Five before Midnight

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


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When Disciplinary Action Becomes a "Special Assignment"

"By nature, the chief is a somewhat controversial position and no matter who is chosen, someone will think it's the wrong person."

---Councilman Mike Gardner to Press Enterprise while rumors continue to spread that the police chief candidate has already been chosen by City Hall, mirroring the hiring process of City Manager Brad Hudson in 2005.

UPDATE: CHP Reports Released, implicate Acting Chief John DeLaRosa and Lt. Leon Phillips in mishandling of Leach incident amid a sea of contradictory statements, rookie officers noting signs of DUI in Leach that seasoned management personnel miss and DeLaRosa telling Phillips to use his judgment (totally unnecessary if no criminal conduct had occurred) while denying anyone informed him that "intoxication" was involved. More to come...

[The Riverside Police Department's administrative headquarters on Orange Street in downtown Riverside have become the center of some interesting activity as of late including the transfer of officers to await disciplinary action including a detective who filed a claim against the city. Phillips works there as well...but wasn't sent there to be disciplined but given a "special assignment" according to DeLaRosa. So, it's the place where a male lieutenant facing discipline for sustained misconduct can be handed a "special assignment" by DeLaRosa (though both have sustained allegations of misconduct stemming from the same incident in relation to the orders one gave the other to carry out) and two female sergeants who rank in the top three of the current lieutenants' list are transferred out to make room for them? This situation just gets more interesting...the more that DeLaRosa tries to "clarify" it. ]

[Acting Chief John DeLaRosa awaits his fate at Orange Street Station...while deciding on the fates of others including the recent transfers of Lt. Leon Phillips who also faces disciplinary action for the Leach incident and Det. Chris Lanzillo who DeLaRosa is allegedly trying to terminate not long after Lanzillo accused him of knowing about the Leach incident when it was happening. ]

A previous blog posting addressed the ongoing situation that's unfolding at the Riverside Police Department's administrative headquarters on Orange Street in downtown Riverside where apparently a decision came out of Acting Police Chief John DeLaRosa's office to transfer Watch Commander and Lt. Leon Phillips from his field assignment to spend his time inside the Orange Street station alongside at least five other police officers assigned to the facility to await disciplinary actions.

It was very interesting that Phillips who had been assigned to work a graveyard shift as watch commander was moved to work in the administrative headquarters to await disciplinary action by the individual who most likely issued the order that helped Phillips place himself in that situation in the first place. It's also very interesting that Phillips has been placed in a more restrictive environment under the eye of the chief and his administration while his supervisor during the Feb. 8 DUI incident involving former Chief Russ Leach, DeLaRosa was actually elevated by City Manager Brad Hudson to serve as that acting chief. It's not clear what Phillips "special assignment" involves but DeLaRosa still has the power to hire, promote, fire and...transfer. After all, in the rather interesting world of City Manager Brad Hudson, it's perfectly fitting to replace a chief who broke the law with a subordinate implicated in the mishandling of that chief.

These actions were clearly inappropriate as Phillips' fate or future shouldn't be left at all in the hands of the individual who supervised and directed his actions during the Leach incident. Even transferring him at this point whether for disciplinary reasons or to reward him with a "special assignment" should never have been left in DeLaRosa's hands by the city management because although Phillips chose his own actions to obey a superior's order, he most likely was directed to do so via phone calls by DeLaRosa. But then even as city officials effusively praise Hudson for being the best city manager ever, questions arise in the city's populace regarding his handling of the Leach incident. After all, this is the same governmental body which allowed its direct employer to direct an investigation at the police department's management while deftly avoiding any similar probe among the power brokers at City Hall. After all, most people that it's difficult for any investigator to well, investigate himself.

And it remains interesting that although in many cities, a management employee like DeLaRosa would have been placed on paid administrative leave once it became clear he was suspected of committing misconduct, in Riverside, he continues to serve as its acting police chief making decisions to discipline and transfer employees while he awaits his own discipline for his involvement in the Leach incident. But then perhaps more cities have management employees more experienced in serious labor issues and this city's management employee kept his investigation of the Feb. 8 Leach incident only aimed at the high-ranking personnel of the department and not at City Hall. To this date, no one at City Hall has been independently investigated for any involvement in the Feb. 8 incident and its attempted cover up.

