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, March 07, 2010

March 6, 2010: What Would Bill Lockyer Think?

An Anniversary Passes...

On Saturday, March 6, an anniversary passed quietly and that was the fourth year that's elapsed since the State Attorney General's Office dissolved the stipulated judgment which existed between it and the City of Riverside between 2001 and March of that year. The focus of this legally enforced settlement of a writ of mandamus filed by that office was the very troubled Riverside Police Department. A department that was determined to be inadequately staffed, poorly supervised and in violation of numerous state laws and the state Constitution. The city denied all the allegations made against it of such violations but settled in March 2001 with the State Attorney General's office to purportedly save money that would otherwise be spent litigating the lawsuit filed against it. After that, it began spending what would turn out to be at least $26 million to this date on reforming the police department as well as modernizing its practices.

Cutting those Apron Strings

Around March 6, 2006, both the city and the State Attorney General's office went to court to dissolve the judgment as it was deemed by former Attorney General Bill Lockyer that the department had satisfied all the terms of the stipulated judgment and was ready to be cut loose from further oversight. Indeed the department had fulfilled the terms of the judgment including those involving improving and maintaining better officer/sergeant (which alas, was converted to supervisor) ratios, establishing community policing as a philosophy and providing new equipment to its officers including digital audio recorders, dash camcorders for its squad cars and less lethal options for its officers. The city council had passed a plan during one of its workshops to continue a reduced monitoring of the police department's implementation of its five-year Strategic Plan through quarterly audits with what appeared to be a 7-0 vote and had appeared to be moving forward.

But then summer rolled around and the city council and mayor had moved onto other venues, leaving City Manager Brad Hudson to change the order he had given to them to hire a consultant to conduct the audits. He unilaterally (or perhaps with some dais encouragement) tried to alter the directive given to the city council, with the plan apparently being that he would lower the terms of the proposal or engage in what is called "low balling" the consultant so that the consultant would refuse and he would go to the council and mayor, toss up his hands and say, look I tried but the guy asked for too much money. Of course, it didn't work out that way and enough city council members were shamed into remembering what they had promised the city's residents and redirected Hudson back to doing what he had been ordered to do.

By the time that was all straightened out, the department had started falling off of its path towards continued reform and its implementation of the Strategic Plan as members of management began to diverge in their implementation of a progressive management strategy and some of them had to be redirected as well. The parts of the department which had ground to a halt included much of the personnel and training division (including the development and implementation of the mental health crisis intervention training) which had been in some turmoil. That should have served as a warning to what lay ahead for the police department without an accountability mechanism attached. Not that the department shouldn't have been able to move forward on its own after a five-year consent decree but it had been divided into too many pieces which were doled out to different people at City Hall. And apparently some from inside it as well which explained the uneven development and progression from the management level of the police department noted in 2006 and early 2007. Some of that may have manifested itself in the department's promotional processes including at its highest levels of command.

The Tale of Two Recessions

In the 1990s, a recession had hit the United States including Riverside and the city had made tremendous budget cuts and laid off many employees. The police department's budget cuts that it experienced during that time period greatly impacted the problems which rose to crisis mode in the early hours of Dec. 28, 1998 when the shots were fired that the world would hear including such far reaching spots on the globe as Russia and South Africa. The number of supervisors had declined sharply and the number of newly hired and inexperienced officers had increased especially on the less than popular work shifts including "A" watch (or graveyard), weekends and holidays. That was countered including through the stipulated judgment by taking different measures, including promoting a number of experienced officers to the detective position but keeping the majority of those promoted in the field to ensure that at least 50% of those working the less popular shifts had at least five years experience. The number of sergeants under the judgment greatly increased to ensure the 7 to 1 (which is an industry standard) ratio in the shifts as well as to increase staffing in the department's Internal Affairs Division. Lieutenants were added to help implement the required mandate to have 24/7 watch commands manned by members of that rank.

