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, June 30, 2010

Riverside Swears in Its Latest Police Chief

UPDATE: Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis allegedly shreds public documents that were part of a CPRA request by the Press Enterprise pertaining to the city's vehicles. One elected official says if true, it might be a "serious problem". You think? As a former public information officer for Riverside County, DeSantis would be well briefed and knowledgeable of all relevant public records laws of the state.

One document DeSantis didn't destroy and this one's got his name on it.

[Two looks at a cold plating list for city-issued cars with an added notation at the bottom. Document is a bit faint but you can click either photo for a better look.]

Over 400 people including many police officers from different law enforcement agencies including in Riverside and Los Angeles congregated in the gardens of White Park in downtown Riverside to witness the swearing in of the newest police chief, Sergio Diaz.

Diaz becomes the first police chief in the city in nearly a decade, replacing former Chief Russ Leach and the second in a row to be hired who had worked for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Most of the city's elected officials actually attended the event. Mayor Ron Loveridge was out of town as he often is these days as was Councilman Rusty Bailey. But the rest of them attended the event despite the early morning heat and sat in the front row for the ceremony.

Councilman Steve Adams on his last day as mayor pro tem served as the master of ceremonies and told the audience that lawbreakers should beware of the new police chief which was a point well taken but one that struck more than a few people as ironic given the revelations that have come out in recent weeks of Adams' involvement in the cold plates portion of the scandals involving illegal badges, cold plates and an illicit gun sale. Also as it has been blogged about here, Adams allegedly had involved himself in the promotional process inside the police department at its highest levels by torpedoing one promotion and threatening to undo another until that captain's candidate met with him and a former deputy chief for dinner in Corona to "smooth things over" involving a political dispute between the two men. And the candidate was promoted by noon the following day.

Leach testified in a deposition stemming from a lawsuit filed against the city by two former lieutenants that Adams had been one of two councilmen who had been constantly involved with the department while he had been chief. But there's been many chefs...or chiefs in the RPD's kitchen in the past five years or so. That fact hasn't been lost on hardly anyone and that remains one of the most pressing concerns in the minds of many people about what kind of chief that Diaz will be allowed to be under the watchful eye and some say, very busy hands of City Hall.

Anyway, Adams didn't take the same turf establishing approach he had at an earlier event at City Hall involving the unveiling of the chief but this time, said that he had learned that Diaz had been a "cop's cop".

[Newly sworn in Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz addresses the audience of over 400 people including police officers from Riverside, Los Angeles and other cities.]

But after being sworn in under somewhat ironic circumstances, Diaz stepped to the podium to give his speech and commented on how impressed he had been during the past several weeks with the commitment of the communities to the police department and with the professionalism of the department's employees. He tempered his comments with some very pointed statements involving the issue of accountability in the department among all of its employees including its leadership team. He said that the department's officers should treat all the members of the public equally and that he would treat his employees equally and without favoritism.

He pushed for management and supervisory accountability something that had been the area of increased focus by city residents in the wake of the Feb. 8 DUI incident involving Leach. On that date, Leach had driven through the city on the rims of his city-issued vehicle and pulled over by officers in his department. Instead of arresting or citing him, the watch commander, Lt. Leon Phillips through phone calls conferred with Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa and then gave him a ride home. These actions spawned a lot of anger and distrust at the department and at City Hall and a lot of emails and phone calls to both, bringing the department tumbling down from where it had been progressing several years ago. Because it is much more difficult to build and rebuild public confidence and trust than it is to damage both. But the department has a history of resiliency and had built itself an essential framework during the five years of its consent decree with the State Attorney General's office though it still had a long road to travel because changing an infrastructure takes time. Even without sizable steps backward including those that took place on Feb. 8 and its aftermath but earlier as well.

There had been a dearth of leadership inside the RPD and also some of the expectations of leadership as well for the past several years in large part due to the power dynamics that played out between the department and elements of City Hall intent on micromanagement. And most importantly, the department didn't build or create the next generation of leadership. How could it when the focus was on undermining your competition which is all around you the higher you rise rather than using your own experiences to help mentor others into leadership?

It's no accident that most of the highest levels of management are at this point either retired, on their way to retirement or in no shape to step in as leaders until at the very least, they put their stilettos back in the toy box.

What was fascinating though not really in a good way, was watching the management staff and even the department's command staff at city council meetings from 2001-06, meaning the period of the stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office. This was to be a time when a management culture was built into the police department's leadership levels. But what people, at least outside the department saw, was really the opposite. Quarterly and then twice annually, the department had to report its progress on implementing reforms required under the decree and those under the Mayor's Use of Force Panel report (that was issued in April 1999). During the first several years, the command staff including the management level would show up in force at these city council reports. They would arrive together, they would sit together in several rows and then they would mostly leave together.

