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


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rebuilding the RPD From the Inside or the Outside?

UPDATE: BART Police Officer convicted by jury of involuntary manslaughter in onduty fatal shooting of Oscar Grant.

[Capt. Mike Blakely(l) is now after 13 years, once again a deputy chief serving at the will of Chief Sergio Diaz .]

The news that Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz began picking his management team by appointing Capt. Mike Blakely in a deputy chief position has attracted a lot of attention. It's the first time that Blakely has held this position in about 13 years and it's the second chief who has appointed him to his upper management staff. His promotion is scheduled to take effect on July 16 though he'll be included in the agenda of the city council meeting on July 13. Before the appointment, Diaz allegedly had interviewed all the captains in depth.

The city was also rumored to have hired two more employees to staff in the police department, possibly the new assistant chief and another deputy chief. But if those positions have been filled, the city hasn't said anything officially about it. Blakely's appointment to the deputy chief position makes it more likely that the assistant chief position will come from outside the agency which is probably necessary given the dearth of leadership at the top due largely to dysfunctional practices involving the department in the past five years or so including by City Hall and the failure to mentor future leaders inside the department by those at its helm.

Blakeley had by far the most experience of any member of the captain rank and is its only member who wasn't promoted to that position during the stormy period of former Chief Russ Leach's tenure when those promotion decisions were coming out of City Hall rather than the police department. Whereas two captains allegedly had the "final say" of their promotions (or not) made by a sitting councilman, that individual wasn't even in office when Blakeley came to town. So in a sense, Blakely is outside of that political crisis that still has yet to completely play out in the public arena.

During his tenure with the police department, he's been in a variety of assignments including Investigations where as captain, he had allegedly recommended to Leach that a sexual assault and child abuse detective who had sexual relations with the victim of a rape case assigned to him receive a written reprimand which contradicted a departmental policy which required a minimum disciplinary measure of suspension. Leach ultimately fired Det. Al Kennedy though the city council reinstated him after fighting it in Riverside County Superior Court and issued him a retirement package. He also worked in the Personnel Division where he oversaw the Internal Affairs Division as well as the Personnel and Training Division.

Blakely was often seen as the member of the management staff who would carry out assignments or actions that no one else wanted to touch and some say, he essentially ran the police department during the past several months including after his alleged protege, Acting Chief John DeLaRosa's city-issued cell phone records became public. Together, it was alleged that they were busy firing a detective and former Riverside Police Officers' Association president, Chris Lanzillo who had criticized DeLaRosa during one of the his appearances at roll calls soon after the Leach incident to circle the wagons so to speak. And reorganizing the assignments at Orange Street Station essentially sending two female sergeants ranked in the top three of the current lieutenant's list out to field assignments not too long before Diaz arrived and opening an internal affairs on another lieutenant's candidate high on the list. There were also concerns that the current lieutenant's list would be prematurely retired even though it's good until October with retesting set to begin in August.

But Blakely also exercised the hardest work ethic of anyone at his level of management although others at his rank tried to match it when the new chief came to town. He also appeared the most comfortable and confident at his rank, and would probably be able to express that most clearly when asked.

Despite Blakely's appointment, it appears quite probable that other appointments in upper management in the department could come from the outside. With members of the department's upper management falling like a line of dominoes with it not clear whether the end's in sight, there's not as much to draw from. And many people feel that the only way to truly straighten out the RPD and get it on its correct path, is to bring in more than just a police chief from the outside. Whether it's to keep an eye on Blakely and the inhouse captains keeping them in line with the program and to watch his back inside an agency where though it's time to put the stilettos back in the toy box, it's not clear if that's been happening at the highest levels.

Actually, if the department's going to staff another deputy chief as it had several years ago, it makes sense to hire one from the outside rather than appoint from within. It costs money either way but by hiring a new person, it prevents the department from further depleting its lower ranks to fill the vacancies which result when there are promotions at the top of the food chain. If Diaz were to promote another captain to add to Blakely, then that would create more vacancies in the captain's level and if the city promoted to fill those, then it would drop the lieutenant's vacancy rate down to nearly 40% and so forth, eventually tapping into the diminishing supply of officers in the patrol division who because of an MOU involving the mandatory filling of detectives' vacancies are the ultimate source in one way or another of most of the department's promotions.

But Blakely himself was once an "outsider" who lateraled in during the years of former Chief Ken Fortier as his deputy chief although Fortier had initially brought him in as a captain from San Diego Police Department where Fortier himself originated. One of several high ranking laterals who came in the department at that time period, with another being then Lt. Dave Dominguez who came in from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and retired as a deputy chief several years ago before becoming Palm Springs' police chief.

He was extensively quoted in this 1998 National COPS Evaluation done on the Riverside Police Department by a fellow at the Urban Institute which focused on the years of the Fortier regime.