Before and after the imposition of the judgment, the department turned over by up to 80 percent as many officers either left or were retired out and not all of them voluntarily. Those positions were filled between 2002-2004 with dozens of new officers and then that process began again after 45 new officer positions were approved by the city council not long before the dissolution of the decree including several new spots in the Traffic Division. Those latter positions for that division were rescinded before they could be filled as were at least 20 officer positions. What happened with all the hiring is that the age and experience level of the rank and file officers decreased even as their numbers grew. Whereas the average age of officers had been at least in the early thirties in the 1990s, it dropped to around 23-24 years old, with about 2.5-3 years experience in the job. The inexperienced officers began to gravitate back towards the less popular shifts. The supervisory levels started to fluctuate. And the number of lieutenant watch commanders at one point who needed their vacations increased at one time last year to the point where command staff members including the chief had met to address providing relief to these lieutenants on watch commands.

Apparently Hudson and his crew were blissfully unaware of all of this happening on their watch or perhaps this was the way they wanted it, as micromanagers of the police department. However, theirs weren't the only hands in the cooking pot of the RPD, as several elected officials might have been involving themselves in the operations of the department which should have raised some eyebrows. It did inside the police department but what about outside of it? That's an important question to ask given the price that's being paid for that system of operation that came in with the latest round of city managers including several who may have some rather deeply harbored yearnings to be officers themselves or at least enjoy some of the perks of the job without doing the actual work. Which wasn't good for the police department as it turned out and the Leach incident itself is but one example of a pattern of the damage inflicted on the police department by the current system of micromanagement which any future chief is probably going to step right into when starting his or her job here.

Budget cuts came along with the latest recession of this decade and wiped out many of the new positions (although six were unfrozen late last year and quickly filled with those officers currently in the academy) not to mention led to supervisory vacancies created through retirements pile up which naturally led to more retirements. Five lieutenant vacancies and at least 12 sergeant vacancies were anticipated by the end of 2010. Until three sergeant positions and one lieutenant position were unfrozen and filled last month, from a list that included three women in the top five positions for the lieutenant spots. But then neither of the last two promotions at the lieutenant level have come from the top five (or in one case) the top 10 list. The promotional process today has become one of the more controversial practices of the Riverside Police Department including its curious dynamic with some elements of City Hall particularly at the higher levels of command.

So much so that it doesn't seem to matter what you can bring to the job at the upper levels, as much as what "team" you're on and who loves or hates you in City Hall. Given that there's been changes in the structures of all the promotional processes except detective since around 2007 when the classified position of captains came up for some fiddling by City Hall including the push by the city manager's office to have several upper management positions including those of assistant and deputy chief be converted to serving "at will" and contract through Hudson's office. Both Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel and Assistant Chief John De La Rosa (who's now acting chief) had apparently signed contracts accepting their positions with incremental salary increases and these newly imposed "at will" conditions. Those contracts were later rescinded when it became clear through a rather boisterously attended city council meeting in March 2007 that this could not be the case for public safety positions.

Hudson had sent me an email before that explaining to me that offering management personnel the option to be "at will" was one eagerly accepted by nearly every other management level employee in the city. Which was difficult to believe because why would any employee set themselves up to be fired in fewer steps? Anyway, it's clear that this assertion had to be taken with a grain of salt especially since one of the people on that "at will" list not including the two police management personnel who accepted the contracts was slated for possible demotion by the city manager's office.

But I no sooner stepped inside the city council chambers at that meeting when Hudson approached me and then said that the city attorney's office had said they couldn't do it, which was later explained as one by one city employees stood before the city council to address the crowd of community leaders and members of two police unions which had gathered there. You would have thought Hudson would have checked the legalities with City Attorney Gregory Priamos before writing up the contracts but then, oh never mind that would have made more sense. Besides after observing Hudson and Priamos through the years, it's clear they're not all that close, with Priamos' pithy response to being mistaken for the city manager at one public meeting, was to say, "I consider it an insult actually."

Ouch. That comment turned a few heads inside that room.

