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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Hudson Probe: When Ethical Violatons Become "Mistakes"

"We're not talking about truth, we're talking about something that seems like truth-the truth we want to exist."

---Stephen Colbert

Wonder Twins Activate!

It's beginning to sound a little bit like spring cleaning at City Hall in downtown Riverside, as several key players there gathered to express their thoughts on the Hudson probe and how it was time for the city to move forward and away from that untidiness involving the Feb. 8 accident and traffic stop involving former police chief, Russ Leach. And first up in the itinerary was some rug sweeping done at City Hall. Up and under the debris will go, courtesy of the city's top administrator, Brad Hudson and its top ribbon cutter, Mayor Ron Loveridge, the newly anointed Wonder Twins of Riverside. They teamed up not long after this happened to announce the search for the new police chief using Roberts Consulting Inc. which is run by people friendly with Loveridge. Now they're teaming up for their latest project, Operation Sweep Up, to take a crisis of professional ethics, play with that a little bit and then market it to the masses as a much more benign problem involving absent or inadequate policies which they will of course go in and fix through drafting more policies.

The police management personnel who engaged in the debacle of Feb. 8 behaved inappropriately and unethically because there weren't any policies telling them how to behave any other way! Yes that must be it! If only the right policies existed in writing, then Leach would have been given a sobriety test and then parked in the back seat of a police car to be taken off to jail or at the very least taken off the road and given a citation to appear in court. Are these two men serious, when they are presenting this argument or are they researching a comedic routine for Star Search?

Maybe they should both try the Gong Show first.

But what they won't tell you is that in police screening and training processes at different levels, candidates are often asked about or tested on their responses to handling a variety of scenarios on the job. One hypothetical is how they would as an officer or a supervisor handle a situation where they had to evaluate or respond to a criminal situation involving someone higher in rank than them which presumably would include the police chief. This scenario is presented to these individuals not because it involves testing their knowledge and mastering of departmental policies but because it's an opportunity for those evaluating these candidates for positions or promotions to get a better sense of their professional ethics particularly in tricky situations like say, arresting the boss or one's supervisor.

Professional ethics which includes treating individuals as equal under the law isn't a practice that involves policies and it's not missing in situations because there's no policy telling people to behave ethically. It's missing in agencies where there's not a uniform and universal expectation that professional ethics are to be an important guideline and performance standard of behavior by employees including those in leadership. What happened in the situation involving Leach and his backup from members of management reflected that deficiency of professional ethics and had nothing to do with whether or not there exists in the RPD policies telling its employees to be ethical or telling them how to behave appropriately. And the people in an agency who engage in professional ethics do so because it's expected of them to remain employed and because they expect it of themselves. Oh but it would also help if those in leadership or management positions could serve as role models for those they lead or manage through their own adherence and practice of professional ethics. When management can't do that or present themselves as poor ethical role models, often trouble erupts at some point.

That's something that's so basic, it's baffling and very disturbing that people at City Hall including those who play different characters on the dais have exhibited no clear understanding of what it means when an agency has a high standard of professional ethics including at its top management level and also what happens when it does not. To chalk up the actions by management personnel to cover up the commission of a crime in the hopes that it won't be uncovered and could never be adequately investigated, as a "mistake" and to have that coming from inside City Hall makes it clear that the serious issues involving professional ethics in public agencies aren't just faced by police management personnel.

And it's disturbing that Hudson and his devoted followers appear to believe that police officers hired by this city in particular need written policies telling them how to behave in an ethical fashion. To do things like enforce the law in the same way against their own employees including the police chief that they would with members of the general public, which is supposed to be a fundamental tenet of their job in Riverside's police department and with the profession in general. That police officers can't do this and be held to doing it unless the city manager's office invests a lot of time telling them how to behave ethically through drafting new policies. What it seems like the police department's officers need more is the freedom and job protection to enforce the law equally against their employees particularly those who outrank them like the police chief. If this situation exists where there's no job protection, you can include as many policies in the roster telling people on how to behave ethically and everyone of them will be disobeyed just like this so-called protocol on notification cited by Hudson and DeSantis (if indeed it was violated).

