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, July 11, 2010

Mayor Loveridge: Is This Really the Legacy You Want to Leave?

[Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge is in his final term (or so he says) in office, one he's held since being elected in 1993. But towards the twilight of his political career, Riverside's become so mired in corruption scandals with more to come that it's now becoming the subject of water cooler talk all across the Inland Empire.]

"But history only remembers most what you did last..."

---Mike Wallace, The Insider (1999)

In the Press Enterprise, there was a brief on the fact that the National League of Cities was going to host its meeting in Riverside and among other activities, its members were going to tour the Fox Theater downtown and also eat at the patio outside the Seventh Floor of City Hall. This is happening most likely because Mayor Ron Loveridge is the president of the League and in fact, he appears to be spending much of his time on the League's activities these days having been out of town quite a bit including the day that Sergio Diaz was sworn into his position as the city's newest police chief. That of course left Mayor Pro Tem (on his last day) Steve Adams left in the dubious position of swearing in the new chief and telling him among other things to uphold the law when Adams himself has broken at least one law by having his city-issued vehicle cold plated which for civilians like himself, is illegal. That and the fact that he has apparently violated the city charter's provision on administrative interference by involving himself at least twice in the police department's promotional process in December 2005 and January 2008 even though he testified under oath that he knew it was a violation of the city's charter and perhaps even a violation of state law as well.

He was never allowed to testify at the trial scheduled for April 20 because the lawsuit which sparked the allegations against him and others was settled before its trial date.

But anyway, this isn't really about Adams as mayor (oh what a scary thought) or even as a councilman who apparently thinks he's a police chief part of the time, this is about what Riverside's really putting on display not just for the League of Cities but for the nation. Because despite the city's continuous impulse every six months or so to reinvent itself (usually at city resident expense naturally), most of the time that Riverside's put on national display, it's over something awful or at least really embarrassing. And that's not mean to say, that's a fact. Riverside gets in the news not when it sells itself under its latest logo but when it embarrasses itself and horrifies everyone else with some scandalous behavior or a tragic event. And what happens, well after paying out tens of millions of dollars in civil litigation including settlements and possibly reforms as well, Riverside runs off and begins reinventing itself over and over again. When face it, it would be making much more productive use of its time and monies generated through property and sales taxes in Riverside in the long run, if it just cleaned up City Hall.

With the scandals that have shaken loose, it's gotten to the point where Riversiders are just waiting to see what happens next in the ongoing soap sudsier involving the travails of River City and all its players. Many of my readers ask that question, what's coming next and it's probable that many readers of the Press Enterprise do as well. Many city residents are disturbed by what they've seen seeing, hearing and reading since the DUI incident involving former Police Chief Russ Leach that took place on Feb. 8. And as Loveridge's stint in office winds down, is this really how he wants his presence to be remembered?

Amazingly enough, Loveridge appears oblivious to everything going on around him which is almost believable until you realize that he's a very powerful politician pulling a lot of strings, about the only thing an ambitious person can do in what's essentially a toothless position under the city's council-management government. And he does fill a vacuum of leadership which lies with the city council. It can't be all that bad to be mayor because it appears like half the city is getting ready to launch mayoral bids in what could be the first truly open mayor's election in 2010 that the city's seen since Loveridge was first elected nearly 20 years ago. With Councilman Andrew Melendrez and former councilman, Ed Adkison currently leading the pack, the decision will be made who will either the next figure head or the next puppeteer at City Hall.

Loveridge has spent most of his time in this position playing the latter role. His considerable background in political science and even being a professor (who still occasionally teaches) at the University of California, Riverside (which while he's been mayor has become the most locally subsidized campus in the system), set him up perfectly for the job.