But it seemed that though that standoff ended with the positions remaining what they were, it was one more sign that the power dynamic and some might say struggle that took place over the police department among different elements of City Hall had gotten going in earnest even as budget cuts threatened to whittle away one of the police department's most hard fought gains, community policing.

Community Policing: Gone bye bye?

As for "community policing" that was probably the first casualty of this round of budget cuts just as its burgeoning process had been wiped out by the last round in the 1990s. After all, Lockyer had asserted in his Writ against the city that the department lacked adequate staffing to carry out what limited community policing programs that it had. The Citizen Academy which is still accepting applications here but was disbanded until further notice several years ago with this class being the last one called for since it has disappeared. The term is still tossed about in community meetings once in a while, including at the forum held in the Eastside after the multi-agency raids sponsored by the Riverside County District Attorney's office. Not to mention that Hudson invoked the term several times as a mantra during his forum in the Eastside last week. But budget cuts and other things have pushed the police department's style of policing back into a watchman's style of policing operations, which preceded the evolution of community policing in the past decade or so.

For a while, it looked like the department's POP officers were down for the count in the latest round of budget cuts to impact the police department along with the NPC lieutenants but both have received reprieves although sergeants had been pulled out of the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit and 1-2 out of the Internal Affairs Division, although the recent round of promotions has restored the sergeant in the unit overseeing rape and child abuse cases. Although the next casualty of a loss of its sergeant might be the department's Family Violence Center if the current sergeant departs the department for another job. And two of the department's most important divisions are those that handle the crimes of domestic violence, child abuse and rape so for them to lose their supervisors at any time is fairly shocking to many people.

But all this preceded and has served for backdrop for the incident that put Riverside on the national scope again and that's the infamous incident involving the former police chief's accident, traffic stop and alleged cover up, which of course led to a much poo-poohed "sweeping" internal investigation of a cover up that itself appears to be a cover up and its results will never be released to the public that has just learned that apparently there's an expectation that all people in Riverside might be equal but in the words from George Orwell's Animal Farm, some are more equal than others.

The Double Standard of Policing

What the police department and the City Hall that runs it have taught the city residents in the past month is that there are two standards of policing in Riverside apparently endorsed by people fairly high up in the city and department's food chain of command. One for the city residents and one for the police chief and perhaps others who fit under the "high profile" category designated by Hudson and his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis. The one that said they were supposed to be notified by the police department's management whenever someone "high profile" including apparently the police department's head had a contact with police officers. This is apparently how it goes, that certain incidents get reported to Hudson or most often to DeSantis (except apparently the "high profile" incident involving him and a woman in a parking lot in Hemet) and then treated accordingly whatever that means because it wasn't fully explained by either Hudson or DeSantis.

Hey wait a minute here, aren't the laws enforced by police officers supposed to apply equally everyone? It appears that Hudson and DeSantis were a bit miffed that they weren't contacted in this latest case involving Leach until quite a ways after the fact and if that's true, it must have been some feat inside the police department's upper echelons to keep it hush hushed around the city manager's office which views the department as its favorite toy to play with and micromanage often to detrimental effect. Because if other law enforcement agencies are called in to investigate them both on a seemingly more frequent basis these days, then there's some serious problems brewing.

But here's about that double standard about being a "potential" DUI, meaning that your errant driving habits are reported to police through 911 calls to the dispatch center. How you are handled might depend on whether you are the police chief or not.

If you get in an accident and try to drive around the city with flattened tires, you will be pulled over by police officers if you're a regular citizen and not the police chief. You will be evaluated for a DUI and if you are shown to be intoxicated through that evaluation or investigation, then you will be arrested, put in the back seat of a squad car in the "cage" and driven to be booked at the county jail. Go straight to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 and all that. At least two individuals in separate incidents discovered that in the past couple of weeks being mere mortals themselves.

