Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Riverside Police Unions Strike Back

Two of the Riverside Police Department labor unions strike back in response to former Police Chief Russ Leach's comments about the police department that he made in a recent Press Enterprise article.

Both Riverside Police Officers' Association president, Det. Cliff Mason and Riverside Police Administrators' Association President Lt. Ed Blevins had words to say back at Leach. It's only fair for the newspaper to offer both parties who clearly have differing opinions about what's going on with the department before, during and after Leach's Feb. 8 accident and traffic stop to present their points of argument. Especially if one party, the police chief, raises the red flag of racism and sexism that face it, would have taken place on his watch too.

While they do raise interesting points, the irony is that the boards of both of these association (which are elected positions) apparently lack women and African-American males, both admittedly smaller demographic groups within each association. The last African-American male who served on the RPOA board was Gerald Broussard, and one of the few females ever to serve on it was Debora Foy several years ago.

The RPOA Board of Directors has at least one Latino member on it but is predominantly white and male as many law enforcement labor associations traditionally have been in law enforcement agencies across the country. But there are no women on the board at this time. Though the RPOA does have subcommittees and there might be more diverse representation by race and gender on its subcommittees.

As for the RPAA, only one member is female, and that's Capt. Meredith Meredyth (who ran into a barrier imposed by City Hall during her last promotion) and there's only one African-American, Lt. Vic Williams, within its ranks although the RPAA did have an African-American president several years ago which was Darryl Hurt. Since this association represents upper ranking supervisors and management personnel, the membership of this association would be smaller and drawing from a pool that's less racially and genderly diverse than the much larger rank and file division.

Lack of diversity on labor boards doesn't necessarily stem from racism or sexism but many people look at the board makeup and wonder about whether or not there's racial or gender inclusiveness on them. Particularly members of marginalized demographic groups within a larger majority population. If you're female, you will notice quickly that there's no females on a board and it's probably not much different for members of racial groups underrepresented in the police department. There's been quite a few comments and questions about the police labor union boards and their racial and gender breakdown among the public in recent years.

More so for the RPOA simply because it's larger and it's much more visible than the smaller RPAA and there's a stronger association with it and those it represents because it's often asked by media to present its views on police issues. Its dynamics are different than those of the RPAA which includes management personnel rather than being a counterpoint to management as is often the case with a rank and file union like the RPOA.

It's part and parcel of similar questions that many people have about the racial and gender breakdown of law enforcement agencies themselves which in many agencies has been lacking. Something which was a large enough issue in Riverside to be written as an objective in the original Strategic Plan that was implemented by the department from 2001-06 and it appears that will be the case with the upcoming Strategic Plan for 2010-15. That the police department create and retain a workforce that is truly representative of the communities that it protects and serves. Community forums held to solicit input for the upcoming Strategic Plan and the selection of the new police chief both featured quite a bit of input on the department being more diverse and embracing diversity.

People looking in often wonder if people outside the majority ever apply to run for board positions and if so, what their chances are of getting elected to fill them. And they wonder what if any efforts the labor associations make to create opportunities and mentorships for officers who belong to demographic groups inside the department with attrition rates larger than the 29% rate for male officers as a gender to reduce those numbers especially given that the attrition rates for female officers is considerably higher at 44%. What kind of advocacy and tracking do both unions do in situations where female members and African American men dominate the sergeant and lieutenant promotion lists yet get passed over? How do the labor union address the attrition rates particularly of newer officers which make up at least 94% of the attrition rates in both genders?

And what would either association do if a promotion of a female officer was blocked or vetoed by individuals not in the police department but inside City Hall or any promotion was blocked by City Hall for that matter? What if a female probational officer is at the scene of a crime and witnesses inappropriate sexist behavior by male officers including her own field training officer? Would the union advocate for her ability to work in a non-hostile working environment or if a female officer faced quid pro sexual harassment inside the field training program, meaning she had to perform sexual favors on her male training officer to pass that phase? What services would the union leadership provide for a female officer even a probational officer (especially given its past advocacy for not firing former probational officer Jose Nazario after his arrest by the NCIA in 2007 and for rehiring him after his acquittal in 2008) in that situation?

After all, African-American men and women who belong to these unions pay membership dues like the rest of the officers. And many city residents when they think about police unions, wonder how much diversity there is in their leadership, whether or not it represents the diversity of their membership given their insulated environment.