So how was DeLaRosa able to find himself in this position in the first place, and does it stem from having a city manager who spent most of his career before Riverside specializing in economic development rather than labor issues? That alone should have prompted an investigation or at least an inquiry from the legislative body and mayor to Hudson and DeSantis but as usual...this was the response.

**pin dropping**

Okay, so maybe it's because DeLaRosa was made acting chief before Hudson went to the press and blamed "management" for the mishandling and attempted cover up of Leach's traffic stop and maybe, there's not anyone in the command staff to fill the position even temporarily especially after the untimely retirement of Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel who apparently at one time thought about applying for the top spot himself until someone else played their hand and helped the 30+ year veteran officer send himself into retirement in a New York minute. After Esquivel, there's a dearth of management personnel in the next level who could handle the job or at least Hudson seems to think so. Else why leave an employee awaiting discipline including potentially demotion for obstructing or misdirecting the handling of a criminal incident at the helm of the police department? So some say, that DeLaRosa remains at the helm essentially by default. If anyone can come up with a bigger indictment against the police department's management staff than that delivered by Hudson and his decision to keep a member of it awaiting discipline in charge of the agency, that might be a somewhat difficult task indeed.

But who built this management staff in the first place? Some answers and some analysis of that will be forthcoming. But Hudson played a large role in the creation of what became the very shaky foundation of the department's leadership and management structure.

Only one person from inside the department even applied to be chief and that was Capt. John Wallace whose currently manning both the Investigations and Special Operations Divisions. The rest of the management staff sat this hiring process out...maybe after seeing what happened to Esquivel.

So why did DeLaRosa really transfer Phillips to the Orange Street Station and why was he given the authority to do so given how closely these two employees are intertwined in the Leach incident? There's just no way for DeLaRosa to exert the normal authority of a chief on this subordinate considering the circumstances and it's really troubling that this apparently isn't seen as being the case by Hudson and the rest of City Hall. By placing these individuals in this position, it makes it seem more questionable than it might already be otherwise because the filter provided by the Feb. 8 incident is what will influence how people look at the decisions made by DeLaRosa as is only natural. And it's troubling if Phillips' union representative, Lt. Ed Blevins doesn't advocate on his behalf in an attempt to perhaps push any decision making involving Phillips including that of a transfer away from DeLaRosa.

But Phillips' situation in particular had been a bit troubling given that his transfer appeared clearly disciplinary in nature and even punitive considering the circumstances not only involving his placement at the Orange Street Station and its timing but also considering just how costly it is to the department to remove Phillips from his watch commander assignment at this moment in time. And it's beyond disturbing that this decision to transfer him was made by the higher ranking officer who had been chatting with him on his city-issued cell phone at least twice during Leach's traffic stop. It's very likely that while Phillips participated in what happened during Leach's stop, that he was doing what DeLaRosa told him to do and okay, maybe in a place like Wonderland or Oz, the person who gives a subordinate the green light to engage in covering up a DUI incident is then allowed to make decisions about his fate. Oh, and Riverside too of course. Remember that at this time, the investigation has pretty much been finished, it's been a month since Hudson himself branded management personnel as being to blame for what happened and what awaits is disposition on those allegations of misconduct which have been sustained for the remaining responsible parties. So you have an acting chief awaiting discipline making decisions concerning discipline and "non-disciplinary" transfers involving personnel including Phillips. How ironic is that?

As you read here, within 24 hours of the blog posting on the situation with Phillips and other officers at Orange Street Station, DeLaRosa took leave of his station at that facility and traveled across town on a Saturday during a holiday weekend to speak with officers at a roll call station being conducted at Magnolia Policing Center near Tyler Galleria. During most of the roll call session, he stood in the back of the room but towards its end, he came up front to make a speech to those in attendance. He told them that he had to provide "clarification" on a situation in that Phillips had not been assigned to Orange Street Station as discipline but because he had been transferred into a "special assignment" there. DeLaRosa apparently didn't provide specific details about the nature of this "special assignment" nor did he say what he what he was providing clarification to, or why he had chosen to do so, again on a holiday weekend when administrators are usually scarce.

