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 21, 2010

Russ Leach: I wasn't hamstrung but I'm anxious about autonomy

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach breaks his silence to the Press Enterprise and had some sort of interview with its Editorial Board about his planned reemergence in the city's social scene, perhaps as a member of some boards and organizations. He was a no show at his arraignment on DUI charges where his lawyer entered in a guilty plea to one of them but has gone to meet presumably in person with the daily publication. To talk mostly about the police department that he left in nearly as much upheaval as it had been when he first arrived in 2000. The department's currently buried in at least $25 million just in claims and has settled both inhouse and outside lawsuits during the past several years that alleged everything from wrongful death to racial profiling to unfair labor practices and retaliation. At least five officers have been arrested in 2008-09, but allegations of other arrests or officers engaging in criminal behavior without arrests have been made. After 10 years, it's made tremendous progress in some areas yet came full circle in others in ways not so positive.

But then if the leader of a police organization engages in breaking the law while driving and then allegedly makes a phone call to his second in command to take care of it, then it's not surprising that this sense of entitlement to commit crimes without paying the consequences might trickle on down into the ranks to some individuals. Complaints have also been raised about the dearth of leadership in the police department particularly in the past several years. Complaints from community leaders that they don't know who to contact anymore. A sense that the upper level is crumbling and that the department's rudderless. Complaints that promotions of women and male African-Americans into supervision or management stopped after the dissolution of the consent decree with the State Attorney General's office. Complaints that there's serious staffing issues including at the supervisory ranks. Complaints that the department got into trouble after the dissolution of its five-year consent decree. Complaints that the problems began before that point.

And then there's that issue of the covering up of a crime committed by Leach by others in his department and possibly in City Hall as well. Leach said that there was no cover up involved in a case where he had driven drunk and then was sent home without a field sobriety test or a citation. Two patrol officers who stopped Leach had told California Highway Patrol officers that they had noticed "objective" signs of alcohol intoxication in their boss. The two of them then called for a DUI expert, Sgt. Frank Orta to assist them and then he wrote a report after the fact that it had been nothing more than a "traffic collision" to be "filed" away. A report devoid of any real mention of alcohol intoxication being considered and zero mention of any DUI investigation being conducted, let alone a field sobriety test. Apparently the public is supposed to swallow that this doesn't imply a cover up if it's intended to be kept hidden from the public not so much that a crime occurred but how it was handled by those who were trusted to enforce the law equally.

Then the handling of the situation which deviated greatly from how DUIs are handled involving mere city residents and how the same officers handled a similar situation only two weeks later (where they investigated the DUI and took the person to jail). And was there any public notification that this double standard existed between how Leach was treated as opposed to how other city residents were treated? Is Leach really so filled with entitlement from his position that he doesn't find anything wrong with him getting a trip home without an investigation and other city residents getting a trip to jail handcuffed in the back seat of a squad car? The irony, is that he could have probably survived a DUI even a DUI accident as a misdemeanor conviction for DUI doesn't usually end an officer's career. What his job couldn't survive were the actions taken by himself and others to keep from being held accountable under the law as other individuals would have been.

Leach's is correct that there wasn't a cover up of the incident but that's not from lack of trying and he didn't address or mention any of the alleged incidents involving prior stops by law enforcement agencies including his own and rides he received home from his command staff including one alleged incident where he had called one of his command staff members late at night from a desert town in San Bernardino County for a ride. If there were indeed prior incidents, the public clearly wasn't in the loop that the police chief who had been taping public service announcements including one before Super Bowl Sunday not to drink and drive wasn't including himself in his own admonition. The public only discovered any information about this incident because individuals who found out about it refused to keep quiet. That's the only thing that was hopeful about the whole mess was that there were individuals who tried to stop the cover up from really taking any root. But then they seemed to be viewed more harshly by the city management than those who actually tried to keep Leach's conduct under wraps. Yes, Leach's decision to mix "binge drinking" with prescription might be viewed as a serious "mistake" (though it appears there's quite a few "mistakes") but the actions to cover it up and protect him from being arrested and prosecuted were very deliberate by those who participated in those acts.

The department had made great strides since the late 1990s due to the hard work of people in the department and in the communities and after about $26 million had been spent undoing over a decade of damage and neglect. And Leach could have left with a worthy legacy as having brought it down a difficult path, during one of the most trying periods in the city's history. But what he did is that he betrayed it instead, including when he and others who participated in this "preferential treatment" as it's called remained silent about it for months (and still remain silent) while the public's rage was focused on two patrol officers who quickly handed the scene off to their supervisor and then were sent elsewhere. For a police chief who was hired to push for accountability inside a police department, he ended his career by trying to dodge it at the expense of some of those he was encharged to lead and others he was hired to serve and protect. And the price that his agency and city residents paid for those actions is only beginning to be calculated. Not that you can put a price tag on everything, how do you do that with the tremendous loss of public trust in a police department that had worked hard 10 years to gain that back?