Another interesting issue that the unions might think about addressing in response to City Hall is the reports of harassment and retaliation that have been alleged by former presidents of both of these labor unions. Hurt, who was the president of the RPAA, along with PAC member Lt. Tim Bacon filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court several years ago alleging that they faced discrimination in the department's promotional process and harassment and retaliation stemming from their political union activities. The city recently settled those lawsuits and both men were placed on paid administrative leave until they turn 50 and are eligible for retirements.

Earlier this year, former RPOA president Chris Lanzillo filed a claim for damages alleging that he faced retaliation for his involvement in actions taken while serving his presidency. In his claim, he had raised allegations that Acting chief, John DeLaRosa knew about Leach's traffic stop fairly early on and that he had criticized DeLaRosa for taking so long to transfer the case to the California Highway Patrol for investigation. Lanzillo's claim was denied by the city about four days after he had filed it and most likely it's heading off to the U.S. District Court, even in the face of emerging evidence that DeLaRosa was involved via his city issued phone to Leach's traffic stop.

After all, two past presidents of labor unions filing claims and/or lawsuits alleging that they were harassed or retaliated on the basis of performing their union duties, are they anomalies or a pattern and practice? It would be interesting if the unions did an analysis of these issues and presented a report on whether harassment and retaliation of union leaders was a pattern and practice of elements of City Hall and compare notes with other city union heads who might relate similar issues.

But here's some of the comments that have been made by the two labor association presidents, Mason and Blevins.


"We've worked extremely hard to get past those issues," Mason said, "and to say what he did toward the people who risk their lives every day and respect the laws, that's extremely unfair and unfortunate."

It would be interesting in response to Mason's comments which raise important issues what would happen if his union leadership have ever done an anonymous survey among its own membership about whether or not they believed there were issues with racism and/or sexism inside the department, along with any other issues of concern within. Similar to a customer satisfaction survey. Or whether either union president would be open to outside organizations conducting a similar survey.

But the point appears to be that Leach raised these allegations of racism, sexism and bickering within the ranks without providing any information or insight on his role in addressing these problems within the past 10 years, whether he served that role in a positive fashion or contributed to those problems. And that point is duly taken.

Leach responded back when contacted by the newspaper.


"I'm not painting everybody with a big broad brush," Leach said. "I'm just saying there's an element that's still there."

Leach's response is interesting because it is reminiscent of an incident that took place involving several male officers including two field training officers at a woman's apartment in April 2008. The male officers had responded to what was initially reported as a potential hostage situation but as it turned out, a woman had called for the police to eject some unwanted people from her apartment. The officers arrived including at one point three sergeants and then began searching her residence, finding evidence of drug paraphernalia and check fraud. At one point, several officers began joking and playing with a pair of the woman's underwear and at one point, it wound up hanging from a dartboard on the wall of her living room. The woman sat in a chair not five feet away from these officers, where she had been told to sit watching the officers behave this way and a female trainee, Megan Edwards also witnessed the incident. Edwards incidentally was terminated several months after that incident for failure to make probation.

Several officers testified about this incident during the recent criminal trial of former officer, Robert Forman who had been charged of three counts of sexual battery and oral copulation under the color of authority though some of the testimony conflicted with that of others. Forman later returned to this woman's apartment and forced her to orally copulate him to avoid an earlier arrest. He either was acquitted or received a hung jury for the other sexual abuse charges. Does one incident define the culture of a department? In a department of over 370 officers, the behavior of a few, may be just that, a few.

But given the blatancy of the behavior in that situation, including displaying it so freely in front of a female probational officer, it's only natural that it would elicit people's concern about whether it was an isolated example of bad judgment by several officers or indicative of a larger problem inside the department. And there's plenty of elements involving the Forman case which show definitive problems with supervision and lack of leadership involving the situation including tracking this officer appropriately given his prior history of sexual contacts with vulnerable pools of women while onduty. After all, the Forman of 2008 came with a huge warning label attached.

How does an officer who has a prior sexual contact (and there's some difference of opinion between different agencies on whether it was "consensual" or not) that's not only on his record but is on his record because it wound up on his department-issued audio recorder wind up deleting dozens of recordings only several years later? Did the department take any steps under any form of an Early Warning System to track Forman, including his behavior involving his audio recorder? Did the department set up any system in its audio recording database mainframe to flag any recordings downloaded by officers where the numerical sequencing was interrupted? What actions were taken at the supervisory level, at the management level and at Leach's level involving the monitoring of an officer who really should have been fired by the city for his prior misconduct? Because the Forman incidents which were prosecuted that happened several years after the earlier ones impacted city residents by potentially damaging public trust and made it more difficult for police officers because of Forman's own actions in a position of public trust. Even if they were truly isolated incidents.