He also mentioned that the investigation involving him was completed and was on a desk awaiting disposition. And then asked people if they had any questions but apparently no one did. That blog posting received responses from city residents expressing concern about what has been transpiring since this whole mess started but also specifically about the recent events at Orange Street Station.

But while it was very nice and helpful for DeLaRosa to clarify the situation involving the assignment of Phillips to the Orange Street Station, it did raise some additional concerns and relevant issues of why Phillips is being pulled out of an assignment with a high vacancy rate into a "special assignment" in the first place.

Lieutenant Staffing Situations in Watch Commands, at Critical Levels

This current staffing chart showed the number of vacancies at lieutenant and above as of Feb. 22, 2010. Of course, you have to subtract two more lieutenant positions, those assigned to Darryl Hurt and Tim Bacon on that chart. These two lieutenants are both on paid administrative leave until they reach retirement age. The other change is that Audit and Compliance with Brennan's departure has been completely dissolved. Incidentally, that bureau had been the one assigned to create the department's Strategic Plan 2010-2015, the fate of which will be the subject of a future blog posting. Before the recent promotion of Melissa Bartholomew, the lieutenant vacancy rate was roughly around 33% with these losses being felt keenly in the area of watch commands.

If you subtract Bacon and Hurt from the chart and add up the vacancies for permanent and relief watch command positions, you will see that there are some definite shortages there. In fact, last year when the vacancies numbered roughly five by December 2009, the department had already in at least two separate stints dating back to 2008, experienced severe shortages in the assignment of watch commands and there were discussions and apparently cases where management personnel above the rank of lieutenants had to serve partial or complete shifts as watch commanders. Not to mention that many lieutenants had to work back to back shifts meaning their own and then at least partial watch command shifts.

Now it's time to subtract Phillips from that department's staffing chart.

Now the number of watch commanders has been decreased in total, 50% or neatly cut in half. That is countered by the promotion of Bartholomew for that one position. But it was when the department was at its December 2010 levels when there were enough deficits in staffing to necessitate farming outside the lieutenant rank for replacements. And when this is done, the department has to look upward because of the prohibitive costs behind using sergeants as watch commanders. Sergeants working partial or complete shifts as watch commanders have to be paid the same rate as a top level lieutenant pursuant to a MOU involving the sergeants unit and the city from the 1990s. This MOU was passed to prevent the over reliance on sergeant watch commanders though this issue had also been raised during the lawsuit set to be filed against Riverside by the State Attorney General's office in 2001 and was part of the stipulated judgment which pushed for the use of lieutenant watch commanders on all shifts as often as possible.

Due to the severe shortages in the police department's watch command assignment, it's very interesting to justify the removal of one lieutenant for the purpose of placing this individual in a "special assignment" at the Orange Street Station. At one time, there were apparently discussions about possibly phasing out the NPC lieutenants due to budget cuts and the high percentage of lieutenant vacancies. At one point, only one out of three lieutenant positions in the Special Operations division (which has to share its captain with Investigations) were filled until Lt. Guy Toussaint was assigned to oversee the Traffic Division vacated by the retirement of Lt. Rick Tedesco late last year. A lieutenant, Gary Leach, was pulled out of his assignment in the Personnel and Training Division to fill a watch command assignment during the day shifts. Still, the watch commands are filled on some shifts through weekly rotations with other lieutenants which may be necessary and more practical as a short-term solution but the longer this system is used, the higher risk there is for employee burnout at this rank. Which the city including the city council was duly warned about several years ago.