But if you're the police chief and you get in an accident and drift off the road, hit a few stationary objects and then drive around on flattened or even missing tires, you may get pulled over by officers eventually but you will not be evaluated for a DUI. Even if you talk nonsense about not being aware of where you are but having some recollection of driving on some dirt road and some field and needing to change your tire. The officers will treat your accident and its aftermath as a traffic collision and nothing else. The proof is in the sergeant's report, like that written by Sgt. Frank Orta in the Leach case. Now contrast that with a summary he wrote on a similar incident involving an average person that was posted in an earlier blog posting. Some difference right in the outcome right?

Your car might be trashed and you might not be aware how much but you will not be evaluated for a DUI nor will you be given a field sobriety test if you're the police chief. The action of your car drifting across a wide thoroughfare across a few pesky yellow lines to the other side? That can be written off as a risky right turn maneuver. An accident followed by a drive through Riverside, not a hit and run but a "traffic collision" to be filed away somewhere, perhaps never to be read or heard from again. And a driver behind the wheel of a car suffering from "major damage" (borrowed from Sgt. Frank Orta's written report) who has no memory of that accident isn't even investigated for a DUI but is given a ride home perhaps in the front seat of a squad car. What a difference a simple thing like an identity makes!

The police chief gets the ride home and a report to be filed away some place while at least two other individuals who drove around Riverside with flattened tires get arrested on DUI and taken to jail in the backseat of the squad car, including perhaps one being driven by one of the officers who responded to the Leach incident. Two incidents handled correctly and through professional behavior by police officers with the other incident not being handled at all.

This not surprisingly hasn't led to good feelings being expressed about the police department and City Hall in many venues including the comment threads of articles published at the Press Enterprise's Web site. But in the case of Leach, the two patrol officers who stopped him were not very experienced officers with one of them being hired after 2007. They did what others might have done in that situation which was to call their supervisor of their NPC to handle the incident. In their case, Orta, the court recognized DUI expert, rolled out with Lt. Leon Phillips who happened to be the watch commander who had been with him at a previous police call.

At some point, the process came to a halt, meaning that this "potential DUI" was apparently determined to be a "traffic collision" to be filed away, all without any form of DUI evaluation or field sobriety test being conducted on Leach. Yet neither Orta nor Phillips provide their reasoning in any written form as to why this wasn't done, because maybe you just can't write the obvious explanation on a police report. That I or we didn't do the evaluation or test because well, it was the police chief involved. Yet all these individuals including any upper management in the police department remained silent on what they called "professional" behavior while city residents pretty much called for the public hangings of the two patrol officers and their supervisor, Orta. They remained silent rather than admit that the decision to give Leach a green light on his accident and traffic stop most likely came from even higher than the watch commander's position. Remained silent while the officers at the bottom of the ladder got castigated when pretty much all they did was call for a supervisor in a difficult situation for new officers to find themselves in.

Apparently most of the command staff played no direct role in the situation with Leach's car accident and stop when it first arose and in fact, may be relieved because for the grace of God go I and all that business. But what would any of them have done who weren't there? What would the captain (if he's still around) who once had to drive in the wee hours of the morning to pick up Leach from some location in San Bernardino County because he was unable to drive home have done? These questions have been asked by many people and they won't be answered not through Hudson's "sweeping" probe when he's essentially cleared City Hall including his own office before he's even had time to let the ink dry on his new contract with his "independent oversight", Best, Best and Krieger attorney, Grover Trask. So much for that probe, meaning that they've done a probe...and they've already cleared themselves! Excellent!

But then you have to recognize the two cardinal rules of any worthy inhouse "sweeping" probe and this is what they are:

1) to shield the involvement of those conducting the probe and select designees in any cover up being investigated

2) to punish anyone who might be undermining the cover up that is under "investigation" or the focus of said probe

These two rules are tried and true, so much so that they are just a given factor in any such "internal" probe. Which is why many of us do not trust or put any stock in inhouse investigations otherwise known as investigating one's self. Fox meet hen house now watch over it, and all that. And this probe if you watch how it plays out (at least what little part that's visible and not swept beneath the nearest rug), it will abide by both of the above rules. There's no other way it can be and really no other outcome. Because remember, the outcome will not be released by Hudson. It will be left for everyone who's paying for this investigation and independent oversight through the city's funding to speculate.