As several years passed (and the leadership started to change), this trend reversed itself meaning that fewer command staff and management personnel would appear at these meetings. They begin to spread out in terms of where they sat and stood. And it was interesting observing which ones didn't seem to want to sit near each other including some at the very top of the department's command hierarchy. This fragmentation began to take place just before the changes were made in the promotional processes for the captain's levels and when there was activity at the deputy chief and/or assistant chief level. And the management personnel might not have been aware of it, but it's pretty clear who didn't get along with who including at the very top of the seating chart. The seating chart for city council meetings became more spread out as time went on and not long after that, the elected leaders themselves began checking out of the process by not even scheduling the updates on the stipulated judgment towards its end or even the strategic plan afterward.

From the outside, the department's upper echelon appeared fragmented at that point already and it's not surprising when you compare that developing trend with the testimonies that were revealed in the lawsuits filed by former Lts. Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt where the dynamics of the promotional process are laid out through the accounts of those who participated in or controlled them and then later, as you looked at the end result and its resultant fallout of those practices.

Diaz spoke about establishing an equal playing field within the police department's work force. Interesting comments as Diaz will be entering into a police department with four captain vacancies, six lieutenant positions and at least five sergeants. The department had just begun accepting applications to fill officer positions vacated due to attrition and had applied for enough grant funding from the COPs office in Washington, D.C. to allow them to unfreeze 15 more positions.

It had applied for similar funding last year but the demand for the COPs grant money equated about $9 worth of requests for every $1 allotted under the stimulus program. As a result of that and other factors, the police department came up empty handed.

At the lieutenant's level, the department had experienced about a 50% reduction in its watch command staffing and lieutenant positions had been vacated in both Special Operations and the Chief's office through retirements and officers being deployed into filling watch command vacancies. Still, lieutenants stationed in other assignments have been rotated in to do stints as watch commanders to accommodate vacancies in that division. A short term fix but not a very sound long-term solution. The city management has been very reluctant to unfreeze supervisory level positions, some say it had been done to thwart Leach's ability to promote, others say that it's related to budget cuts given that Leach has played very little role in promotions since 2005 at the department's highest levels. But pressure from the dais led to some positions being unfrozen earlier this year although some of the vacancy levels remaining have hit critical levels.

Changes to the promotional process at the lieutenants and then at the sergeants' levels apparently took place several years ago to mirror earlier changes in the promotional process involving captains. This shifted the power from those who were highest ranking on those lists and thus would be the most likely to be promoted when openings were available to those doing the actual promotions once it became clear that they could promote from anywhere on the list. In 2008, the lieutenant's promotion was given to a candidate ranked #11 on that lieutenant's list.

Earlier this year, the candidate selected was ranked #6 and in the last round, a female candidate was promoted who ranked at #5 (and was the third highest ranking female on the list). This led to candidates believing it didn't matter that they were at the top of the respective lists. And it also made it clear that the process of lobbying or selling one's self for a promotion became at least as important as any ranking on a list or skills that were brought into the rank by the candidates. That led to an increased competitive environment and more than a certain level of infighting that appears more pronounced near the top of the department's command structure. And it also led to more people wanting to involve themselves in the promotional processes including the most "hands on" city management team in recent history and at least one elected official. So that the person least involved in the process turned out to be the police chief.

And one major problem which had seized the department in recent years, was a climate of conflict and turmoil as some of its membership splintered onto different "teams" either under Leach or others like outgoing acting chief, John DeLaRosa (who retires late July) and individuals rose through the ranks including at its highest levels in ways that fostered competition and fragmentation of the upper management level rather than cooperation or collaboration. Today, that's led to a management team that is fractured and very factitious. It's not surprising that this would happen and that people would reach that level so certain that the person working next to them might have a stiletto hidden behind their backs or in their back. Alliances and friendships became sorely tested in some respects because if you team with another person to betray someone else, then you might win what you wanted, but you'll soon learn that one person's "ally" at one moment, can be an adversary the next. And that leads to employees who don't really trust one another and it showed.

And what if you do get promoted and have to work alongside the same individual who jacked you out of contention in an earlier round of promotions as happened at least once at the captain's level when the promotion of one future captain was essentially scrubbed at the 11th hour in part because of City Hall micromanagement including by elected officials but also because of another candidate playing on a better "team" or with more political points?