But suffice it to say that if lieutenants including Leach are put in a situation where they're actually being pulled out of "special assignments" to be placed in watch commands and other lieutenants are being rotated onto watch commands in addition to their regular assignments, it seems a bit odd that DeLaRosa has actually pulled a reversal to rotate a lieutenant out of the watch command assignment and it happens to be the lieutenant who was like him, investigated in the Leach incident. Yes, it's true that it's probable that Phillips faces discipline including possibly a demotion out of his rank but it's not clear when that will take place and in the meantime, it makes little sense to pull a lieutenant out of the understaffed watch command assignment just to have them languish in a "special assignment" until they get demoted and reassigned elsewhere possibly by or during the next shift change in July? The sensible thing to do is to keep him in his assignment as a watch commander until it's time to discipline. Unless DeLaRosa plans to keep him in a "special assignment" given that one has just been vacated of its female sergeant inside the Chief's office at the Orange Street Station and that involves the creation of the police department's Strategic Plan which currently has no author.

After all, isn't that what the city has been doing to DeLaRosa? Even though he's facing discipline too and would be subject to greater culpability than Phillips as a higher ranking officer, he's not being pulled out of the chief's office to be reassigned elsewhere until he's disciplined. No, he's currently still acting as police chief with disciplinary action hanging over his head issuing disciplinary action or transfers to Orange Street Station to await disciplinary actions to other officers including Phillips. And keeping an acting chief who's awaiting discipline seems to be more serious than keeping in place a watch commander in a similar situation.

But it's interesting in the face of the lieutenant shortage that Phillips is being transferred out of the watch command to Orange Street Station.

Contrast that with the situation involving the sergeants, who currently face a slightly better vacancy rate just below 10% though some retirements are anticipated by December 2010. For two years, they operated at even higher vacancy rates before the promotional freeze was lifted in February and since then, there have been five sergeant positions. The department announced that every field assignment had been filled and that the vacant positions in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse division had been filled. The sergeant position in the Family Violence was vacated by the departure of Paul De Jong (his rank vacancy filled by the promotion of Det. Linda Byerly) and filled with the assignment of Jay Greenstein.

The vacancy created by the recent medical retirement of Sgt. Frank Orta was filled by the promotion of Det. Brian Dodson. Yet, around the time of Dodson's promotion, Sgt. Jaybee Brennan who filled three assignments inside the chief's office was transferred to the patrol division. Before she was transferred, she had been assigned as the primary officer to work on the creation and development of Strategic Plan 2010 and in fact, had recently given a presentation with Capt. Mike Blakely to the Public Safety Committee on the progress of that Plan. Even while it was absolutely critical to dip into the lieutenant's watch command shortage to free up Phillips for the "special assignment", it was just as critical to ship Brennan back to field operations even though the shortage there isn't as critical as that involving lieutenants in part because of recent promotions and a growing number of vacancies at the patrol officer level.

The deficits at the sergeant's level are serious and need to be filled by unfreezing the remaining positions, but there's more deficiencies both numerically and percentage wise at the lieutenant's level which over time, could lead to burnout rates increasing at this rank if individuals are required to do double assignments for a long period of time. Police Practices consultant Joe Brann at a June 2008 audit warned the city council, mayor and Hudson that this could happen over time if the staffing shortages weren't addressed. Yet they are ushering sergeants out of "special assignments" and into the field as urgent staffing changes while removing lieutenants from the watch command division to fill "special assignments" even in the light of the fact that there's enough of a shortage of lieutenants there to have mandated several "pushes" of lieutenants to work extra shifts and to even have upper management personnel come in as relief commanders. The situation is indeed very interesting but it attracts a myriad of questions.

So why is one of the remaining permanently assigned watch commanders being moved to Orange Street Station to fill a "special assignment"? On its face, that explanation seems more than a little suspect. Especially since Phillips shares space with other officers who were assigned to Orange Street Station while DeLaRosa has been acting chief specifically to await disciplinary action including Det. Chris Lanzillo who filed a claim against the city which included allegations of misconduct by DeLaRosa in relation to the Leach incident. Allegations which apparently turned out to be true. So if Phillips is being taken out of a division facing a shortage because it's absolutely imperative for him to fill this "special assignment" at Orange Street, then that itself bears questions as to why that involves him sharing space as an officer awaiting disciplinary actions with a small group of other officers including Lanzillo sharing the same fate.