Remember too, the climate that created this situation involving Leach (which he fully participated by getting in the accident and driving off aware or not) is what makes this so. If anyone out there thinks this probe is about uncovering the truth and fixing it, then there's some beachfront property I'd like to show you in Idaho. It's all about self-protection for a group of individuals who would just love it if everyone forgot about it and went away.

As far as the command staff, it wasn't their business so there was no decision for them to make but is that the case for all of them? Are there parties in upper management who did make that decision to have officers give Leach a ride home rather than even a field evaluation test for a DUI and a further investigation of hit and run? A place to start looking is to look at the process instituted by the police department to wait until two days and a lot of heat coming at their door to farm the noninvestigation and "traffic collision" report (to be filed away remember) to the CHP for further investigation and review. Although that agency's job as it freely admitted has been greatly compromised by the passage of time and thus inability to conduct that deferred DUI evaluation and field sobriety test on Leach. It should have been a matter of course once someone at the scene called someone not at the scene for the latter person to say, okay we'd better not handle it, call the CHP watch commander and have him send a crew on down to Arlington and Rutland. After all, isn't the CHP like within five miles of Arlington and Rutland? Yes, in fact it's about 4.3 miles away not too long of a drive at all and the territory of locally assigned CHP officers might be considerable but it wouldn't take them two days to get there.

After all, here is one route the CHP could have taken to get from their Riverside headquarters to Leach's traffic stop. The estimated duration of this trip is around 11 minutes. But instead the report was written up as a "traffic collision" to be filed away as its disposition. That report though unsigned by the time it was released by City Hall (though it's been alleged that a management member of the police department signed it) apparently passed the muster of the police department's command structure until the incident threatened to get away from them by Tuesday, the same time the department surrendered the incident to the CHP in the face of huge criticism and backlash by city residents who were just getting wind that a scandal was once again brewing in River City. Why was a report sent to City Hall in response to the mayor's inquiries that was clearly inadequate? Who in charge made that decision?

There should have been a call for an independent probe from day one by community and civic leaders but except for the city residents lighting up the comments threads of the Press Enterprise and for people sharing their thoughts in different venues. But as for the leadership, you could hear a pin drop. In fact, quite a few pin drops but why that is became clear when Hudson announced that many people had contacted him who wanted to be picked for any selection or interview panel in relation to the search and/or selection of the next chief.

More phone calls from leaders for that reason rather than to seek an independent probe because if they argued for the latter, they wouldn't have a chance to serve on the former. Which is too bad because if they hire the best chief on the planet (which they wouldn't because the best chiefs are difficult to control and this is all about control), as long as the current dysfunctional dynamic is in place involving the police department and City Hall, nothing will change. And the next chief will be a tool of micromanagement as the last one became. To be serving "at will" under the current city management office doesn't really make for much in the way of independent and autonomous (which was Hudson's favorite descriptor for the new chief) department head.

And what the department's done now is place itself through decisions most likely at the top in a situation that mirrors some of the qualities of what it faced just over a decade ago. Increasing civil litigation, complaints, grievances and claims for damages. Massive distrust from large segments of the city's population to the point where the department had to recently cancel a scheduled DUI checkpoint until further notice. Officers getting arrested. And an incoming police chief who will inherit all of these problems left by his predecessor.

In 2010, history has repeated itself and brought the department in some ways, full circle.

The Mysterious Phone Call

I read this blog posting about the mysterious caller who contacted the Mayor's office to tip the mayor off on Leach's car accident and traffic stop. Mayor Ron Loveridge allegedly tried to investigate the allegation through Hudson's office and at some point was given a copy of Orta's "traffic collision" report. But did Loveridge issue a press release alerting the public that this had happened any time on Monday when the incident became known to him? How about Tuesday? How about Wednesday? How about at all? No, Loveridge made it clear through his own actions that while he did the right thing which was to look into the allegation, it would remain strictly within the confines of the glass bubble called City Hall or what one columnist called, the Cone of Silence. The public was never to know about it or what he knew.