Then there was the lawsuit filed by another former female probational officer, Kelsy Metzler against the city alleging that the police department fired her in retaliation after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a fellow classmate at the Ben Clark Training Academy. Incidentally, Mason is listed in a defendant in that lawsuit, whether it was due to him seeing a sergeant working in the department's training division at the time or because he had been an instructor at the academy's not clear. There's nothing in the lawsuit or grievance filed by Metzler that indicated what protection she had as a probational officer when instead of being given a field training assignment, she was led into a office with personnel from the Internal Affairs Division and told she was being terminated without cause.

As for Blevins, he served several years inside the police department's Internal Affairs Division including during a period in the summer of 2007 when a person who was connected with the police department had allegedly been discharged by the department within three days after attempting to file a racial harassment complaint with her supervisor. Allegedly, she had met with Blevins to file a complaint associated with racial issues with his division and he had expressed interest in doing so which was the responsible action to take in that situation. But that should have at least made him aware that such problems do actually or at least potentially exist within his agency to some degree.

Leach should have been more clear with his comments rather than generalizing them in the media but it would be useful perhaps if both union leaders would publicly discuss their proposed platform for how they would address any alleged inhouse racism and/or sexism within their ranks if it presented itself and provide a means for open communication with all of their membership including those underrepresented on their boards to discuss issues pertaining to harassment and retaliation based on race, gender, sexual orientation, political activism as labor leaders, speaking out against wrongdoing and related issues. Then when that's done, perhaps jointly or separately they could provide a strategic plan for addressing these and other issues and problems that might exist and for providing remedy and positive change within the agency. This action plan would be the most effective means of countering Leach's allegations in the long run through collective action at tackling challenging issues within their ranks and it would probably empower them as well. To prove to the former police chief and to anyone else that you take these issues seriously.

Then the two union presidents had more comments to make in response to allegations raised by Leach in the earlier article.


He blamed budget issues and internal problems, including the arrests of five officers for various crimes and a lawsuit by two lieutenants alleging unfair promotion tactics.

In response, Blevins noted that, in his view, Leach's lapsed leadership seemed to coincide with the 2006 expiration of the attorney general's mandated oversight -- known as the stipulated judgment. Without leadership, he said it was natural to have some internal disputes.

"If no one is providing direction and answering questions, it's going to create some disharmony," Blevins said.

Mason added: "We were kind of left adrift."

From this point on, the union leaders said their focus will be on aiding the search for Leach's replacement. The deadline for applicants is Friday, with finalist interviews expected in May.

"I don't think it's in bad shape," he said. "We just need some clear direction, and some clear leadership."

It's interesting that Mason and Blevins mused about the changing dynamic of leadership in the police department after the dissolution of the stipulated judgment. Because the relationship between Leach, the police department and City Hall including the city manager's office did seem to intensify after the dissolution of the city's stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office. At the same time, Leach's leadership seemed to lessen as he attended far fewer community meetings and city council meetings and generally faded away, particularly during the last two years. But leadership wasn't totally lacking, as there were no shortage of individuals at City Hall intent on micromanaging the police department, beginning while it had been in the latter stages of its consent decree with the state and especially after the state's oversight had gone away.

Hudson would issue directives to DeSantis who would become much more involved in the day to day operations of the police department than any of his predecessors. Hudson and DeSantis invoked the "final say" language in the charter involving the city manager and personnel decisions made by department heads more than did their predecessors. And one of their main focuses was the police department, specifically its command staff at the level of captain and above, where virtually that entire roster of individuals save one holdover from a much earlier regime arose not from decisions made at the top of the police department but inside what Leach called the Seventh Floor of City Hall. Meaning Hudson, DeSantis and an elected official or two put themselves in charge of that process that has never been challenged by elected leadership and until that happens, any new chief after a brief "honeymoon" period to appease critics in the community and department will face the same fate as Leach did in respect to whether or not he or she can effectively make binding decisions as a department head.

Mason and Blevins didn't mention anything about City Hall's involvement in the police department nor have they addressed allegations raised by former RPAA members about this micromanagement even as at least one community organization, the Eastside Think Tank, alleged that the city manager's office had been heavily involved in decision making at the top of the police department.

