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, February 21, 2010

LA Times: Controversy a Setback for the Department

"The message should be loud and clear: that special treatment is not acceptable. We should all be treated fairly and equally before the law, including the police chief. But I don't want to judge what might come out of an internal investigation."

---Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge to Los Angeles Times presumably with a straight face.

"That's a death blow.If you're an alcoholic, you've got to be all the way down before you can start up again. That investigation said, 'You guys are at rock bottom.' "

---Former Chief Russ Leach to the Los Angeles Times. He instituted the reforms of the consent decree during the first part of his tenure but did he leave the department as it was when he arrived?

Bud White: "The Nite Owl case made you. Do you want to tear all that down?"

Ed Exley: "With a wrecking ball. Do you want to help me swing it?"

----L.A. Confidential (1997)

The Los Angeles Times has hooked onto the ongoing story which began when former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach crashed his car and then drove for three miles before being pulled over by two patrol officers. How does this impact the Riverside Police Department, the writer asks.

And several community leaders provide their answers. Here are three different statements from three different people.

(excerpts from article)

"It's a far different organization than it was 10 years ago. A great deal of that had to do with the leadership of Russ Leach. . . . A lot of progress has been made. Is something like this going to be harmful? No doubt."

---Chani Beeman, Community Police Review Commission:

"The African American community has enjoyed a much more transparent and good relationship with the Police Department since he came.That's not to say there haven't been incidents of concern. But it only took a phone call [to Leach] to have someone get on it and look into it. . . . Before, we would've said it's business as usual -- the fox guarding the henhouse."

"......I was quite impressed. He didn't want 'yes' people to agree with him. He placed people on the committee who didn't mind telling him when they thought something was wrong," she said. "For as much as he did for the community, for one incident to color all that . . . it's unfortunate. I'm not condoning what he did. But the man is a good man."

---Woodie Rucker-Hughes, NAACP, Riverside Chapter and former member of the Chief's Advisory Board

The department "was effective in accomplishing things as long as there was a mandate from the attorney general's office to do so. Since then, what we've seen is a loss of will on the part of the city to continue the work toward making this a more progressive Police Department."

"There's this whole perception by the public of police covering up for one another. The public could easily see this as slipping back to the behavior patterns of a different time and be left wondering whether those behaviors had ever changed."

----Michael Dunn, Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability

Three different people. Three different viewpoints provided. One effusive in her praise for the former chief. One cautious. One questioning. And that's what is sorely missing in this review of community leadership or "watchdog" response are the obvious questions. Why aren't the community leaders asking them? Their constituents and those they purport to represent are certainly asking them. All those who purport that they are for better ethics in government need to ask some questions about the ethics of what happened in this incident. Their communities truly are waiting for them to do so. But really, any city resident should be asking questions and many of them are, in fact some of them are setting up written petitions to take to governmental officials to ask them the questions their leadership won't. Then when that happens and hopefully it will, the leaders will likely start lining up to ask those questions themselves. I've received emails from different people around the country asking the questions that the local leadership should be asking and trying to figure out what's going on in Riverside.

The people in this article have their opinions and they are more than entitled to them and at least someone raised the unhealthy dynamic between the police department and City Hall and the loss of trust because of what's happened, which is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. But it's hard to formulate an opinion about what's past or the future when there are still so many questions without any answers about the present. The mayor says that there's essentially a zero tolerance for preferential treatment for well, special people. But is that the truth? From what has been revealed so far, it doesn't sound like it.

However, Loveridge has said zilch about whether or not any elected officials including himself have asked the head of that "internal investigation" City Manager Brad Hudson about whether or not he had Leach tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication as mandated under a city policy which requires such testing to be done when city employees damage city owned vehicles. The report makes it clear that Leach didn't own the car. It's an onduty emergency vehicle that is self-insured and both mean that it's thus city owned. The city gets to self-insure its vehicles which means that any costs resulting from their use that normally would be paid out by an insurance company are instead passed on to the city residents to pay out. That's what self-insurance means. And this means that Leach should have been tested for drugs and alcohol under a city policy.

But if Hudson didn't adhere to the city's policy and have Leach tested after the accident within the appropriate window when such a test would be meaningful, then he's as guilty as those who are currently being investigated in his "sweeping" investigation may or may not be. His involvement in any investigation would also be compromised if either he or his assistant, Tom DeSantis were involved in any prior similar incident involving Leach if they took place. But there's reasons why Hudson called immediately for a "sweeping" internal investigation which he himself would head because for one thing, he probably wanted to offset any probe launched by an outside agency including the Riverside County Grand Jury by saying to the world, hey we're serious about stamping down on preferential treatments and coverups in Riverside so you really don't need to come over and look over our shoulders or trample on our garden. It's easier to control your own probe than someone else's because after all, what if you're one of the individuals whose decision making needs to be looked at? What then?