If officers don't feel they can arrest or even investigate the police chief at any level without being terminated from their employment or otherwise punished, then that's not a problem involving a failure to draft enough policies from within or from City Hall dictating ethical behavior, but a problem with promoting the expectation that professional ethics is part of the job at every level. Because the expectation should be that if the police chief needs to get arrested, he gets arrested. If he needs an investigation, he gets investigated and life and career trajectories go on the way they would otherwise.

It's clear that this situation doesn't appear to exist within the police department because of the failures in management to engage in ethical behavior themselves in these situations. And if they can't do this, they have the capability and the motivation to punish anyone below them in rank who does want to do it right.

And the comments in this article by some of the parties who made them, just make it much easier to understand why this mess happened in the first place, and they show that the city has fostered the perfect medium for this kind of conduct not just to take place but to take root, flourish and grow. To watch individuals at City Hall stumble so hard at knowing the difference between an ethics violation and a policy deficiency, is very unsettling to say the least and then the more cynical part, realizes that they do know the difference but they're hoping that the city residents fail to see that themselves.

Still anyway, Hudson's off on this new tear and the city council apparently is giving him the rein. His latest bent is to fix an embarrassing lapse of ethics including involving one of his former department heads by writing up some new policies. And so Hudson has taken this brilliant salvo with help from an elected official public.

We will create new policies, Hudson in the latest Press Enterprise article as he and Mayor Ron Loveridge joined forces to sell the covering up of a criminal act by Leach as "mistakes" and problems pertaining to missing or deficient policies. He cites the failure of police to give Leach a sobriety test (yet still hasn't said whether or not he had Leach tested similarly for smashing a city owned vehicle as required under policy) and failure of notification are "breaches of protocol".

Which is interesting on one level because one of the policies that Hudson pulled out of his hat that's deficient or missing and needs to be "modified" is the notification policy, but early on, Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis had helpfully pointed out to the press that there was a policy like that in place for "high profile" people but it hadn't been followed by police management. So do they have a notification or don't they? Do they have this "protocol" that was disobeyed or not?

That's why it's interesting that first Hudson and DeSantis say yes, they have this notification policy for "high profile" people and then, they take the opposite stance as of late and say, we've got to create one. Which sounds somewhat like duplication but it's got to be easier than funneling ethical "tough love" regarding management employees who didn't behave ethically into a written policy to add to the big binder of rules and regulations of the police department and City Hall.

But that's not the only place where the management half of the Wonder Twins and his sidekick, DeSantis contradict themselves. Maybe both men need to create a written policy to prevent them from engaging in that type of behavior on future occasions. Because surely they can't be behaving somewhat less than up front because they choose to do so but because there's not a policy telling them to behave otherwise.

The Three Wise Men

Hudson wasn't actually quoted in the article and some of what he did say will be addressed further down this page. But Loveridge's always willing to provide a good sound byte, that is in between out of town trips as the president of the League of Cities and trying to launch a new conceptual study or get a new consultant hired. And here he gives it his best shot.

(excerpts of quotes, Press Enterprise)

"We're changing the rules. I think this incident is going to change the expectations of anyone in (the Police Department) for the next 10 years or so."

---Mayor Ron Loveridge

This quote's kind of recycled from back in 1999 when in the wake of the last major upheaval involving the city and its police department, he had said the same thing about the changes that the police department would make while implementing reforms coming out of a written report given by his ad hoc committee, the Mayor's Use of Force Panel. Back then, the city had engaged in "changing the rules" by changing the patterns and practices of the police department in crisis even before the State Attorney General's office would come to Riverside to do the same thing. Although it appeared that Loveridge's biggest concern back then had been what to call the legal settlement brokered between the city and the AG office. He loathed the two words, "consent decree" and how they would impact tourism in Riverside and then AG Bill Locker came up with something softer. But anyway, Loveridge had made similar comments back then that apparently he is now. Now back then, it could have been part of the script given to him by the Sitrick and Company which remembered Riverside fondly enough to include it on this client list. Apparently now, it's borrowed from his template which is structured like this:

I think this incident is going to change the expectations of anyone in (insert city department/project that's attracted undesirable attention) for the next 10 years or so."