In an article published by the Press Enterprise not long ago, Leach spoke about the infighting in the police department but didn't mention that his own management style likely contributed to it as people believed that promotions went to individuals who were drinking buddies of one person or the other including Leach or went on vacations with them. If there's bickering and feuding over the promotional process, then situations like these certainly don't do anything but add to it. But even after he had left the job, the damage by these practices had been done. If people are being pitted against one another for whatever reason, it's a bit disingenuous for the person perpetuating that to later complain about it.

The lieutenant's and sergeant's lists became dominated at their tops by men of color and especially women. But the individuals on both lists had been passed over frequently during the infrequent promotional cycles and there's doubt expressed that the next lieutenant's list will mirror the current one.

And in the final month of DeLaRosa's stint as chief, the two highest ranking women on the lieutenant's list (as both were in the top three) were transferred out of assignments in the department's administrative headquarters at Orange Street Station and the highest ranking man of color on the lieutenant's list allegedly had an internal investigation opened up on him months after the subject incident.

Other individuals opted out of the promotional lists at sergeant and above because they believed it to be a futile process even if your ranking was good.

So it will be interesting to watch if any of these vacant positions are filled through promotion as part of the restructuring of the department that's anticipated to take place especially as the date for the semiannual shift change nears.

Many people believe that the place to watch first is how the promotional process plays out in the police department under a new chief, especially considering that there's so many vacancies at different levels excluding the detective's rank. Diaz did make pointed statements about his expectations from the supervisory and management ranks in his speeches and that it was time to put all the petty infighting behind them. It will be interesting to see what happens at the highest level of the police department's management in the face of Diaz' appointments of those management personnel, whether assistant and/or deputy chiefs, that will be part of his direct staff. One of the most hotly debated questions so far not surprisingly, is whether or not Diaz will appoint his highest ranking management personnel from inside the department (i.e. as Leach did) or transport them in from outside the department (i.e. as former chief, Ken Fortier did). There's arguments pro and con for both approaches and even a combination of both staffing strategies and there's questions raised with them as well.

Does the RPD have the breadth of talent and examples of the necessary leadership and management skills at the top of its chain of command? The jury on that is somewhat mixed but there's been concerns that the dysfunctional and some say charter violating promotional practices at the highest levels had an adverse impact on both the leadership and also the attitudes that these leaders brought with them up to their ranks as stated earlier. Including the one where they climbed the ladder and then pulled it up behind them.

But if you do that, then from where come the leaders who are to follow?

[These Riverside Police Department officers lead the audience in the pledge of allegiance.]

All issues to be grappled in the initial days of the new administration at the Riverside Police Department which brings up the issue which is on the minds of many individuals as well and that's whether or not the new chief will enjoy any autonomy and if so, how much? Will he be kept on as tight a leash as Leach or will there be a new directive out of City Hall for the city management team to well, allow their department head his department. The accounts of micromanagement of the police department by Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis included that even the most minor budget additions had to be signed off by DeSantis and that the two employees were given free rein over the department's resources and had run around equipping themselves with flat badges and guns initially sold to them by the department (in violation of state law)and police emergency equipment and cold plates for their vehicles.

When caught by the State Attorney General's criminal division, Hudson and DeSantis blamed other people as they did when deposed on these disturbing incidents for the Bacon and Hurt lawsuits. Even though their city management employees (who oversee the police chief) had been caught essentially red handed, their bosses at City Hall just appeared to pretend that it never happened and effusively praised Hudson while voting to settle the lieutenants' lawsuit behind closed doors to try to put a lid on these disturbing events. Which of course didn't happen as it turned out because the information reached the light of day anyway. But it did make many people asked whether the leadership at City Hall is accountable if they can't even make any comments in response to illegal and illicit conduct by their direct employees. Not even to test them on their management or leadership skills as employees who instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, point fingers everywhere else including their own subordinates. This doesn't make them really appear to be effective at leadership or management.

What do you do when you have a chief who takes the oath to uphold and enforce the law as both Diaz and Leach have done and their own bosses have been caught committing violations? Maybe it's not so surprising after all, that Leach wound up getting convicted of criminal conduct himself given that while he's responsible for his own actions, was there an environment fostered by City Hall that obeying and upholding the laws just weren't that important for those representing or working in either the police department or City Hall? The city council and mayor have shown little or no interest as a governmental entity in reassuring the public that their own employees will uphold the law from now on. They have instead given the very clear impression that it's not worth commenting on their own employees committing violations even as they meet in closed session to try to settle lawsuits where this information has come to light. But then candidates are already lining up to run against some of them during the next election cycle in 2011.