But interestingly enough, launching what could be a lengthy administrative process now could put the new chief at a disadvantage from the start if one is hired from the outside of the department by Hudson. Since the Internal Affairs Division is to report directly to Hudson, then that would leave any newly hired chief out of the loop of a very important administrative situation right from the start, giving Hudson full management of the police department and thus relegating any newly hired chief to a supporting role. If there were an outside probe, then any newly hired chief as the head of the department would be notified of any results or updates involving that probe. Any ability of a chief to run his or her department and not be micromanaged depends on how skillfully he or she can navigate through the mine field of Riverside in terms of forces within the department and City Hall not wanting him or her to have any kind of independent control. And once the new police chief whoever he or she is has given up that advantage, then they're already giving up a lot of their ability to lead the department to City Hall. If you were the police chief and a big chunk of what's happening was outside of your purview, how would you read that?

One of the people quoted commented on the efficiency of the chief's advisory board that he put together not long after the signing of the stipulated judgment by all parties. It was comprised of members from business, development and community backgrounds and people generally had their memberships renewed once a year. But for being a "community" board, there were probably CIA briefings less secretive than this board. I was asked at the beginning of its inception by a member or two to attend and witness what business was being conducted, when it had a five year agreement with the downtown Marriott hotel to hold monthly meetings in its boardrooms.

But within five months, the meetings were changed to meeting in police facilities and when I tried to follow up so I could attend (never having been told to leave), I was told that the meetings were private and that seemed odd for a "community" based board. The members of this board were never allowed to disseminate any information at those meetings back to their communities or constituents. With such a tight hold on information on meetings where information that was disseminated was that in the public domain, what was its purpose? How were the community members supposed to benefit from this board and its actions? It could have been a very powerful tool of accountability and transparency but those two words don't go together in this city very well. Again, that's most likely by design.

At the board meetings I did attend, the members didn't discuss issues much except to discuss the creation of one of the policies mandated by the stipulated judgment but were given presentations and the department did most of the talking. Many actually complained later that they weren't able to ask the questions they wanted to ask on the issues presented before them and dropped out of the process. Others who did ask questions didn't get invited back during the annual review of members. And their absence after a period of asking difficult questions likely wasn't lost on the remaining membership. But the secrecy about the board's business would seem more likely to foster a bigger disconnect between these community leaders who served on it and their communities especially if their members came up to them with questions about the department. Instead of becoming the very important tool it could have been if the intent would have been to allow the community leaders to serve as conduits of information to the communities rather than having them instead keep any information close to their chests and not share it.

Play along to get along, is the motto in this city and that's been to its detriment many times especially since any type of disagreement is viewed as being a conflict or disruption to the legislative body or board or commission. It's led to a lack of real leadership any place and it's that lack of leadership both in the department and at City Hall which has led to some very serious problems within both.

So the comments in the article were interesting, but where was the call for an independent investigation? Community resident after community resident have said that is the only way they can trust the police department again. Until that day comes when it gets that probe, the police department won't have a chance of gaining anything positive in a meaningful way except a temporary state of relative peace in between incidents. But then there' s probably people who could just admit that they did give the police chief special treatment and that would undo some of the damage and help the majority of the people who weren't involved but there's no one who's quite up to making that happen so the police department will be mired in this situation much longer than it has to be. It's clear that there needs to be tremendous change within the organization and how it's run, given that it hasn't thrived during the past several years of micromanagement from City Hall. It's gone backwards. But it's also clear that it didn't have to go backwards much because it didn't seem to have come as far in some respects as many people believed it to be.

But what else struck me most interesting about the article which looks more like a retrospective of Leach's 10 year tenure at the department than anything else was the following passage:


Police watchdogs said they fear the incident threatens to undermine public confidence and the hard work that went into ridding the department of a bigoted culture in which transgressions by officers were swept under a thick blue rug of silence.

There's something contradictory in this statement, being that it states that "watchdogs" fear that the incident will undermine confidence and hard work into ridding the department of its problems including any floor sweeping that took place. But the incident itself and its public display isn't the only problem here and focusing on the public reaction as being the step backward is a big mistake. The problem here is what happened, because if this incident involving the former police chief was indeed swept beneath the rug, then it seems that this hard work that went into ridding the department of its problems including again, floor sweeping wasn't anywhere near completed. If it had been, then this incident which is unfolding even as these community leaders are talking to various media outlets would never have happened the way that it did.

One community advocate said in a Press Enterprise article published early on that the community had to use this incident to make something positive rather than take a step backward by reacting. Of course by then, the city residents were in an uproar about what happened and the apparent double standard between what happened to Leach and what happened to them. But what had happened itself was a step backward or maybe it was part and parcel of what had been going on in plain sight. If so, then it needs to be addressed. Until it is, nothing will change, nothing positive will take root and grow and the city will revisit this over and over again.

"The police chief is drunk. We need to do a DUI."

Is this what one or more of the officers should have said at the scene of the traffic stop? Perhaps that was necessary and it wasn't said in the interest of keeping it all under wraps. But what if instead one of them did? And if so, what happened next? What would happen in Riverside 2010, four years after the dissolution of the consent decree with the state? Have things really changed all that much is the question that most needs to be asked, even as it has been asked and not answered of the city's officials and community leaders. But as one television character on a famous television show once said, The truth is out there.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive."

---Sir Walter Scott who can't believe what's going on in River City.

More to come... including the Chessmen

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