Many people say that things happen in City Hall because Loveridge decrees it to be so. That nothing happens without his stamp of approval, that he doesn't need to exercise his veto power over the city council at meetings because he moves the pieces around the board behind closed doors. Lately though, Loveridge appears to be more focused on being the president of the League and attending to the business of that civic organization than in the crises that have struck closer to home like in his own yard. And now in the twilight of his tenure as mayor, the city he presides over has become the popular topic at water coolers and dinner tables across the Inland Empire as this den of corruption, this scandalous spot in a region known for its scandals in government. It's unfortunate that this is happening but it's not the fault of city residents. But if City Hall remains apathetic to its own problems, then the city's residents will be the ones left to clean house beginning with the next city council election cycle in 2011. It's not like the city's residents haven't issued pink slips to politicians before in both the 2007 and 2009 elections.

The Riverside County District Attorney's office has paid little attention to what's been going on in River City. After all Grover Trask who served in that office longer than some people have been alive wound up working for Best, Best and Krieger which is so interlinked with Riverside's City Hall that the city looks out quite well for its law firm. Trask is like a trained bloodhound albeit one who stuck to the carefully designed perimeters of the investigation designed by City Manager Brad Hudson involving the Leach incident, careful oh so careful to focus his attention on the police department and away from City Hall. After all, that entity was paying to investigate within those narrowly defined perimeters and then put his name and reputation on it.

Then there's Rod Pacheco, now a lame duck on a tear, who's prided himself as the head prosecutor who exposes and goes after wrong doers in governments within Riverside County with his Public Integrity Office. But it seems that Pacheco doesn't pay nearly as much wrongdoing to his political friends as he does his enemies including some say, the busted politicians of San Jacinto's City Council. Even though suspicions of corruption have erupted in other municipalities such as Lake Elsinore, Temecula and yes, Riverside, Pacheco's not been nearly as vigorous there. Even though in the case of Riverside, he had a case of conflict of interest involving Riverside's city council and legal fees paid to one of its former members in relation to litigation against the city already thoroughly investigated and provided to him, he declined to look into it further.

Seriously in Riverside, the Public Integrity Unit is best known for investigating an activist leader of an organization for voter's fraud (which was unfounded) rather than any sitting politicians. Which makes it a little difficult to take it seriously because if it was a functioning division of the District Attorney's office, it would as it should be quite busy right now with Riverside. But then Pacheco's name is carbon copied on every letter that was exchanged between former Chief Russ Leach and an investigator from the California State Attorneys' office on the guns and badges portion of the tripartite scandal that rocked Riverside last month. Pacheco's office has been awfully quiet on the issue as his regime winds down into its final months.

But also ignoring it appears to be Loveridge who acts as if this whole episode hasn't happened, given that he's had very little as a civic leader to say about it. Somewhat different than his decision after the fatal officer-involved shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998 to create the Use of Force Panel which diverse in membership stuck to its mission of investigating the police department and issuing recommendations including many which were echoed by the stipulated judgment by the State Attorney General's office two years later including increased staffing, an early warning system and more attention paid to the department's policies including its use of force policy.

Loveridge had a golden opportunity to actually to step forward and actually be a civic leader and perhaps take similar steps involving this latest batch of critical incidents including past ones which only recently came to light. That could added to a formidable civic and political legacy to have adopted that role to clean up what's dirty in City Hall and help come up with long-lasting solutions to keep the events of the past few months from repeating themselves. That would have ensured that people would have remembered him for standing up to corruption and addressing its roots.

But he's opted out of the situation entirely so much along with most of the rest of the city's elective leadership so that he sounds out of touch with reality. That combined with the essentially rudderless city council and an overactive city management team has created no environment of public assurance that similar crises won't repeat themselves. For a man with a reputation for being very much in control of his destiny and that of City Hall, for whatever reason, Loveridge is essentially allowing his legacy to be written by other supporting players and the activities that they have been engaging in including those that are at the very least highly questionable.

The Cost of Scandals

There's been a lot of response I've received on some blog postings including the guest article written by the former managing editor of the Press Enterprise. This has caused many more questions to be asked about exactly what's transpiring at City Hall. Not all is bad of course, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to fully trust what's good because the scandalous behavior that's been uncovered already taints everything it touches because there's no certainty that even what's happened that is good isn't actually fruit of same poisonous tree. The tree which has deepening roots created so many problems in several known areas of the city including the police department but probably not just there. Let's take the police department by the fiscal numbers that have been tossed out lately. And this is called the cost of mismanagement and in some cases, outright corruption in relation to at least some of these figures.

