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

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Road to Micromanagement Is Filled with...Intentions


Reports of City Manager Brad Hudson's city car allegedly being stored in one of the city's corporate yard with damage to it after reports of vehicle crash. If this is the case, was Hudson tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication pursuant to city policy and was a report taken of an accident?

[Mayor Pro Tem Steve Adams settles in the Big Chair after Mayor Ron Loveridge again misses a day of city council meetings. Given that the countdown has already begun for Election 2011, Adams has softened his demeanor at meetings in preparation for his third run. But it's going to take much more than grasping simple dais etiquette to get him reelected. ]

[Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson tries to sell a car to residents from the Overlook Parkway area which though included in a long-term strategic plan for further development and neighborhood disruption was apparently not included in an ambiguously written agenda item for the afternoon session of the City Council. Hudson wears many different hats, which include according to many, that of police chief.]

[Some of the players in the House That City Hall Built are discussing of all things, the handling of a complaint filed through the ethics complaint process. Only those arbitrating the complaint were the same individuals who belonged to the subcommittee it was filed against. ]

Some of these individuals are also cast members of a theatrical production currently in research, titled, RPD: The House That City Hall Built which will be sure to come to a venue soon. So you'll be reading a lot more about them and their fellow cast mates and the house that they built out of cards. But alas, this isn't a fairy tale and it's not going to be a very happy journey through the back door politics of Riverside. No need for a Play Bill because most of the characters in this sad tale will be familiar to most readers here.

The RPD Updates on the Strategic Plan

With all the uproar that's been going on with the Riverside Police Department, it's pretty easy to lose track with the fact that the department's been working on its next five year Strategic Plan which has been moving forward in a manner of speaking even with all the turmoil in the department. After all, the chief's wrestled with City Hall over the creation of the plan through quite a bit of last year and he's not around anymore, having slipped off into retirement and having just completed his 15 days of home detention. The acting police chief, John DeLaRosa hasn't been as visible since the release of cell phone records implicating his work phone in the controversial handling of former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach's traffic stop. The remaining deputy chief, Pete Esquivel is abruptly retiring after 30 years not long after Personnel Capt. Mike Blakely allegedly had Internal Affairs (which is under his umbrella) investigating people at the mid-level and higher and has been busy doing his thing. Is this the first chapter of what could turn out to be the RPD's own version of Survivor Island? It's still too early to tell.

But anyway, there's still quite a few people hanging around, enough to talk about the department's Strategic Plan.

The department provided an update to its ongoing process of creating the next five-year Strategic Plan to the Public Safety Committee. Chair Chris MacArthur and members Nancy Hart and Andrew Melendrez listened and asked questions during and after the presentation by a clearly energized Blakely and Sgt. Jaybee Brennan, who is on the Audit and Compliance Bureau. Blakely passed on his apologies that DeLaRosa couldn't attend the meeting but said that DeLaRosa had been busy supporting the department's Baker to Las Vegas relay team where the department exceeded its own goals in the final results.

They provided information on the results of the online survey that was conducted several months ago as well as community forums and meetings and said that the information they received helped them formulate the core values and key components of what when completed, will serve as the blueprint of policing followed by the employees of the department until 2015. They had studied the old plan mandated through the stipulated judgment and looked for its strengths and weaknesses and also looked at other department's plans where they discovered that they had borrowed from Riverside's original plan.

The survey results showed a few things.

97.3% of the respondents worked and/or lived in the city

87.3% thought Strategic Plan was necessary.

74% thought the department was good or excellent.

16.5% thought it was adequate

7.3% thought it as poor.

88% of respondents thought officer behavior was good, very good or excellent

12% thought the conduct of officers was fair or poor.

Top three priorities: Patrol, Calls for Services and Criminal Investigation.

The Strategic Plan will be coming back in a finalized form to the Public Safety Committee and then if approved, will be going before the complete City Council. The new chief whoever he or she might be will have a chance to provide some statements in the plan to give him or her "ownership" over it. As much as any police chief under City Manager Brad Hudson can have ownership of anything. It was very interesting to see Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis say anything favorable about the Strategic Plan because the city manager's office has never been a huge fan of it or its predecessor at least not behind the scenes. Because a strategic plan that was created before they got there could be viewed as crimping their actions at running the police department. This time around, the process will lie in their hands, even after it is completed by the police department at some later date.