Now Loveridge gives it his best college try but he sounds like he's trying to sell another one of his academic studies about the psychological/cultural/social/political/ aspects of urban existence to the city council and public, and not another redefinition of the police department as (this time) an agency that needs to have City Hall inject ethics into it by the creation and selling of more written policies. Which is ridiculous because if there's an ethical problem in the RPD and at the management level, there's definite signs that show that there's problems, then the police department didn't reach that point inside a vacuum. It had plenty of help from City Hall which is duly noted after reading an article where it's clear that the Wonder Twins have fumbled the ball when it comes to even understanding professional ethics, and admitting the breach of those ethics inside the police department for being just that.

The city's residents passed the charter initiative requiring the creation and implementation of an ethics code and complaint process. The city did just that, and then proceeded to water it down to the point where it's absolutely meaningless. There were clearly written policies and procedures including those written in its resolution and its FAQ sheet. And yet the city council and mayor either engaged in or allowed several violations of the processing of ethics complaints to take place by handing them off to the City Attorney's Office to arbitrate rather than forwarding them to the appropriate board/commission or the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee.

Several times, elected officials and city employees presented as their alibis for these policy violations, that they were "mistakes" or "miscommunications" and this took place even with clearly delineated policies in the books. When in actuality, they were simply willful attempts to sidestep the accountability mechanisms (as limited as they are) set up to ensure the integrity of the code and the complaint process. There are parallels between how the city handled this process and how it's currently handling the ethical transgressions involving Leach's DUI accident and traffic stop. Calling willful choices to breach ethics or an ethics process, a "mistake" or an issue involving a deficient policy, when people make the choices that they do, like the management personnel did on Feb. 8, whether there's policies governing them or not.

If you're going to engage in the obstruction of a DUI investigation involving your boss willingly, do you think you'd be worried about violating a police department and/or city policy?

But then there's the second of the Three Wise Men in this article, who's a police lieutenant in the department and who also serves as the president of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association. He contributes the following quote in the news article.

"It's not indicative of management in general. This is one incident and one decision, and whether we agree or disagree with the decision that was made, what happens now will lie with city manager. In the meantime, we still have a department to run."

-----Lt. Ed Blevins, Riverside Police Administrators' Association president and member of the Captains list which given newly accelerated attrition rates at the top might not be a bad place to be.

It's a very safe statement that Blevins made and it's also a very political one.

Within his comment, he make a statement within his public statement which does make clear sense. That "we" still have a department to run. That's true and the police department has managed to proceed with the vast majority of officers able to carry out their responsibilities which is absolutely critical during this time. But there's one question within, and that's who is "we"? Who really "runs" a police department? Those who manage it, those who lead it or those who carry out its mission assignment on a daily basis?

Anyway his choice of pronouns is interpreted, it brings up the pressing question of how the department will be run considering that the last police chief is medically retired and has been sentenced on his DUI case, the acting chief is under a cloud of suspicion at least by city residents for his "mistake" and the deputy chief is on his way out the door into retirement. Even if Asst. Chief DeLaRosa stays in the department (which appears to be his plan), there's three captains vacancies out of eight. The positions at the top of the chain of command (excluding the tippy top which according to the spiffy chief's brochure is Hudson) currently are as followed:

Acting chief: DeLaRosa

Assistant chief (and captain): Vacant

Deputy chief (and captain) : 2 positions, both to be vacant

Captains: 4 filled, one vacant

So the department's being run, but who's running it? I get asked that question at least 2-3 times daily. Technically, that task has been assigned to the former assistant chief under Leach which is DeLaRosa. But as the cloud of suspicion around him grew, compounded by the selective release of phone logs by City Hall to the Press Enterprise, DeLaRosa pulled a 180 on everyone regarding public appearances. After Leach had disappeared on medical leave, DeLaRosa had been moved into the acting chief position and he began appearing everywhere including city council meetings and those taking place in communities. Whereas Leach had been practically invisible during his final year or so as chief and DeLaRosa wasn't a common fixture at meetings either, there had obviously been a change given that DeLaRosa started popping up everywhere, sparking talk among city residents, including the question, who is he and what does he do?