Here are some of them:

Amount of money spent reforming the police department this century: $26 million +

Amount of dollars listed in financial claims for damages against the RPD: $25 million +

Money paid out on RPD related litigation (since 2005): Nearly $5.7 million (including retirement packages)

Number of known police retirements including medical since Feb. 8: Six (sergeant and higher)

Number of police employees hired from the outside: Between 1-3 at highest level with salary increases for assistant and deputy chiefs (see below)

Departmental Whistleblowers that went public since 2005: 3

(two retired after being on paid administrative leave and one terminated, with significant future costs attached)

The Growing Costs of Litigation

Major payouts on lawsuits were the hallmark of the 1990s for Riverside when the police department's state attracted outside investigations after the Miller shooting in 1998. And those days are back again with at least $25 million in claims for damages in 2009 and 2010 so far and over $5.7 million paid out in lawsuit settlements (including retirement packages) and jury's verdicts since late 2005. And remember Riverside prides itself as being a city which is "self insured".

Some of the settlements break down as follows:

Wrongful Deaths: $1.565 million (four lawsuits)

Excessive Force/Profiling/unlawful search : $212,055 (two lawsuits)

Labor related lawsuits: $3.64 million (three lawsuits, estimations include retirements)

Claims related to officers charged with crimes: $11.9 million + (three claims, two cases)

Different areas of litigation from allegations to labor violations to excessive force, to criminal conduct to wrongful death dominated the civil litigation involving the police department in the past several years. All are settlements except for one trial verdict, that of $1.64 million in the case of a Black patrol officer suing for racism and retaliation in 2000. But what's striking are the three claims in relation to two separate cases of police officers who were arrested and prosecuted for criminal offenses ranging from assault to commit great bodily harm and unauthorized disclosure of confidential information (through CLETS) to oral copulation under the color of authority. Those two cases were among at least six including Leach's of police officers being arrested and prosecuted of criminal behavior between May 2008 and December 2009.

People shook their heads at these disturbing statistics which produced a ratio of one officer within the department being prosecuted for approximately every 60-65. Some supervisors at community meetings told city residents who expressed concern that the department recruited from the human race. Which is certainly the case but it's not like people walk in off the streets and are assigned badges and guns to become police officers. Not everyone applies for the position from the population at large and the pool of eligible applicants up to those finally hired is narrowed further by a rather costly and labor intensive evaluation process which includes background checks, physical tests and psychological evaluations. So it's the human race winnowed down by strict screening steps (though in quality, these can vary a lot between individual agencies) into a pool of people who should be statistically less likely to commit a crime than the "human race".

But there's other reasons why people commit crimes including police officers and not all of them might be uncovered in the stringent hiring process. And there can be external stressors which arise even after hired as it seems that most of those arrested were at risk either from on or off duty stressors, such as divorce and drug addiction related to off-duty injuries. Two others had prior incidents of misconduct of which they nearly faced termination including one whose misconduct was similar or the same as what he was arrested for several years later. One of them became the second police officer to be convicted of a DUI crash within several years of being involved in a fatal onduty shooting.

In addition, the environment of the police department was subjected to what appears to have been pretty close to a sense of lawlessness including at City Hall as city management personnel and at least one elected official were involved in disturbing and allegedly illegal conduct while equipping themselves with badges, guns and cold plates. The police chief was involved in illegal activity in a DUI accident and faced his second criminal investigation by an outside agency since 2004. After all the revelations which have come out involving how some elements in City Hall conduct business including most recently, the decision of a former public information officer to destroy public records under request by the Press Enterprise. This same employee had been the subject himself of a 9-11 call in 2006 for brandishing a firearm at a woman in a parking lot.