During much of his career in Riverside, there were allegations of misconduct within its highest levels, including a letter allegedly sent by a former command staff member that was sent to the city council and mayor in December 2005 before Leach's first five-year contract went before the city council for a vote. Many more allegations would follow and they would remain held secret by the department and City Hall as the police department appeared to look fine on the surface but had begun to decay within. And now, the repercussions of just that are playing themselves out as time passes and careers that looked like they were filled with steam begin instead to wind down.

In the wake of his Feb. 8 DUI accident and traffic stop, the police department has seen the career of Acting Chief John DeLaRosa on the ropes after the release of his cell phone records tied him to the handling or mishandling of the traffic stop. Not long after that, Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel filed for his retirement papers after more than 30 years in the department allegedly after the Internal Affairs Division opened several investigations on him. As for the rest of the command staff particularly those at the highest ranks, it's not clear how long they will be hanging around particularly those who have reached or passed their retirement ages, which is about half of them.

The most senior of them, Capt. Mike Blakely has apparently kept himself quite busy and quite happily so, serving as the agency's de facto chief in the wake of DeLaRosa's withdrawal from public appearances in recent weeks.

And so the house that City Hall built is experiencing the crisis created due to the foundation it had been built upon, which will ultimately collapse and need to be rebuilt hopefully into something much healthier. But for that to happen, major changes would have to happen inside City Hall first. You need a city manager whose office doesn't micromanage city departments including the police department. You would need to have the city council hold their own employees accountable especially when they are less than honest with their "bosses" on the dais. What the city residents are learning so far is that the city council doesn't like to lead. It as a legislative body likes to follow, like the tail wagging the dog. Leach discusses the "Seventh Floor" politics in terms that are self-contradictory in terms of the relationship between the top of City Hall's own command structure and that inside the RPD.

He worries that a new police chief could be micromanaged by the city manager's office or anyone else on the "Seventh Floor". Yet he denies that he himself was controlled at all by City Hall because he had been hired by a prior administration which then makes you wonder again why he's so concerned that his successor wouldn't have autonomy. But Leach muses about the issue anyway.


"I wonder what kind of freedom the person is going to have; what kind of autonomy they're going to have," Leach said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview with The Press-Enterprise's editorial board. "I have my doubts."

If he himself hadn't been hamstrung during his own tenure, then what would there be to be concerned about that happening to the next in line? If he had been truly autonomous, why would the issue even come up as being worthy of questioning whether or not it would be an issue for a police chief in this city? If he had truly been autonomous, wouldn't his response had been more along the lines, with how this new police chief's going to be able to be independent of City Hall influences? So if Leach had intended to refute allegations made the past several years by a wide variety of people including most recently the Eastside Think Tank, then he should have not put contradictory statements together in the same interview. But he continues doing just that probably not by intention.

"I'm anxious about how they're going to bring somebody in and what they'll be able to do," Leach said. Referring to the location of City Council and city management offices, he said, "I don't want the seventh floor (of City Hall) to change or alter the good things that have happened within this Police Department."

Again, it's interesting to raise this concern of over involvement by City Hall or its "Seventh Floor" in the police department if Leach truly was as autonomous as he seems to be saying and was never hamstrung. Again, why even mention the "Seventh Floor" and any involvement it may or may not have in the police department, because the "Seventh Floor" means City Manager Brad Hudson, his staff and the elected officials who make up Riverside's city government. But fortunately for Leach, he's made his comments about himself not being micromanaged even as he's concerned about his successor because there's a series of blog postings which will be titled, The House that City Hall Built that will hopefully clarify the situation in a somewhat less than ambiguous fashion.

One of the most interesting comments made by Leach is his reference to what he called "internal bickering" about the promotional process and how that has been taken out on the streets. But what he doesn't mention are changes that have taken place involving the promotional processes at the supervisory ranks and above in the past several years, first at the upper management level including captains and then at both the lieutenant and sergeant levels. The process beginning with upper management was changed so that it put more power in the hands of the promoter and less on the person undergoing the promotional process. And as the power enjoyed by the promoter increased, more individuals outside the police department became interested and wanted to involve themselves in that process. That led to the majority of promotions at the captain's level and higher being decided not within the police department through an inhouse process and evaluation system but by elements inside City Hall, who more likely than not either instituted these changes in the promotional process or pushed for them.