But in more recent weeks as more and more came to light involving DeLaRosa and his city issued cell phone and who he had been talking to on it in the wee hours of the morning of Feb. 8, DeLaRosa began to fade back into the woodwork again. No longer appearing at city council meetings or out in the communities, vanishing almost as quickly as he had arrived. What had happened, some asked but many knew. Clearly the acting chief, who's supposed to as part of his job serve as the ambassador of the department, had either been told to lie low or had figured it out on his own. He became less visible at the work place as well and that created a vacuum of leadership in the department which was filled quickly enough with nary a whoosh of wind.

DeLaRosa Retreats; Blakely Moves In

Capt. Mike Blakely had ridden into the RPD on the wake of one of its former and now nearly forgotten chiefs, Ken Fortier and had been his deputy chief and right hand man. After Fortier left town, Blakely reverted back to being a captain and wound up assigned first to investigations where he once recommended that former Sexual Assault and Child Abuse detective, Al Kennedy get a written reprimand for having sex with a rape victim whose case he had been assigned to investigate, even though departmental policy requires any discipline imposed to be at least a suspension. Leach fired Kennedy, but Kennedy got his job back and not too long after city council members avowed to appeal his reinstatement as long and as far as it took, they quietly withdrew their legal appeal and retired him. After that, Blakely went to Personnel and Training which placed him in the position of not only handling those critical issues for both areas but also with overseeing the Internal Affairs Division under then Commander Richard Dana. At one point, DeLaRosa was assigned to run that division.

DeLaRosa's career trajectory had taken a markedly steep climb after Leach's hiring and within each rank he touched, he worked a variety of assignments but none for a very long period of time. Before he could really have time to master the ropes of any one of them, it was time to reassign him to the next one. His rapid ascension within the ranks into the top management positions had earned him the nickname by some around him of "Johnny Who". DeLaRosa reached a point on the food chain when Hudson and DeSantis first arrived in Riverside where he could begin to be impacted by both men's practice of micromanaging the police department, mostly Leach but several of those closest to him as well. Hudson and DeSantis so dearly wanted to demote the other deputy chief, Dave Dominguez back to captain and they had to try to micromanage the other two management personnel, then Capt. Pete Esquivel and DeLaRosa.

DeLaRosa didn't appear to go easily. On one occasion, he had been browbeaten by DeSantis not too far away from the city council offices on the Seventh Floor but held his own. The impression was, that he wasn't easily controllable by city management. If that's the case, it's a good bet that Hudson and his crew didn't like that much.

Blakely is an enthusiastic captain, who put in a full day at the office. Whereas others checked out early, Blakely embraced his role inside his division, which required him to take charge of different areas of personnel and training. He went out and did presentations and answered questions at different meetings. Some people saw him as a remnant of a very old guard in the RPD, that had mostly disappeared leaving him there, amidst captains created under much different circumstances than he had been. That can leave a person feeling very isolated but Blakely appeared to have adapted to that.

But some people said that Blakely wasn't anyone to be messed with and that Leach and the other captains saved him for when they wanted unpleasant tasks done and that he did them very well. Like the barnacle that some people called him for remaining in the department, Blakely had a tough exterior that seemed to allow him to deal with anything in his own way. While the other captains were greatly shaken and driven into an apprehensive state by the events that transpired in the department since Feb. 8, Blakley seemed to thrive on the chaos that emerged around him.