Is it impossible to believe that this sense of lawlessness or maybe being above the law at the top of the hierarchical chain may have trickled down to where some individuals who were already at risk anyway might have believed they didn't have to uphold the standards of their profession which includes never being totally off-duty? As bad as the spate of arrests and prosecutions (and several arrests might not have led to charges) have been, it's getting less difficult to figure out why they might have happened as time proceeds forward. People make their decisions on how to act as Reeves did when robbing auto parts stores in two cities with a stolen gun, Forman's decision to sexually assault women and Impola's decision to assault a man in his wife's house. But what are the standards to be expected of those at the level of a Forman or an Impola if those who fill the leadership and management positions above them are circumventing the laws on license plates, badges and gun sales and then when caught, pointing fingers elsewhere?

It's difficult to see these two dynamics as completely isolated trends. Yet these criminal cases with officers who are no longer employed at the department and some were convicted of criminal offenses, the city residents are left to pick up the tab to eventually after some degree of saber rattling settle the lawsuits from the victims. The officers who violate the laws they are trusted to enforce, whether on or off duty, do so by the choices they make including how they react to stressors because not every drug addict commits armed robbery for example but it's hard not to see a larger picture here and these arrests and prosecutions also as the outcomes or symptoms of larger systemic issues including those at City Hall, including in terms of how laws and their violations are viewed.

The Cost of Punishing Whistle Blowers

Two of these whistle blowers former Lts. Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt came to light through litigation both filed against the city which detailed and documented more fully the scandals associated with City Hall involving the guns, badges and cold plates, all with violations of state laws attached. Despite the fact that the city has whistle blower protection policies in place and prominantly posted in most if not all of its workplaces, the city still made as a terms of settlement with the two lieutenants that they cease to be employed by the city immediately or ever again. Even placing them on paid administrative leave for a period of time at top-level captains' salaries because it's clear that the city management and the city council (which approved the settlement in part to keep the illegal conduct hidden away) still has a hostile attitude towards the messengers rather than the messages of inappropriate and even illegal conduct in the city's halls of power. After all, Hurt and Bacon alleged in their lawsuits that they were being retaliated against by the department and City Hall for activities they participated in as leaders of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association and its Political Action Committee. Perhaps learning its lesson from its huge loss in the civil trial involving Officer Roger Sutton, the city settled these lawsuits on the eve of their trial in federal court.

The third whistle blower, former Det. Chris Lanzillo confronted former Acting Chief John DeLaRosa at a roll call and apparently found himself under investigation the next day for racial remarks made at training (even though higher ranking individuals including one former lieutenant don't even get disciplined for making them) and then when his claim including its unflattering comments about DeLaRosa's implication in the mishandling and even attempted cover up of the Leach incident in the Press Enterprise, the next day the investigation against him became the highest ranking in terms of priority by the department's Internal Affairs Division after a directive was allegedly sent from the Orange Street Station. Lanzillo's a controversial figure in the police department and people have an assortment of different evaluations about him.

But if he were truly the bad apple he's only now being made out to be, why then is his disciplinary record so scant after 18 years with the department? It's one thing to label someone as an angel or a devil but it's another thing to treat an angel like an angel or a devil like an angel and then suddenly treat either like a devil. Because it's not even how good, middling or bad an employee has been, it's how they've been treated regardless and when that treatment starts becoming negative or "pro-active" as it might be called after he criticizes the person in charge of the department. That smacks of both opportunism and retaliation and if so, is a clear violation of city employment policy and because of that, again the city's residents will pay the price in the long run even as Lanzillo pays it in the short run. The people who fired him are so cognizant of the realities of firing officers in the State of California even with cases much stronger than that involving Lanzillo that they clearly did it to punish him on the short-term not caring about the long-term costs to the people of this city. And that behavior is most likely illegal as well.

That's why what's happened to him is suspicious so much so that even a person like myself who had problems with Lanzillo in the past can see through this mess. Because if it's about racial remarks, what about the lieutenant who didn't get disciplined, retired and now works under City Attorney Gregory Priamos? And if it's even about not telling the truth, what about the police employee who dropped the bombshell in the criminal trial involving Robert Forman that contradicted what he had told the defense's own investigator? Was he ever investigated for providing contradicting information at trial, leaving the defense attorney (who appeared genuinely stunned at what happened) with the unenviable task of impeaching his own investigator as being an incompetent dolt.