Diaz' reputation appears to be one of a reformist bent as there were accounts of him doing that within his domain inside the LAPD. Even the ACLU respected him. But even with that type of leaning to address some serious issues arising in Riverside's police department, how much will the city management's team allow him to do? Because Hudson and DeSantis have never exhibited a reformist bone during their entire tenures in Riverside. If they had, Riverside and its police department would be in a much different and a better place than it is today. Signs of the opposite from both of them emerged within weeks of the expiration of the stipulated judgment in 2006 when they tried to dilute the terms of a proposal passed by the city council in terms of the oversight of the implementation of the Strategic Plan.

That should have been a huge warning sign to the city council and mayor of problems ahead but those in power at the time and most of those since have shown very inclination to even check in with what their direct employee have been doing.

Within months, the police department had begun to reverse its progression in large part due to uneven management styles by those at its top, with some of them still implementing what they had learned under the judgment and others rejecting that approach. That's not unlike similar trends that were seen in the LAPD beginning even before the dissolution of its own consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. And in recent weeks, there's been indications that at least one outside agency is watching what happens in Riverside, in City Hall and the police department very carefully to see what happens next.

But City Hall made a show of force at the swearing in of its newest police chief.

Among those who attended were city officials, county officials including outgoing District Attorney Rod Pacheco, some community leaders including from the Eastside and Casa Blanca and a large contingent of police officers including dozens from the LAPD. And many people in attendance were struck by the tremendous racial and gender diversity of the LAPD contingent including a group of African-American female lieutenants and captains who had all worked with or under Diaz. Many of the LAPD officers who attended were very complimentary of Diaz' work while he had been in the LAPD before retiring in April as a deputy chief. The contrast between the LAPD which still struggles with many issues and Riverside where they've struggled to promote either African-American male officers (with no promotions since 2005 until Brian Dodson this year) or women (with no successful promotions since 2004 but a lieutenant and sergeant promoted this year) into the supervisory ranks was marked.

Officers came from departments in other cities like Beaumont, Barstow, Long Beach, Glendale and Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana attended getting a brief reprieve from all the events taking place in his city to return to his old haunt.

[City Management employees and elected officials witness the swearing in of Diaz and provide him with breathing room...for now.]

[More elected officials including Council members Chris MacArthur, Nancy Hart, Mike Gardner and Paul Davis get a front row seat at the swearing in of Riverside's newest police chief.]

The city officials that attended were on their best behavior including Adams on the stage but what lies ahead? That's the question that many people are asking since City Hall bore a sizable share of the anger and distrust over the Leach incident. With four seats up for election next year, what will happen and how many incumbents will remain in office? Given that there's been an anti-incumbent sentiment of sorts during the past two election cycles which sent three local politicians into early retirement and nearly a fourth one, it will be very interesting to see what happens in 2011.

But how much of an issue will the latest scandals which have shaken City Hall factor into these elections? Many of the incumbents don't seem to believe that the scandals which have shaken public trust are really that big of a deal, not nearly as much as the public. But it still remains to be seen what the voters will think and what they'll decide.

[Many Riverside Police Department officers of many assignments and ranks assembled at the standing room only swearing in of the police chief.]

[Riverside Police Department officers attended the ceremony en mass as did a large contingent from Diaz' former department, the Los Angeles Police Department.]

Another issue which came up in discussions involving the police department were the gains that had been made in community policing during the past decade, mostly while under the stipulated judgment. Mostly through the creation of units like the Community Policing Services (which was pretty much disbanded by 2008) but during the department's attempts to do what it called "decentralizing" community policing to become more of a philosophy than about units, the department slipped and the decline of community policing from the smaller steps that it had taken in the department became very noticeable to city residents.

Staffing cuts and the decisions not to fill vacancies at all levels of the department impacted the development of community policing much as it did in the 1990s. And the threatened disbanding of the POPs team earlier this year didn't inspire much confidence though ultimately the decision was made to not go that route.

More recently, community leaders in different neighborhoods including the Eastside and Casa Blanca found it more difficult to contact the department's leadership which seemed to be fragmented. The collaboration that many felt they had with the department had been replaced with more raids of neighborhoods (mostly through the District Attorney Rod Pacheco) and the heavily concentration of DUI checkpoints. It's been ironic for residents of neighborhoods like the Eastside which saw two DUI checkpoints in about a month to see people arrested by a department that couldn't arrest its own chief. Perhaps it will be up to the new chief to help restore trust in the tenet of equal protection under the law to among other things enhance community policing building given that the city's residents were just introduced again to separate standards for enforcement of the law regarding violations committed by denizens at City Hall.

So the future of community policing in Riverside remains unwritten as well.

The corruption trial in Rancho Cucamonga ends with a mistrial.

A lawsuit has been filed involving the botched up ballots in Riverside County.

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