After the city had dissolved its first stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office, the city council had held a workshop in March 2006 to come up with a strategy to continue the implementation of the original five-year plan which sunset last December. It didn't take long during the long hot summer of 2006 for Hudson to attempt to derail the city council's vote by nearly "failing" to get a contract with a police practices consultant. Earlier last autumn, Hudson and DeSantis had apparently blocked the police department from moving forward with plans to create and implement this latest strategic plan and especially to receive public input from city residents for it. It was only when two city council members began asking questions about the status of the plan, that it moved forward. So flash forward months later and it's just fascinating watching people like Hudson and DeSantis now enthusing about it. If there were enough city council members including on the Public Safety Committee even paying attention to what their city manager was doing, they might actually realize what had been going on but since they've handed off the keys of the city including most of its financial accountability mechanisms to the city manager's office, they've been left in the dark by choice.

It remains to be seen how the strategic plan will be enforced, given that many components of the first Strategic Plan aren't in effect or in place and quite a few of them were casualties of budget cuts. The department itself has seen its ranks get depleted and its vacancy rate currently stands at around 10%. There's been a thinning of the ranks at the top of the command structure and the vacancy rate of lieutenants is about 33%. Both labor unions in the sworn side of the police department support filling at least some of the vacancies at the supervisory levels but City Hall said no.

Blakely, who lost his personnel lieutenant, Gary Leach to the field operations division addressed the department's vacancies during the meeting by saying that he was fully confident that the department should be providing the services as well as it had when fully staffed and that vacancies needed to be "shared" which essentially means that filling one rank exclusively might deplete another. Which is true and something that needs to be considered but it's interesting how there's a long discussion during the meeting on the importance of adequate and accountable management and supervision and then later comments on well, we're able to perform our services even with big chunks of both missing. Even though quite a few people are noticing that contacting anyone in the police department or just trying to find anyone in "command" is very difficult these days because people aren't quite sure who's in command and because the chain of command at the top has been somewhat volatile in recent weeks. The comments and the actions just don't see to really go together, sending a message which is very mixed.

Councilwoman Nancy Hart bristled somewhat that the vacancy issue would even be addressed. She said the city council was kept abreast of every single vacancy in the department and whether it was "critical" or not and that hopefully some day some of those positions might be refilled. That's good to know that she and other dais mates are fully aware of the vacancy rates and can therefore be more readily held responsible for the consequences of maintaining staffing vacancies if anything does happen as a result. Because they are fully informed and on top of the situation as Hart said at the Public Safety Committee meeting.

Blakely and DeSantis threw off some interesting body language during some comments in the meeting about the department recently promoting its first female supervisor in nearly five years. DeSantis leaned back in his chair and seemed a bit petulant while Blakely emitted a sigh. DeSantis behavior is really not that surprising if you look back at his somewhat less than stellar history when it comes first, to inserting himself in the promotional process upon direction by Hudson and second, to his own dubious record of involvement in the promotion of higher ranking female officers.

Blakely can’t be blamed for looking less than thrilled at the mention of it taking so long to promote a female supervisor, as the person in charge of the personnel division. And given the current situation at the level of middle management and supervision, it puts the department in an interesting position given that the promotional ranks most impacted, have been those of sergeant and lieutenant and for both of those ranks, there are women and African-American men in the top positions on thosepromotional lists.

This situation weakens the oft tossed out argument by the department that people in neither groups are getting promoted in supervision due to "low numbers". But then the promotional processes involving both ranks were changed in the past several years in order to accommodate the promotions of individuals from anywhere on the list that those in charge of promoting chose to pick them. This practice increases the necessity of lobbying those engaged in making the promotional decisions for consideration when promotion times roll around, to make yourself stand out as a candidate because rankings on lists don't appear to serve that role. Testing near or at the top of the list for sergeant or lieutenant is no guarantee that you'll be promoted even if tons of vacancies open up to be filled. That increases the power of the individual or individuals who actually make the promotional decisions.

It also makes it much more likely that highly motivated candidates anywhere on the list will try to present their cases for being promoted to those they perceive or have been told are responsible for making promotional decisions. It also means that you're not safely promoted until you've been pinned with your new rank, because any time up to that point, another candidate can engage in a strategy which will pull the rug right out from under you. Promotional decisions can and have changed literally in the 11th hour and the current system of promotion kind of makes a situation like that inevitable at some point. But the impact of the this system involving the promotional process of the police department has clearly been felt and has reverberated both up and down the ladder and even into City Hall. It's also helped shape the command staff currently in place.