But though there were initially signs that the officer's contradictory statements would be investigated, this apparently didn't go very far because most likely, the woman he tried to impeach in his abrupt testimony filed a huge claim against the city and it's against the city's financial interests in the area of civil liability to impeach its own potential star witness' credibility. Other officers who testified in that trial under difficult circumstances which didn't help them or their careers appeared to have told the truth. Incidentally, three of them who appeared to testify truthfully at trial are among those transferred to the Orange Street Station by DeLaRosa awaiting disciplinary action or as he might call it as he did with Lt. Leon Phillips, "training for a special assignment". Perhaps just a statistical anomaly.

But in River City, telling the truth might be more dangerous than not telling it, because of the concern about civil liability which supersedes most others. Those who tell the truth especially when their behavior or the behavior of an agency might put the city at risk of civil liability are more at risk or vulnerable to questionable reaction and treatment than those who don't and that puts a profession that's work is based on veracity of those within it in a very bad position that's very difficult to repair.

In that kind of climate, it's very difficult to promote the practice of veracity when actions are taken that contradict that promotion. And that's something that definitely has to change before the situation involving the police department and City Hall improves. City Hall has to treat veracity as something to be expected not to punish and lies can no longer be used to get people in positions off the hook, civil liability be damned.

These payouts (past, present and future) and retirements pretty much were the outcomes of red flags that had been tossed out but were ignored or disregarded by City Hall of problems in how the police department was handled both internally and by elements at City Hall. That more money could be filed in terms of claims for damages including those related to inhouse labor than was spent reforming the department. If the city had an insurance carrier in the past, it apparently doesn't have one now so the latest round of payouts will come at the expense of the city residents in terms of lost funding for basic services.

This is all money which isn't going to parks, isn't going to improve the city streets, the libraries or its museums. It's not going to prevent further layoffs and it won't restore the time the libraries and community centers will be open. It won't even go to hiring more police officers, civilian employees or paying for more police equipment. It's all money paid out by the "self-insured" city on litigation including settlements. There's really very little that is positive by this loss of revenue for basic services given that there's no real assurance that this problematic and very expensive misbehavior has seen its end.

Increasing Salary Differentials in Upper Management Police Positions

It's safe to say that if the Leach incident hadn't happened, then this measure to double the amount of salary differentials for assistant and deputy chiefs wouldn't have either. The pay differential for deputy chiefs was originally about 5% higher than captain's salaries but this was halved to 2.5% when a second deputy chief position was created. The creation of the assistant chief position is relatively new as there have only been two of those so far in the department's history, Mike Smith and DeLaRosa. But even though these are fiscally difficult times, there's an argument for raising these salary differentials because it's clear by doing so, that new chief, Sergio Diaz isn't building his new management staff entirely inhouse. It's clear by raising the differentials for these positions that it's being done to most likely entice individuals who are currently holding positions in other law enforcement agencies with higher paying scales than this one, to come on over to the RPD. This could likely include the former haunt of Diaz, the Los Angeles Police Department.

This is being done because there's really not much in the way of leadership or management currently in the police department and there are elements in City Hall who played major roles in why this is so.

They can't really complain about these pay increments because the situation which arose that required the chief to look elsewhere for members of his cabinet came from inside City Hall and how it micromanaged the police department including the promotional process at its highest level. Consider these salary increases part of the growing tab on the cost of the Leach DUI incident and all the misconduct which preceded it. That tab will continue to increase even further in the future.

But what's important is that these positions are 1) appointed and serve at the will of the police chief and 2) remain unclassified as they stand. No need to repeat past travesties involving the city management's micromanagement of these departmental positions that normally are answerable to the department head.

Secrecy at the 'Hall, How Surprising!

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board scolds Riverside's City Hall for being among other things, coy about its release of public records. It's in response to this article about the difficulties experienced by the publication at getting its hands on accurate city records on the distribution of its vehicles which are provided by the tax payers of this city. Regardless, some folks at City Hall appear to believe that how they spend city residents' tax monies and distribute or handle property paid for by that money really isn't any of the business of those who provide the funding. Those records weren't just difficult to obtain, some of them were destroyed before they could be released. By an assistant city manager with prior experiencing working for Riverside County as a public information officer and therefore well-versed in what constitutes a public document which means that he would know and understand fully well that the definition of public documents include drafts and yes, post-its or handwritten notes pertaining to the public record at hand (rather than a person's grocery shopping list) which was clearly the case here.