From Discipline to "Special Assignment", a Reversal?

What struck me as interesting about DeLaRosa's comments to the officers at the roll call session was his assertion that his decision to transfer Phillips to the Orange Street Station wasn't made to discipline him but because he was needed for a "special assignment". The reason being is that usually it appears that there's a big span of ground between disciplinary action and the placement of an officer in a "special assignment" which is usually one outside of the field operations division. In many cases, there might be competition among officers for a "special assignment" and it's usually afforded on some basis whether merit or politics and viewed as a privilege in at least some cases. Officers might want the assignment or they might accept it een if they aren't as favorable to it because it might offer, for example, a means to help them advance in the ranks. Phillips himself once was offered a choice between going to the Audit and Compliance Panel as a sergeant and he accepted, saying that it was between that and working a graveyard shift as a supervising sergeant so for him the choice to be made was obvious and he had made it. He went to audit and compliance where he served a stint.

Special assignments hardly ever appear to be associated with an individual who is facing disciplinary action such as that by someone like Phillips. Why did DeLaRosa appear in the reasoning behind his rationale to assign Phillips to the Orange Street Station associate his actions with placing him in some unspecified "special assignment"? It sounds like what he's saying is that I'm not punishing him, I'm rewarding him. Because often "special assignments" are associated with rewards whether for good performance, great service or for being on the right "team" as there might be variation in the intent behind those assignments. And with DeLaRosa being placed in the completely inappropriate position of acting chief which gives him the authority to determine Phillips' least until DeLaRosa steps down, if Phillips is being given a "special assignment" then unfairly or not, that looks unseemly. DeLaRosa apparently ordered or persuaded Phillips his subordinate to participate in a conspiracy to conceal Leach's criminal conduct so any interactions between the two rightly or wrongly are going to be viewed through that filter or perspective.

But it's beyond odd that two officers receiving sustained allegations of misconduct stemming from the same incident could be in the situation where one of them could give the other a "special assignment". It's completely inappropriate given the clear involvement of both parties in the Feb. 8 conspiracy to cover up criminal conduct by Leach to have DeLaRosa making any type of decisions, "special assignment" or otherwise, involving Phillips.

And if DeLaRosa had a boss outside the department at City Hall who was as experienced in these types of labor issues as he was enthusiastic about micromanaging the police department, then this situation probably wouldn't have been allowed to arise.

One Step Forward, Two Back?

Last week, DeLaRosa promoted Sgt. Melissa Bartholomew from the #5 position on the promotional list, breaking a drought in the lieutenant's rank for female officers that goes back to late 2004. Before or around that time, DeLaRosa also promoted the two higher ranking females on the list, Sgts Jaybee Brennan (who ranks #1) and Lisa Williams (who ranks #3) out of assignments in the Orange Street Station before the arrival of the new (or "new") police chief. They were transferred to field supervision with even money being placed that it's most likely graveyard shifts on the other side of the city or at least working outside the police chief's working hours, far away from this individual. Only because Siberia is a bit outside the range of the police department's operations. If this were the private sector, this is often how those in management positions try to reconfigure the process of deciding who will come up to join them. But this is a public agency after all, surely it must be using a different playbook!

An interesting development in the very interesting topic of goings on at the Orange Street Station which as stated earlier, has an acting chief awaiting disciplinary action at its helm. This is going on to fill staffing vacancies even as DeLaRosa's pulled Phillips out of the severely impacted field command division to bring the lieutenant who's also awaiting disciplinary action in connection for the Feb. 8 incident into his fold for a undefined "special assignment".

Talk about borrowing a commonly used strategy from a more corporate climate of which the police department seems to be borrowing from and it's interesting to have watched DeLaRosa's all too brief tenure in the top seat before his descent downward unfold with the decision making taking place at Orange Street Station these days and weeks.