Similar changes were then made involving the lieutenant rank and then that involving sergeants. For example, the last two promotions off of the lieutenant's "list" were Andy Flores who was ranked at #6 and before him, Leon Phillips who was ranked #11 and promoted in July 2008. Candidates for promotion including at the highest levels saw what was going on around them and who was getting what, when. So some of them realized that an integral part of the promotional process was self-promotion of one's position to try to land an elusive spot and as a natural extension of that, also not pissing off the wrong person to jeopardize their positioning for a promotion. The problems of this evolving process were expanded when more and more individuals including those inside City Hall wanted in on the promotional process.

The adverse impact of this increasingly politicized promotional process is that it would most likely increase any internal bickering that would be taking place between candidates on the affected lists and any of their supporters. It would also trickle down into the other ranks leaving even those applying to be on the detectives' list (which so far operates under its standard process) worried that their "politics" will harm their chances of moving up through the ranks. There's always going to be competitiveness taking place when promotions are involved because that's the nature of any situation where demand of those wanting the position far exceeds the supply of available positions but changes that the majority of the promotional processes have experienced in the past several years can only amplify that situation. It would also serve to increase levels of suspicion between people competing for those spots that so-and-so is getting the position that's open simply because they are better at lobbying the growing cast of those involved in the promotional processes.

On April 20, this promotional system was set to go on trial inside the U.S. District Court, along with other allegations of mistreatment and serious problems inside a police department allegedly run by City Hall. After the Eastside Think Tank took the city to task via press release complaining of this micromanagement, Mayor Ron Loveridge called their allegations and any asserting that micromanagement was taking place, "fiction". However, the same day that Loveridge made those comments, the city council and Loveridge were in the process of finalizing their involvement in the settlement stemming from the lawsuit filed by two former lieutenants, Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt. Doing so on the eve of trial, meaning that the city had already spent a good portion of the money it would spend litigating it, that is if it won at trial. But if it lost, then the costs would be much higher. Settling the case from the city's standpoint kind of nullifies City Attorney Gregory Priamos' long standing stance that the city settles lawsuits to save the taxpayers' money from the "cost of litigation" which in itself is fiction. It only saves the city money to settle if the city's likely to lose the case at trial and the city anticipating such an outcome, settles a case to save money. If the city takes a case to trial and wins, it's eligible in many cases to seek a return on its legal expenses, which is why the city often issues warning letters to plaintiffs of how it will do so if the plaintiffs lose at trial or win a verdict smaller than the maximum settlement offer.

But Leach fully participated in this promotional system even if he might not have initiated it. And at the captain's level, his promotional decisions were greatly minimized by Hudson being the first city manager in recent memory to use the "final say" provision in the city's charter for promotions by department heads including Leach. And it appears that this veto of sorts was used by Hudson through his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis at least once involving a promotion within the upper echelon of the police department. It's also probable that at least three and probably more promotions at the highest levels weren't made by Leach. And of the two candidates that Leach did forward at that level, neither was a sure thing but each faced difficulties in reaching that level which were different from each other but both tied to City Hall. Put all of this together and what is left is a command staff that wasn't built by Leach at all, but essentially by City Hall. So what was Leach saying about not being hamstrung again? Because what's a chief's freedom and autonomy, if he or she can't promote those closest to his or her level?

The charter might provide a means for the city manager's office to involve itself in the "final say" of promotional processes and Leach himself said that when he contested promotional decisions by the city manager's office, that this office waved the charter in his face. Some people might definitely call that being hamstrung at least at the upper management level and some people might definitely say that a promotional process like this one might increase any internal bickering that would be taking place. It's pretty clear at this point that the changes instituted at City Hall addressing this level of promotions probably has been detrimental to the police department. And the city's in the position of having the outcome of this treatment by City Hall, being investigated in secrecy by those at least partially responsible for what went wrong even before Leach drank too much and then went driving around Riverside.

If there's indeed any crumbling going up on top of the chain of command (not including Hudson who considers himself at the top of it), then this promotional process would be one major reason why. Because what happens is you have people who are so focused on what they have to do to advance that they don't focus on developing their management skills, and the skills that they use to advance aren't the skills they need to draw upon when they make it. This promotional process encourages the enrichment and proliferation of some less than desirable skills over those which are more important for healthy management. It left the department with a management staff that didn't really know what it was supposed to be doing when things fell apart at the very top. The department's management staff had individuals with poor communication skills who don't realize that relying on emailing to delegate responsibilities and provide feedback isn't going to be effective as one on one talking or that engaging in deal making to jump ahead of your development curve is going to create problems down the line. One of the goals of reforming the department had been to build a business-like culture in management and it's certainly heading in the direction of being as ruthless as one. Probably a side-effect that wasn't intended by the authors of the reform mandate.