He had a curious dynamic with the younger DeLaRosa. Some say they had a mentor relationship at one time and others said, DeLaRosa felt subordinate in some ways to him despite the difference in their ranks. That's understandable in a sense given that DeLaRosa ascended so quickly it's unlikely that he remained at one rank long enough to really feel confident in it before he moved up again, leaving his confidence level a bit further behind. Rapid movement upward can leave a person in a sense being professionally at one rank but mentally in a past one waiting to catch up. This is why law enforcement experts often say that rapid ascension through the ranks isn't such a great practice and that it's created problems later on for individuals in that situation.

So DeLaRosa became acting chief in a difficult and immediate situation after a rapid ascension through the ranks particularly in the preceding five years. He knew that soon enough, the situation involving his use of his cell phone to call the watch commander at the scene of Leach's traffic stop would come to light. He also had this dynamic with Blakely. So when he began stepping back after the revelation of the phone records, a power vacuum was created and of all the captains who were next in line, the most likely person to step into it would be Blakely.

The other captains came into their positions of management through a political system run at least partly out of City Hall which did little to inspire confidence in those it rewarded. It created a command staff where the majority of the individuals rose up without the requisite confidence to be definitive leaders, which as it turned out had a detrimental impact on the police department and its employees in several different areas including the spree of arrests and/or prosecutions which numbered at least five in a 14 month period. But Blakely didn't come up through that same system. Interestingly enough these (and other) arrests began not too long after the controversy that took place at City Hall which challenged the promotional process at the highest levels. These arrests and prosecutions began not long after the tail end of the development of the current command staff and the increased involvement of the city manager's office and a politician or two in the promotional process.

The situation with former Officer Robert Forman (who avoided termination for sexual misconduct several years before his 2008 incidents) was the most blatant in terms of the failure to track a problematic officer by at the very least monitoring his use of a piece of required equipment, his digital audio recorder, during the time period after his initial incidents, one of which was captured by the recorder.

So within the command staff, there were leadership issues arising. Some of them had gone through so many twists and turns to get where they were at, they seemed at a loss of what to do when they arrived where they wanted to be. And when DeLaRosa began to withdraw a bit as his involvement in Leach's traffic stop came to light, some members of the command staff remained at a loss.

So Blakely filled the vacuum of leadership over the RPD and acted immediately. At least four police officers were placed on administrative leave and since Blakely was in charge of Internal Affairs, he was able to open personnel investigations involving employees at his rank and lower. The first casualty of these actions involving these investigations allegedly filed his retirement papers not long after this all started.

In the meantime, DeLaRosa had sent out signals that he had plans to stay where he was at at least as long as he could do so.

With all this intrigue taking place, it adds quite a few layers to Blevins' reference to "we" and makes it a much more difficult question to answer. But what kind of message does it send to the city residents when the RPAA stands by its leadership which includes members who might have conspired and engaged in the cover up of criminal activity which is supposed to or at least viewed by many to be the antithesis of what law enforcement officers including management are supposed to be doing. It's not reassuring at all to a skeptical public that's just had its trust violated to see that the RPAA is taking such serious misconduct so lightly, even in the interest of trying to smooth things over and get the department on its path. It sends the message that this so easily could happen again and it will, if it's just seen as a "mistake" or oops, I did it because there's no policy telling me not to do it.

Tell that to the individuals who will get carted off to jail during the upcoming DUI check point for driving drunk. Not that they won't deserve it but because the ability of the top-ranking police employee to avoid that fate at least from his own agency due to active efforts by other employees to ensure that, the insult's been added that it should be viewed as a "mistake" including by those in positions of power who could easily received or may have received in the past similar preferential treatment from law enforcement officers including those in other agencies.

And believe it or not, the RPD has a much better chance of being run the way it should be so it can do its task while enjoying public trust if it addresses the issues within its structure that led to management personnel at its top, being able to arrange or order by phone the obstruction or prevention of a criminal investigation of the top-ranking employee. If it addresses the issue as to why police officers will be or assume they will be committing career suicide if they arrest their boss. If it addresses this perception of a double standard of treatment between the public and the police chief or "high profile" individuals. Doing this is a first step towards its best chance to come out of a very bad situation in a much better way.