The people from Riverside aren't really willing to pay more taxes for Riverside's projects during these economic times. What's interesting about the survey is how it's mostly likely worded. It probably didn't tell the entire truth about Riverside Renaissance, the pay a little more, pay a lot more later project list. The city's residents have yet to hear the full truth about the cost of Riverside Renaissance to themselves, their kids and their grand kids and it's not likely that City Hall's ever going to tell them. But what they wind up paying could be 2-3 times the figure of nearly $2.1 billion cited by the city due to the financial resources including bonds that were used to "pay" for the renaissance.

Every dollar for the Renaissance, every bidding process, every change order (of which there are many), every time a project has to be redone by city employees (after being botched by contractors), every time there's double and triple billing for projects, has to be accounted for and the city's not really done that so far. The majority of the city government hasn't even suggested that which isn't surprising since it voted away piecemeal every key it held to the city's coffers to the city management years ago. The city pretty much did a way with its Finance Committee, only meeting when they feel the heat of public pressure to do so.

Someone wrote a letter in the Press Enterprise about their concern about the homeless and transients hanging out at the proposed military memorial in downtown Riverside.

That was a bit ironic concerning that veterans of different wars in this country are disparately represented among the nation's homeless populations.

Riverside's Municipal Theater has been shut down. Because of seismic issues. Because I guess Riverside's just realized that the earth shakes...from time to time.

The 12,000+ ballots were counted upon judicial order by Riverside County Superior Court. Better late than never as they say.

A Corona Police Department is still under investigation for his friendship with a Vagos Motorcycle "Club" member. In proving just how small a world the Inland Empire really is, the Vagos member in question was once married to Michelle Wilson, the exotic dancer tied up with some Riverside folks including former chief, Russ Leach.

It could have been worse. The police could have gone into his home, had him leave the shower and then stand out naked on the street in front of his neighbors while they searched his home for his "friend".

A ruling in a federal lawsuits stated that Orange County Sheriff's Department deputies may have used excessive force against a woman. One of the deputies involved was later arrested on a DUI and on drug dealing charges.

Public Meetings:

Tuesday, July 13 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council meets during its reduced summer schedule to hear and vote on this agenda. If you're looking for something to do during the lunch hour, you can go watch your elected officials eat their lunch provided by city residents as they undergo (cough) state mandated ethics training (cough).

One of the key items is actually in the consent calendar and that's the higher salary differentials being given to the police department's deputy chief and assistant chief positions in the wake of the department's reorganization. Which means guess what, they're hiring from outside if they haven't done so already and trying to offer competitive packages probably to employees currently working elsewhere. If they were promoting completely inhouse, this item probably wouldn't be on the agenda.

Other Ways to be Involved

While it's true that this blog isn't authored by little miss sunshine, there are ways that city residents can involve themselves in improving their city government and voting for the best people to represent them is one of them. Another, is attending meetings like those by city council, its subcommittees,its boards and commissions and by contacting your elected officials in person, phone or email. And you don't have to serve on one of the city's special little committees to work towards an improved government, because everyone in this city has the ability to do that whether City Hall picks them or not.

City Council phone number: (951) 826-5991

Mayor phone number: (951) 826-5551 (from cached Web site page)

Mayor Ron Loveridge:

Councilman Mike Gardner:

Andrew Melendrez:

Rusty Bailey:

Paul Davis:

Chris MacArthur:

Nancy Hart:

Steve Adams:

Speaking of subcommittees, there is an upcoming Governmental Affairs Committee meeting possibly in September which involves the city's annual review of its ethics code and complaint process. It's an important opportunity for providing feedback to this process which was included in the city's charter after a majority vote passed it in November 2004.

Also get to know the city's municipal code which includes the city's charter.

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