’s participation in that activity) about this so-called lingerie incident. The first, is that the officers including at least two field training officers engaged in this atrocious behavior within sight of the woman who lived in the apartment (and only hours later was sexually assaulted by Forman) which shows a complete disregard for women in the field. Second, the officers engaged in this behavior in front of a female trainee who was still on professional probation who incidentally soon after the Forman investigations began, “failed” probation (and it’s not lost on some of us how female officers “fail probation” not long after witnessing sexist behavior by male field training officers). These male officers through their behavior showed a complete lack of regard for female officers and given how public this disregard and lack of professionalism was, it makes one wonder how they act around female officers in less than public circumstances.

It’s difficult to look at even this event as being isolated without being concerned about whether or not female civilian employees and police officers are working in an environment free of sexism which is required under both state and federal law. The city also has very strict policies in place about racist and sexist banter or jokes in the workplace which for officers includes out in the field. That applies to all city employees not just police employees so these policies weren’t specifically aimed at the police department.

I’m aware that the vast majority of male police officers were not involved in this incident but it was still disturbing and one would hope an isolated incident of sexism in the field and in the workplace. Even though there were up to three field sergeants at the scene of this “home invasion” call, there were allegedly none in the apartment when this happened but at least two field training officers, Forman and another FTO were present, both playing prominent roles in the lingerie incident. But given that this was a pretty flagrant example, it does bring up the issue of whether or not the department is engaging in practices of ensuring that female city residents are treated professionally and with respect as are female employees including officers in the workplace. There needs to be an environment that is receptive to female employees filing complaints of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace. Based on past history most notably the civil case filed by former Sgt. Christine Keers and a lawsuit filed by former probationary officer Kelsey Metzler (who alleged sexual harassment at the Ben Clark Training Academy), it’s not clear that this is the case though both cases were settled by the city. And as the city and department saw in the 2005 trial verdict of $1.64 million against the city in the case of Officer Roger Sutton’s racism and retaliation case, it can get expensive to be confronted by this behavior in a public arena.

Sergeant Watch

The latest news is that meetings might be taking place between the Riverside Police Officers Association and City Manager Brad Hudson to discuss unfreezing two to three sergeant positions in the police department after some earlier discussions that have been taking place at City Hall. It's premature to say that this will be done as it's been proposed in the past and then withdrawn including last December when the thawing of one lieutenant's position (to fill a vacancy in the Traffic Division) and two sergeant positions seemed like it might be happening until more budget cuts to the tune of around $2.5 million to the department shut that down pretty quickly. Even as sergeant levels continue to decline and if there are no positions unfrozen, the vacancy rate will be a minimum of 12-13 positions by the end of 2010. Departures in 2010 include Frank Orta, Frank Patino (possibly), George Masson, Paul De Jong (who's looking for another job after maxing his retirement) and at least one medical retirement. That's on top of the seven current vacancies that include positions left empty since 2008.

Hopefully, the city will follow through on the unfreezing of these important positions.

In related news, it looks like the POPs unit might have some more life in it having been on the top of the list for the next round of budget cuts which will be at least $5 million and possibly as high as $10 million by the end of the year. Apparently, this unit might be seeing a reprieve but a lot of concern has already been raised about the disbanding of the PACT because of more unsupervised parolees being released from state prisons due to overcrowding and a legislative decision in Sacramento. The PACT was in charge of monitoring the parolees in the area in situations when they were released in this area, which receives a disproportionate number of parolees and probationers.

So keep an eye on this situation as it develops so that the city doesn't drop the ball on stemming the depletion of sergeants in the police department. The members of this rank don't have a similar MOU in place like the detectives have enjoyed since the days of former Chief Ken Fortier in the early 1990s where their vacancies get filled.

And recently, the detective position vacated by the termination of Det. Scott Impola who's facing assault charges, was filled by Adrian Tillet.


I've received many comments and questions about the police department particularly in the wake of at least five (and possibly more) arrests in 2008 and 2009. Is this an unfortunate statistical anomaly or a sign of deeper, more serious problems inside the department and even at City Hall. Considering the latter is particularly important considering just how many chefs...chiefs are busy in the RPD's kitchen. There are probably many factors that play a role in what's been going on the past couple of years particularly since elements at City Hall began playing a greater role in the management of the city's law enforcement agency. Is the city reaping what it sowed? More blog postings to come.

Councilman Andrew Melendrez No Show at Eastside Meeting

Councilman Andrew Melendrez failed to show up at a meeting attended by over 40 people in the Eastside addressing last weeks' raids in the neighborhood which resulted in arrests and federal charges filed against members of East Side Riva. Complaints have arisen in the Eastside that were heard by members of the Community Police Review Commission who were in attendance. Melendrez had said last week that he had gotten numerous phone calls beginning the morning of the raids and it's not clear exactly why he bailed on this meeting. Hopefully an explanation from his camp is forthcoming.

Long time Riverside Police Department Officer Mike Mears stops a young boy from killing himself. The standoff took place near Sycamore Canyon.

Riverside Unified School District lays off 160 teachers and the city of Perris is going to lay off 10 employees.

Las Cruces, New Mexico is looking to get a civilian review board.

The mayor in Providence, Rhode Island is planning some major veto action of civilian oversight there.

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