Blakely talked about how changes were made in the department's organizational structure in the early 1990s.


It’s changing from a watch mentality to the area mentality. I’m not responsible just on my eight or ten hour watch when I’m responsible for this part of the town. [I’m responsible for it] seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. And [it’s] giving people personal ownership, so it wasn’t just a matter of holding the fort till my watch gets off: Your watch never got off. So you had a vested interest in looking for long term solutions and not short-term solutions.

Which might have been true for Blakely who among the captains, put in a 10 hour day even before Diaz showed up.

Fortier talked about how the art of grooming leadership by himself and Blakely. But while he had administration skills, Fortier lacked the personalization skills to bear fruit in many of the areas he allegedly specialized in during his stint with the police department. And as an outsider, he needed those skills. Diaz will need them too.


Mike and I were trying to groom certain people, and we’d look at a Sergeant who was up for Lieutenant who had all of the tools, but maybe . . . he just didn’t seem to understand community policing—the culture was real strong in him. And I put him in charge of the POP [Problem-Oriented Policing] team, and I’d have him in personally, and say, “It’s a different role now, let’s see what you can do in community policing.” . . . [We] did that a few times, where we would take them out of the field and say, “Well, you said you want to be promoted, you’ve done all this to get prepared: This the chink in your armor. This is the area we need to work on. Let’s put you someplace where you’re really forced to do it and let’s see what you do.” I was very honest with him, we weren’t being Machiavellian about it. But we said, “Let’s see if you can show us that you in fact understand community policing.

"Tough Love" involving adopting community policing philosophy, did it work or did it not? Because though there might have been some mention of community policing successes in the Evaluation, the State Attorney General's lawsuit against Riverside in 2001 pointed at its inadequacies due to insufficient staffing levels and other reasons. Community Policing then became one of the focal parts of reform within the RPD pursuant to the stipulated judgment. But as a philosophy it needs to be treated more than a dose of distasteful medicine to be stomached or that "watchman" style of policing won't be replaced by more community involved collaborations between city residents and the police department.

Which if this was how the department's been doing business in the past, it's not been seen much of in the past 5-10 years, as community policing fell apart as a philosophy at about the same time that the department "decentralized" it by disbanding its Community Services Division and positions were vacated at all levels and left unfilled by the city manager's office and city council. Some say when the budget cuts started coming from City Hall, that community policing went first. Because after all, with the state not looking over the shoulders of Riverside anymore, it didn't feel it needed to even follow the Strategic Plan. The lack of commitment especially with the city manager's office to those efforts was very palpable. It's hard to expect the police department to commit itself to those efforts if City Hall isn't doing anything remotely close to its part in the equation.

It's not clear what the future is of community policing in this city, whether it will find its way again or continue to deteriorate as even a "program" let alone a philosophy. For the outside agencies that are paying close attention to the police department and City Hall right now (and oh, they are including the most familiar babysitter), the area and future of community policing might be one of the key areas of the department of focus in the upcoming weeks and months. The department had made great strides in this area in the earlier years of the last decade before things began to fall apart later on.

More promotions are possible during the first 30 days of Diaz' tenure as the department is operating under a very high rate of vacancies in many of its ranks, not to mention inside its civilian division. Diaz allegedly plans to interview the candidates for promotion himself, a deviation from Leach's practice of only having done that once in 2001. Complaints arose in the police department as early as December 2005 that Leach promoted personal friends or individuals that he had gone drinking with or on vacations. Interviewing the candidates himself is probably the best direction for Diaz to head in given that he's relatively unfamiliar with the candidates and the police chief should participate in this process anyway. In past years, it became clear that at least at the department's highest levels, Leach played very little role in the promotional process which was essentially handled by individuals at City Hall including the city management team and elected officials, most notably Councilman Steve Adams.

Has that dynamic changed? Is there enough pressure from the elected leadership at City Hall to ensure that it won't be business as usual? It's difficult to believe that's the case given that the elected leadership hasn't been able to keep its own members in line including Adams who has been implicated in both the cold plate scandal and in involving himself in the promotional processes of at least two captains in the department. Not to mention the efforts and expense that the city government as a legislative branch of representatives of the city residents went to keep all this a secret.

Which didn't quite work as it turned out.

This organizational chart from February 22, 2010 is already outdated and is certainly more likely to become that in upcoming weeks. With a shift change coming up some time this month, will there be any major shifts in assignments? How will the shortages in the watch command division be handed? Will Special Operations which lost two lieutenants to retirement last year (but received one in return) undergo reorganization again? Will Investigations get its own captain?

The Fate of Leon Phillips?

Rumors had been that the threat to terminate Riverside Lt. Leon Phillips last month was a power play to get him to accept a demotion to sergeant which he had been allegedly planning to contest. When he didn't want to accept the demotion, then he was given a notice of intent to terminate and a postponed Skelly Hearing. It's the equivalent of charging someone with a felony to get them to plead to a misdemeanor. but apparently Phillips wasn't moved either way, but intends to contest whatever discipline he does receive from Hudson's office.