As a blogger of things River City, I just can't help but love Councilman Steve Adams. Whether he's calling my blog "something brown that you flush down" at a council meeting or calling me and other people names or liars or whatever, he's just great for blogging. It's too bad he's not nearly as good for this city in well...certain areas of government. He's great at some things like train crossing advocacy doing public service announcements on cable television but others, well his marks don't come in as high. Still, he's my favorite recipient of the Golden Tongue Award because his quotes often turn out to be gems.

One of those "gems" is included below.

"An error in judgment does not make a 30-plus-year career look bad. Something like this won't happen again."

---Councilman Steve Adams, Ward Seven, up for reelection next year

It's interesting that Adams brings up the impressive tenure of DeLaRosa with the police department because a 30 year veteran would seem to be much less likely to make this kind of "mistake" than a career veteran if that is indeed what had happened.

But in most cases, DeLaRosa would likely have not only been unable to serve as an interim head, he would have been placed on administrative leave during an investigation into the cover up of a criminal act and the obstruction of any investigation that the department would have done. After all, didn't Hudson say that he would come down on anyone who would have obstructed his probe or the CHP's criminal investigation even saying they could face criminal penalties for obstructing an administrative investigation? So why is it when a management employee in the police department deters a criminal investigation from being done by the city's police department, it's not treated as anything else but a "mistake"? If the CHP's investigations aren't to be messed with unless you want to face criminal prosecution and Hudson's internal probes aren't to be messed with either, then why isn't it anything but a "mistake" or an "error in judgment" to mess with the RPD's investigation?

And something like this won't happen again, because the newly crafted policies that Hudson has in mind are going to stop it. But then again, it's Adams who's saying this and that has to be taken into consideration.

Whether or not this "error in judgment" as Adams calls it, has an impact on how a 30 + year career is viewed isn't the issue here, the issue is whether it should impact the placement of DeLaRosa in the interim position, replacing the chief he allegedly tried to protect from criminal prosecution. The emails I've received include those from shocked people who don't understand why the involved individuals weren't place on paid leave pending the resolution of the internal investigation including those in management. And they are further shocked that an interim chief is in that position with a huge cloud of suspicion over him during a time when the public trust in the department including its management is at a nadir. But then it's been interesting reading the emails coming in after last night's article regarding the comments made by city leaders, the few that have spoken.

One person said it aptly, that this is why incidents like this happen in the first place, no reason to be surprised the next time that history repeats itself.

The Sound of Silence: Brad Hudson's Cell Phone

But to me the most interesting part of the article was the long sought explanations from Hudson about the ahem, gaps in the phone records including why DeLaRosa called Phillips at 3 a.m. and why it took so long for Hudson to use his cell phone on Feb. 8. Hudson explained that Leach had called DeLaRosa's home phone so that's why the trail with DeLaRosa's involvement began with DeLaRosa. That makes some sense.

What doesn't add up nearly as well is Hudson's explanation as to what was going on with his own phone that day. He said he had it shut off the majority of the day while he was out and about touring theaters in Pasadena and other places. So if his phone was shut off most of the day, how did he get notified in the early afternoon about the Leach incident and why then would he shut off his phone after that while touring theaters? What happened to any incoming calls, including the one well, you know where he had been notified about said incident with Leach? How then was he notified and through what means?

Let's see, does he shut his phone, then turn it back on get the phone call about one of his department heads and then shut it off again and enjoy the rest of the tour? If that's the case, it doesn't sound like much of a big deal what had happened and certainly not that shocking.

And why does the city manager who's making a fairly good six figure salary shutting off his work phone for large portions of the day anyway? If someone needs to contact him for an urgent reason, like the police chief got drunk and crashed a city owned vehicle, how could they do it if his phone's shut down most of the day?

Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff who's written a lot on the Leach incident challenges the confidentiality of police probes.

Moreno Valley's courthouse tries to clear some major congestion.

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Iceland ash plume closes airports across Europe. If you have plans to check out Europe, maybe you'd better go by boat.

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