If Mason and Blevins who both came into power in January were asking questions without answers, it could have been that those who were supposed to answer those questions inside the police department were awaiting direction on those appropriate answers from their handlers inside City Hall. Because these two presidents are right, if you have questions that need to be answered and you're not receiving leadership from above, then yes, that's going to foster internal strife within the infrastructure of the police department especially as the indecision and uncertainty of those above begins to trickle down to those below. The nature of chain of command is to have clear and decisive communication and direction from one link of this intricate chain to the next and if there's a disruption in that process, then there's going to be a lot of disharmony. But that's going to be disruptive as well and ultimately destructive is if that chain of command is compromised by receiving directives from the top or the top of the top which is apparently different elements of City Hall that are inappropriate or even illegal.

And that's not addressed by Mason and Blevins in their comments in the Press Enterprise in response to Leach's earlier comments but it will be addressed and discussed in blog postings here. Maybe these two men know and they don't want to rock the boat, fully understanding that City Hall, not the police department, is in charge of the police department.

But there's still a lot of concerns and questions anyway.

Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff also has her own reaction to Leach's comments in the recent article.


"I sat here three months with rocks being tossed at me," he said by phone Monday. "I'm going to toss some rocks now; I've got some boulders to toss."

Apparently, Leach will be speaking out in front of community organizations including one that's apparently meeting in secret later this week on Thursday. It's an interesting town that we live in that guest speakers at community organizations are kept secret given that most organizations like to tell anyone interested in attending meetings just who any planned guest speakers will be.

The reaction to Leach has been pretty profound and mostly negative including in MacDuff's column. Some people have said enough is enough and that there should be no more coverage of this issue but events like this one have a way of just playing themselves out. If the Press Enterprise is approached by one party or another, they're not going to show them the door and say, sorry can't cover it. And if someone like Leach makes strong comments about the department that used to employ him, then giving the employees in that department an opportunity to respond or to ask them what their response would be is what most publications would do.

There's a strong push to just put everything behind the city, forget about it and just focus on hiring a new police chief. In fact, among the community leadership, there's more clamor among it to get spots on Hudson's planned interview panels next month than in addressing the serious issues that created this situation in the first place. And these issues including some raised by Leach, Mason and Blevins must be addressed because it's going to be very hard to even believe that the police chief will be anything but another Hudson and DeSantis puppet.

For a police chief to really have a chance to turn the RPD around, he or she must be independent of City Hall, at least enough so to operate as an autonomous department head both in terms of day to day operations and long-range strategic planning. But that situation doesn't currently exist in Riverside and there's not enough impetus among the city's elected leadership to create and foster that kind of environment, rather than the current one which has turned the police department into a free for all zone of micromanagement from assorted characters who you will meet in future blog postings. The police unions' leadership should be at the forefront of pushing for an independent chief, rather than one that will be reduced to a Hudson or DeSantis puppet. Because they should be mindful of the destructiveness of what that dynamic has done for the agency that employs them and the one they represent out in the city's neighborhoods.
A sizable portion of their members in the RPOA are a bit more pessimistic about the department's future and of the next chief's independence than is the leadership.

As for the RPAA, that situation is complicated by the inclusion of members who are in the upper levels of management and who are intricately tied to elements of City Hall, so much so that their very existence in the top realm of command came about because of decision making and orders dispatched by City Hall. While other members might be more inclined to look at those individuals as the outcome of the micromanagement which has put the police department in a precarious position.

It's interesting to hear them say that the department's in "good shape", even as the dominoes start to fall around them and certainly above them. Because the police department's not in "good shape", it's filled with people who for the most part are working hard to keep it doing the job that it needs to be doing in difficult and very turbulent waters, but structurally speaking, it's a house with an uncertain foundation and a crumbling ceiling. For the most part, the department's having professional people carry out its directive, but unless the fundamental problems of the department are addressed and the city leaders start showing the leadership needed to rein in some of their direct employees and a few of their own, it's going to be come much more difficult for the p0lice department to keep going in the direction that it needs to go.

But people have to be willing.

Riverside Fiscal Budget Watch Begins

More budget cuts coming to Riverside this upcoming fiscal year although the police department might have 15 police officer positions restored. No word on whether there will be any vacancies filled at the department's supervisory levels. Positions are being cut in other departments including community development or consolidated with other departments. No layoffs are anticipated but it's difficult to know if that's really the case or not.

Menifee's financial director speaks out.

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