The Press Enterprise wrote about his alleged demotion and what's also interesting about the article is the photo of a group of officers from a religious ministry organization that Phillips belongs to called Cops Out Preaching Salvation who travel across the country and provide ministry to prison inmates at different institutions. Phillips has participated in that ministry.

Phillips has said that he still plans to fight it and sources say that he's held up remarkably well during this situation.

What's disturbing about Phillips' situation is that by throwing the book at him (while letting his superiors off the hook), it's sending the message that there's little or no accountability at the management level. Let's see here, Leach breaks the law, gets convicted and gets a medical retirement. DeLaRosa who supervised Phillips that morning allegedly also received a notice of intent to terminate the same day as Phillips but is given the option of a full retirement at a sweetheart deal as assistant chief. Phillips is several years within retirement age so unlike DeLaRosa, he will likely retire at his demoted rank. So the supervisor gets a rather hefty punishment (with allegedly an 80 hour suspension thrown in for good measure) but the two management employees above him including one who was convicted of a crime and another who apparently deterred an investigation of a crime (being a DUI) being allowed to receive generous retirement packages. Phillips should be disciplined but it should be proportional to that received by others above him in rank who were involved in the incident or the decision making behind its mishandling. And what has happened here is that the buck stopped in mid-line supervision while the leadership and management both in the department and in City Hall got off with much lessor. Their retirements were not endangered or lessened in their value by their involvement in the notorious incident. Not so the case with Phillips who is nearing retirement.

What City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis have done is essentially send the message loud and clear is that management will never be held accountable for mismanagement or other bad deeds especially when you can find a subordinate to serve as a scapegoat. Phillips was essentially branded a liar by Hudson because of contradictory statements (of which Hudson didn't explain further) but what about DeLaRosa whose recollection of whether or not he heard intoxication mentioned in connection with Leach was contradicted by at least one responding officer and former Sgt. Frank Orta?

But while this might seem crazy on its face, it totally makes sense in River City. Why, because in the context of the DUI incident and all its players, you have what unfolded later, which was the guns, badges and cold plates scandals. In those situations, Hudson, DeSantis and at least one elected official got essentially caught red handed including by the State Attorney General's office with breaking laws and when asked about culpability, in each case they pointed the fingers away from themselves and at any convenient subordinate in range, be it Leach (cold plates), the Community Development Department (badges) and the police department (illicit gun sales). These two management employees who are paid very good money to administrate the city do not for one second take any responsibility for their illegal behavior. There's always someone else lower on the ladder to blame instead.

So in that context, place the same dynamic when it comes to doling out blame and punishment in the Leach incident. Another example where the management employees who are more culpable than the supervisor get the retirements and no discipline whereas the subordinate employee receives the punishment as Hudson's scapegoat. And while the city management employees violated state laws to equip themselves like the cops they consider themselves to be due to their micromanagement of one police department, they later make statements about everyone being treated equally under the law . Unintentional humor during a very serious crisis in this city, for sure.

Pattern and practice in River City.

Replace scandalized local officials was suggested because it's interesting how like stated earlier the book can nearly be thrown at an individual like Phillips who served as watch commander during the infamous Feb. 8 incident with Leach yet those higher up at City Hall are not able to decide which laws they choose to follow and which to disregard, but then these same individuals waggle fingers at others citing some mantra about equal protection (and accountability) under the law. Leach was held accountable by the legal system for his DUI incident, only after the threat of public exposure forced the hand of both the police department and City Hall. For all the tossing out of the twin words, accountability and transparency, from City Hall, those there didn't want anyone to know what happened with Leach and his DUI incident and traffic stop.

After all, the Monday morning of Feb. 8 passed quietly with no trace of any press releases being distributed by City Hall about Leach's accident and traffic stop. Even though Mayor Ron Loveridge was tipped off by a not so mysterious woman, did he take any steps to inform his constituents? Of course not, he went to the city manager's office for information but he likely didn't intend for the public to find out, certainly not while he was serving as the president of the National League of Cities. How embarrassing would that have been on his watch over all the cities! It's hard to know what City Manager Brad Hudson would have done because he purportedly had his phone turned off the entire day, didn't make or receive any phone calls yet somehow had been informed of the Leach incident anyway.

Tuesday became somewhat more frantic certainly by afternoon, when media outlets began burning the phone lines at both City Hall and the police incident over news of Leach's accident. So it's then that City Hall acted like it had never attempted to contain the situation. It preached how accountable and transparent it was by cloaking everything even public documents under a confidential internal investigation where as much energy was expended hunting down any whistle blowers as it was trying to figure out who did what on Feb. 8.