After all, being at the top of the list means that your work has just begun. And that's actually where it might end, if it comes down to whose "team" you're playing for, which is what a promotional system like the one in place encourages, and in Riverside, it's complicated even further by the many hands involved in the promotional process of the police department.

For example, the last two promotions for lieutenant, one that took place in July 2008 and the other more recently, the individuals who were promoted, Leon Phillips and Andy Flores apparently ranked #11 and #6 respectively on their lists. Phillips is a much more familiar name to most people now than that of Flores because of his involvement in the Leach traffic stop as the watch commander on duty during that shift.

The captains' positions are more firmly entrenched in management and the promotional processes at this rank had already been changed before the department had changed those at the lower ranks to more closely adhere to the informal system being used to promote the department's captains and above. By thrusting much more power through changing the rules on those making the promotional decisions, that also changed the roster of people who would be making those decisions either individually or in tandem with others. After all, those who promote gained more power under the new system and who in the vicinity wouldn't want to get their hands on that? As it turned out, quite a few people did.

Now this type of system clearly is fraught with problems and so much potential for problems and even corruption. What else can be expected of a system where promotions aren't the outcome of a process of testing and being listed but by using other forms of negotiation? And with the depletion of the ranks at top already starting in part because the house that's been built through this process has been shaken to its foundation, it's going to be interesting to see whether these routines for promoting at the mid and upper levels of the department will be part of the pattern and practice even when a new police chief arrives to take the helm of the department. How will the new chief promote, and more importantly how much freedom will he or she be given to promote including at the top level of management?

In upper management, the departures appear to have begun with the announced retirement of Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel and could continue if others at or near that level follow suit especially individuals at or close to retirement age. It's not really clear who's going to go and who's going to stay. Speculation says that DeLaRosa's days are numbered although he's apparently got no plans to make it easy for those who wish he'd walk away. But even as City Hall appears to act as if there's not at the very least confusion at the top, many community leaders and residents have picked up on the obvious difference between the police department before Feb. 8 and the one that's being reshaped as a result.

And that speaks to the confusion that city residents including community leaders are experiencing with trying to figure out who to contact in the police department near or at the top of its leadership. There does seem to be a lot of confusion out there about who is in charge of the department. And with City Hall freezing the newly vacated lieutenant positions by calling them “unpaid” (like the deputy chief position vacated by Dave Dominguez’ retirement), some people have been scratching their heads even as people like Hart and Blakely assure everyone that the department’s handling its staffing shortages. But as the vacancies increase as do the freezes, concern has been growing outside of the sphere of city government that the department and the city is beginning to reap the consequences of how the department's been handled the past five years since Hudson and DeSantis came to town. Since elected officials decided to involve themselves in ways inappropriate with the police department's operations.

The police department’s current lieutenant’s list as stated earlier is in a very interesting place, though one that might unsettle some individuals both at the top of the command inside the police department and inside City Hall. For one thing, white male officers don’t dominate the top of it. And some of the candidates who are most favored by Blakely apparently finished near the bottom of the current list. So the decision not to fill the 33% lieutenant’s vacancy which given the exodus that might be starting higher up in the department’s infrastructure takes on different overtones.

1) White Female

2) White Male

3) White Female

4) Black Male

5) White Female

6-13) White male

But with the lieutenant positions being frozen for the unforeseen future, it's not clear how this will all turn out. Whether the lists at the lieutenant and sergeant level will be diluted by the changes in promotional processes which had a similar impact on the captains' lists. And if who gets promoted comes down to who is the most persistent or the most talented at lobbying and selling themselves to the people that count as prime candidates, how will that impact the makeup and operations in both ranks? After all, the entire city is witnessing what similar practices have impacted promotions at the captains level and higher. Where it maybe not as much about what you can do, but who you know. Who to make happy and who to never, never piss off. And what happens when you reach the pinnacle and discover that it's not what you thought it would be and the job skills that the position requires are not the ones you used to reach it.

During the stipulated judgment with the State Attorney's General office, there was some talk about the importance of infusing a business culture into the department's management level, to essentially turn the department into where it appeared to resemble a corporation rather than a public agency in that respect. If you examine what's transpired while the department's been operating under that system including through its promotional process, it becomes clear what has happened to the department as a result. As well as what's happening now.

The police department and the City Hall which leads it traveled a twisty and turny road to get where it arrived in the early morning hours of Feb. 8 and it sure wasn't pretty. And the end results of that journey have been anything but.

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