The blogger lists different motives behind the phone call including envy and jealousy when the truth is, there's no way to know what the reasoning was behind the phone call. Sometimes a phone call is just a phone call. Sometimes not but it's likely we'll never know. And remember, Loveridge probably didn't want anyone else to know either about what happened so while motives are being questioned, extend that courtesy to Loveridge (who's elected to serve the city's residents) and other individuals at City Hall and the police department's management which is another reason not to farm it out to the CHP the first day.

Help Wanted: A new Chief or Puppet?

Another forum?

City Manager Brad Hudson had begun to take his community forums on the road hitting his first spot in the Eastside at the Caesar Chavez Community Center where he greeted an audience of over 70 people who had shown up to provide their input in terms of the selection process for the next chief.

He will be appearing at his second stop in Orangecrest this week.

To be Continued...

Coming Soon...

The troubled Riverside Police Department and City Hall which controls it will get slapped with more civil lawsuits alleging civil rights and labor violations from several new corners of this picture not heard from yet. Exactly what kind of price is going to be wrought by the problematic practices of the Riverside Police Department? That remains to be seen as are any attempts to seriously address what is going on with this agency, in the wake of the troubling Feb. 8 incident involving former Chief Russ Leach and one of his city-issued Chrysler 300s.

One former officer had called the arrests of at least five police officers (and possibly more), "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to issues impacting a police department only four years out of its stipulated judgment with the state.

The second grade separation project in Riverside is nearing completion on Columbia Street.

Banning's police department gets a new dispatch center.

Moreno Valley: Epicenter of the housing boom and bust.

Public Meetings

Tuesday, March 9 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Riverside City Council meets at City Hall to conduct the business contained on this agenda.

Among the items on the discussion calendar is this proposal to partially restore the investigative powers involving officer-involved deaths to the Community Police Review Commission by allowing investigators to be dispatched by the commission 30 days after an incident. It's expected to have enough votes on the city council to pass. Which is a pretty interesting reversal of what transpired nearly a year ago when the city council voted 5-2 to pretty much curtail the CPRC's ability to investigate officer-involved deaths until after the police department finished its investigation. What happened was that there were four fatal incidents within a six month period after the directive had initially been issued from Hudson's office and most of these incidents are between 12-18 months old without having any investigations initiated.

No CPRC Meeting the second week of this month

As you know, the CPRC voted to reduce its meeting schedule by changing its hours so it will meet a half hour earlier so fewer people can come to its meetings, not to mention that there will be no additional "special" meetings scheduled. This is a very critical short-sighted decision by the commission's City Hall aligned majority led by Chair Peter Hubbard and Vice-Chair Art Santore as special meetings become crucial for discussion periods when the commission is reviewing its investigation and the police department's criminal investigation of the officer-involved death and engaging in the drafting of its public report. If there are no special meetings, it's anticipated that the fourth pending officer-involved death public report will be issued sometime in 2013. This is allowing the requisite time for investigation and review and an average of six meetings per public report per death case.

This is actually a minimalist approach as given that there's only three hours set for general meetings (from 5-8 p.m.) and other agenda items including some backed up 3-5 months, so the actual period for each officer-involved death could be closer to a hear which would put the Russell Hyatt case to be completed in 2014.

Something to stand up and cheer about for sure.

Wednesday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Orange Terrace Community Center, Orangecrest is the second of three community forums to solicit input which purportedly will be used in the selection process for the next police chief.

Finance Committee Watch

No meeting has been set for March and in fact, the next one is tentatively scheduled for sometime in April. Once again, this very important subcommittee of the city council has gone back on hiatus.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department Promotes First Female African-American Captain

Shelly Kennedy-Smith received that promotion on March 5.

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