Not exactly the example to show the city residents who want some changes in how business is conducted at and by City Hall, hopefully in time for next year's election cycle. If not, there might be some more new faces appearing on the dais by the end of 2011.

Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff writes about city officials in Riverside and San Bernardino and their guns.


As for Riverside's top brass, they come across as the gang that couldn't keep their stories straight.

In depositions, former Police Chief Russ Leach and Assistant City Manager Tom DeSantis contradict each other about how civilians' vehicles came to have "cold plates," illegal for any but law enforcement officers.

Leach said he didn't know about the plates until after they were issued. DeSantis said the cold plates were Leach's idea, as were concealed-weapons permits he urged on DeSantis and City Manager Brad Hudson.

DeSantis told me Wednesday there was no purpose for cold plates because city cars are registered at the city's address, not officials' homes.

The Police Department illegally sold guns to DeSantis and Hudson, then had to retrieve them and have a gun dealer sell the guns to them.

The badge episode was nipped in the bud when the attorney general noted it could be a misdemeanor to deceive ordinary people into thinking city administrators were peace officers.

The high jinks are making Inland cities look ridiculous. They need to end.

DeSantis' helpful comments about why cold plates aren't needed on city-issued cars begs the questions, why were they then issued? And why are the accounts provided by the involved parties so contradictory even those taken under the penalty of perjury in depositions related to the lawsuits filed by two former Riverside police lieutenants?

A look back at a community policing program instituted with the assistance of a former councilman back in the 1970s. This program was actually featured in a Time magazine article.

Fox Theater Update

The Press Enterprise discusses the free tickets elected officials receive for shows at the Fox Theater in downtown Riverside, with Council members Paul Davis and Nancy Hart at the front of the pack and elected officials Chris MacArthur and Mayor Ron Loveridge trailing the field. Loveridge of course is too tied up with the really important activities of his stint as president of the League of Cities, too much so to do much else. But then the city of Riverside borrowed money from the future generations of Riversiders to buy itself a movie theater...then a hotel...then...

While the library and museum downtown languish awaiting promised funds to renovate both institutions which have lost much of their operating personnel. It's mind blowing how the library and museum are being operated by skeleton crews. Yesterday, for example the wireless internet network went off-line and people were trying to figure out who to notify about it. It was an interesting primer in just how much the library has suffered from the last couple rounds of layoffs and other budget cuts.

Because it's interesting but mostly unsettling how inside a library, there are very few...librarians. Interesting, because most people would think that libraries would be staffed by plenty of librarians...not the case in Riverside these days.

Most of the workers there were doing two or three things at once and some didn't even know the library had a wireless network. One gentleman checked and found that some people had intermittent connection (which was because they had been logged in before the network's router somehow changed its setting which occasionally happens with most wireless networks) so he presumed it was fixed. When in reality, what would probably have "fixed" it would be to turn off the router for 30 seconds and then restart it to allow it to reset itself.

Then that man went home and none of the other employees knew what to do. So finally 311 was called to log a report of the outage but it was sobering for people to realize that most of the actual librarians are gone.

But anyway, as someone once commented, the city government and city management can't be concerned about the libraries and museums they don't themselves attend or visit. It might make more sense to spend $30 million to renovate the theater for the wealthier residents including from Orange County (who are more likely to commute to L.A. County to enjoy theater but anyway) and then pay even more money for the theater to be mismanaged than it makes to put even a small percentage of that funding into the downtown library or museum or on keeping some employees with expertise in running both.

Now the Fox Theater's nice to look at and I enjoyed going to a film festival back during the opening feature, the riotous Strictly Ballroom when it was kind of a decaying relic of the past because that's when most people could afford to actually step inside its hallowed doors. Now these days, the ticket prices are a bit steep and the selection of entertainment a bit narrow for many Riversiders to support a government subsidized at tax payer expense, theater. So the better the Fox Theater looks on the outside (and probably on the inside as well) not to mention the more seismically safe that it is (and yesterday served as a good reminder why that matters), the fewer city residents can afford to frequent it for entertainment purposes. Much fewer than could in the past.

Visiting the Fox Theater will be on the itinerary for the visiting league of cities which will hold some kind of meeting this weekend. Do they have to pay for that? I would guess not unless it's included in their conference or meeting fees.

Free Entertainment for All

But for the tops in entertainment, the popular game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire is on trial right here in Riverside. It promises to be the biggest showdown in federal court since the Barbie vs Bratz bout some while back.

And in this venue, there are free tickets for everyone who attends.

More details revealed which surrounded the arrest of two men charged in attacks against Hemet Police Department and its officers. Both men have ties to white supremacist gangs (not "groups", Pacheco), It's too bad that if Hemet's city council had to pass a resolution at all, it wasn't against such "groups".

Another city leader in Perris died in a motorcycle accident, the second in recent weeks.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older