It's also interesting at the same time a female sergeant who had been encharged with working on the department's upcoming strategic plan is being moved out of a "special assignment" at Orange Street Station because of staffing shortages in that rank, a male lieutenant facing disciplinary action is being moved out of an even more critically depleted rank to fill a "special assignment" and possibly even the same assignment that had been held by the female sergeant. That's happened in other police agencies too and it's been costly in the long run for the city's which offer these agencies indemnity. There might be more to this picture in many different ways but from the surface, it looks like executive boardroom politics.

It's more than likely that even if Phillips gets demoted that he will remain in that assignment, because after all, if that weren't the case why go through the trouble of placing him in a "special assignment" at the Orange Street Station to begin with? And then there's the natural law of inertia meaning that any chief coming in even an autonomous one (as part of an alternate universe of course) might be reluctant to make major changes first while he or she tries to figure out the canvas beginning inside the department.

If Phillips were going to stay in field operations, he would probably be still working in that capacity especially considering the staffing issues in watch command. After all as stated earlier, DeLaRosa is still acting police chief in the face of likely disciplinary action including potentially, demotion. He's not removed from that assignment, transferred to some holding pattern until he learns his fate, as happened with Phillips.

But a female sergeant on the top of a promotional list getting transferred out of a "special assignment" while a male lieutenant facing disciplinary action gets moved in for a "special assignment" even though he's leaving a rank and assignment facing a more critical shortage of personnel. All very interesting, meaning never a dull moment at Orange Street Station

If this is the case, what kind of message does it send in a department which has just promoted its first female lieutenant since 2004 and its second female supervisor since November 2005. Especially since Brennan is the second female sergeant to be transferred out of the Orange Street Station in the past several months. The promotions were very interesting developments during a tumultuous period of the department's history and so are these recent personnel transfers.

Although tempering those developments is this reality and that is the last two female supervisors promoted in 2004 and 2005 to the ranks of lieutenant and sergeant respectively failed to pass probation. There hasn't been a female supervisor since Sgt. Michelle Jackson's promotion to sergeant in November 2004 to have passed the probationary period. Whether the probationary failures were justified or not is something the police department has the answer to, but factually speaking, this was the case.

But it's interesting seeing sergeants being rotated out of Orange Street Station and the watch command's ranks becoming stripped even more with a lieutenant being transferred to Orange Street Station. And this issue of the reassignments of the two female sergeants at the top of the promotional list just before the arrival of the new police chief will be blogged about in the Out of Sight out of Mind? installment of the ongoing series on gender and policing, Hiding in Plain Sight: Women in the RPD.

Press Enterprise
Columnist Dan Bernstein comments on the ongoing tale of the former chief, the ex-councilman and the stripper and how it would play out if it were pitched as a story idea for a movie. No way would it ever sell because it's just too unbelievable. That's what they always say until it happens.

Two Riverside Parks will be improved.

Some local defense attorneys believe that Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco must go.

And his elections rival, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach has been doing some fundraising and more public employee unions dump money into local campaigns.

Will Jurupa become Riverside County's next city? Hopefully if so, its experience will be a bit smoother than that experienced by Menifee.

Coming Soon:

A Retrospective On City Manager Brad Hudson

Starring in

The House That City Hall Built

Just Like a Cop?

[A design of the name tag or what's called a "flat badge" that Hudson wanted for himself and other assistant city manager employees including Tom DeSantis and Michael Beck when he first arrived in Riverside. Later ordered destroyed by the State Attorney General's Office after an investigation was launched by that office's criminal division, one of several on Hudson's watch. ]

Public Meetings

Tuesday, June 1 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. the Riverside City Council will be conducting its meetings to discuss this agenda.

Thursday, June 3 NTA City Manager Brad Hudson and his panel will be interviewing the finalists for the police chief's position in absolute secrecy with the panelists even signing confidentiality agreements.

In Memorial

Capt. John Wister Haines, U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Born: 1912

Died: Oct. 24, 1944

During the sinking of the Arisan Maru with 1832 aboard, nine survivors.

A family of one of the deceased recorded their experience who at least at one time had familial connections in Riverside.

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