It's no coincidence that the only member of the management staff to hit the ground running during this crisis is the most senior member who didn't ascend through the same promotional process as everyone else. The one who spent the most time at this level, the one who had been dropped in rank (having previously been an "at will" deputy chief) and stayed in one assignment for several years that positioned him to jump into where he's at, which is currently leading the department. If there's going to be a vacuum of power created by the ouster of a chief and the retreat or retirements of the immediate subordinates, then the mostly highly motivated and best positioned individual for better or for worse is going to fill it. And everyone else at his level might bicker and complain about it, but they really won't be able to do much about it because they lack the real confidence to take any position themselves. When management promotions become more about who you can lobby into your corner and who you need to smooth things over with first, that's not exactly a confidence builder in one's own management skills, let alone any sense of leadership ability. But it will be interesting to see what happens to the management and command staff levels when the new chief arrives. Of course, that goes back again to the autonomy level and how Leach wasn't "hamstrung" but his successor might be?

Some have said that this dynamic in the management staff contributed to the relatively high number of arrests and prosecutions of officers within the department. At minimum, the department has an arrest rate of 1 per 80 officers (not counting Leach) which is higher than the national average. That there wasn't enough leadership or supervision at top to really keep behavioral expectations high. Lending some support to that argument of course, was the "arrest" and conviction of its top leader for DUI which doesn't exactly send the right message especially since attempts were made at the top to cover it up as allegedly had been done in the past. If that's the case, it's likely that enough people inhouse knew about them for some of them to think, if he can't keep his behavioral standards high, why should everyone below him hold those same expectations? Also the added stress created by this system among those under it would probably be a contributing factor.

Leach also talked about related topics involving the police department particularly his last several years at its helm. About how far he believes the department needs to go to improve itself and about racism and sexism that still remains even after he had been at its helm for 10 years.


"There are still obvious cases of racism," he said. "Obvious cases of sexism."

It's ironic that the latter statement was made by a person who frequents topless bars where women are objectified to earn a paycheck. But anyway, it's not clear from his statement what exactly those problems were, and are and if they exist, why is that the case after he had been leading the agency for nearly 10 years. Because the chief is supposed to set the tone for whether or not racism and sexism are tolerated. It's a bit hard to see it coming out of City Hall where meetings with city employers and developers still involve sexist humor and racial comments are still coming up in meetings at City Hall. Where older women are pretty much chased out of the workplace in this city and replaced with younger ones. It's hard to be able to settle down to any business about cleaning up any such climates at the police department unless a serious look is taken at City Hall where a legislative aide to an elected official regarded to a woman as the "biggest bitch around" upsetting one witness enough to write a letter of complaint about it to the council member. City Hall will only become as much of a professional environment as it's expected to be at its very top.

Several individuals in the past five years who complained of racism and sexism in the workplace at the police department were terminated, including a female probational officer who actually had complained about being sexually harassed while attending the Ben Clark Police Academy which is currently run by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. However, the lawsuit she filed targeted the Riverside Police Department which had hired her for defamation of character after the department had sent two officers to the Academy to warn her not to go through with her sexual harassment complaint because the department was unhappy about it and with her. She graduated well within the top third of her class and survived two weeks of orientation at the department before being fired the very first day she showed up to receive her field training assignment.

One can deduce easily enough that this probational officer was possibly fired because the department's management didn't want a female officer with a sexual harassment complaint on her record coming into their field training program or its ranks. Is that the truth? Well, it's really difficult to say for sure because the city and the probational officer came to some form of settlement behind closed doors and then she filed to dismiss the lawsuit. The racial profiling lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles Police Department was also settled behind closed doors within two years of being filed.

Leach talks about being disconnected from the department while it was undergoing some of the major problems which had threatened the progress of its reform including budgetary cuts of positions of both civilian employees and officers including at the supervisory levels. The increase in lawsuits and the arrests of the department's employees. And he became disengaged from the department while it was slipping into the crisis mode where it wound up because of actions taken by him including on Feb. 8 and everything came to a head. He ultimately left the department as uncertain about its future as it had been when he first arrived nearly a decade ago. Left it without a leader and a deteriorating command structure after having been micromanaged to the bone, by various characters at City Hall.

Left to find its way once again.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein addresses the issue of why Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff is telling people to reelect him. Actually, Sniff wasn't elected sheriff, he was appointed by the Board of Supervisors albeit by a narrow margin.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's office is getting mighty impatient about the Colonies Partners probe.

Menifee's not been a city that long but already its city management is imploding and he's resigning.

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