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, October 10, 2010

Finance Committee Set to Meet and Strategic Planning Resumes...

UPDATE: "Welcome to life..." All 33 of the Chilean miners have been rescued.

In front of the jury and a packed courtroom of family, friends, prosecutors and two internal affairs sergeants, former Riverside Police Department Officer Anthony Rod Fletcher testifies at his trial where he's facing charges of molesting his teenaged daughter. He was fired in January 2010 by former Chief Russ Leach after an arrest warrant was sent out on Christmas Eve 2009, the same day that another former (now medically retired) RPD detective faces an arrest warrant on assault charges.

[Riverside Finance Committee members Councilman Paul Davis and Chair Nancy Hart along with Councilman Mike Gardner will meet to discuss the financial status of the city-owned Fox Theater]

The Riverside-owned Fox Theater made lower revenues than expected and operated at a loss but somehow ended up saving $500,000 mostly because the losses weren't as bad as expected, the city said. Interesting math of course but many people have wondered about the financial well being given that the nation including the Inland Empire was in the midst of a terrible recession that may have "ended" according to economists but is still unfortunately alive and well in the Inland Empire and Riverside where a lot of jobs were lost including through the new housing bust. Many people had a difficult time being able to afford the ticket prices and the fare appeared to be limited to certain audiences as representatives of different groups including one representing young business people told the city council.

Entertainment more geared towards young children such as Annie was scheduled during school nights. That and a lot of controversy taking place involving the management of the theater by consultant William Malone and Development Director Deanna Lorson.

The city has pulled the Finance Committee from mothballs again to discuss this agenda including the financial health of the theater that it paid over $30 million on. That meeting to discuss this report will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 3 p.m. It's always nice to be reminded that the city actually still has a finance committee because that layer of oversight over the city management's control of the financial coffers of the city fell silent for nearly a year without a single meeting. The number of annual meetings of this committee began to decrease markedly after the hiring of City Manager Brad Hudson in June 2005 as stated in earlier blog postings. The current members of the committee are Chair Nancy Hart and council members, Mike Gardner and Paul Davis. Hart had told the public at city council meetings and in the media that she didn't feel like it really needed to meet unless Asst. City Manager of Finance Paul Sundeen told her there was business to discuss.

Which when you really think about it is kind of like the hens just sitting in a coop checking in with the fox sitting outside of it on whether or not they should conduct a meeting discussing how the fox has been handling their eggs. But then the city council and mayor have been surrendering various roles and responsibilities that they were trusted by the city's voters to play in financial oversight, including back when the once-independent Finance Department was moved by Hudson under the umbrella of his department just before the inauguration of the $2.1 billion and counting Riverside Renaissance program of which a sizable portion of it was financed through debt. The truth appears to be dawning on many people if it hasn't already that the true costs of the Renaissance program haven't been paid for yet.

But the bill will be coming soon. Already projected for rate increases is electricity which will be raised markedly after the period of frozen rates expires next year. Not that some of the projects (mainly those dealing with infrastructure and public projects) weren't important but it's never a great idea to accumulate huge debts for the next generations to pay or use too much debt financing as Riverside may find out. And the gifts to private developers who donated to the political campaigns of past and current elected officials, not nearly has helpful. Investing in condo construction at the cusp of the deflation of the new housing bubble, not all that astute.

But on the bright side, the finance committee has started meeting again to discuss issues such as user fees and the annual fiscal budget.

On to the RPD's Next Strategic Plan...

Take Two

[Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz sets out to receive community input at various forums on the department's new Strategic Plan."]

[Riverside Asst. Police Chief Chris Vicino who has an employment background in strategic planning from his old haunt, the Pasadena Police Department will be Diaz' point man in soliciting input on the new plan.]

[Riverside Deputy Chief Mike Blakely (l.) in July had said that the new Strategic Plan had been "in progress" but not finished, awaiting the arrival and settling in of the new chief. ]

[Riverside Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer has been attending meetings with business and community leaders such as the Chief's Advisory Board and has been learning that a lot goes on in his new city.]

The city and the police department are getting ready to pick up where they left off after a whirlwind of scandal and rebuilding to continue on with the mission of putting together the next Strategic Plan. This blueprint was to cover the time period between 2010-2015 but that might have to be adjusted a little bit. Asst. Chief Chris Vicino who has experience in strategic planning will be hosting about eight public forums, two per Neighborhood Policing Center, to solicit more community input into the creation and development of the strategic plan. If it feels a bit like deja vu, it is because this process had been done last January in various venues to generate feedback in what the public wanted in its police department including in strategic planning. In addition, a survey was posted online at the department's Web site which received responses (including one 14-paged one from some very wordy individual) as detailed when police representatives reported on the progress of the department's strategic plan development last spring at this public safety committee meeting. This PowerPoint presentation was given to the committee at that time on the soliciting of community input.

Further input was collected during later public forums which centered on what the public believed the criteria should be for hiring a new police chief. The draft of the plan was allegedly completed by late spring, before the hiring of Diaz by the members of the Audit and Compliance Bureau whose work was later described by Diaz as "meaningless" though a lot of work had apparently been done on the drafting of the strategic plan. In fact, the main responsibility of that panel at the time was in working on the next strategic plan. The process was then moved to the chief's office under the administration and personnel division to be resumed at some point when the dust settled again.

At that time, City Manager Brad Hudson was taking a couple of breathers from the revelations of the guns, badges and cold plates scandals involving him and his cohorts to say that the further development of the Strategic Plan would be on ice until the new chief was hired, settled in and could put his input and signature on it. That took a little while as it turned out.

[This is a copy of the original Strategic Plan between 2004-2009 mandated by the state attorney general's office under the stipulated judgment between that office and the city.]

Strategic Planning: In the Beginning...

The initial strategic plan was a key component negotiated between the city and the office of former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer because it became clear during the investigation that the police department needed a blueprint in the areas of operations and personnel. This negotiating was all done as part of the settling of the threatened litigation by Lockyer's office against the fair city of Riverside, which had just been branded as the "All American City" just months earlier. This was one of the most critical parts of the discussion, well except for Mayor Ron Loveridge traveling up to Sacramento to essentially beg Lockyer not to call the mandated reform, a "consent decree". Call it anything else, he allegedly asked of the state's top prosecutor who appeared somewhat sympathetic. And that's how they all came up with the more image-friendly term of "stipulated judgment" with alas, the city once again trying to concern itself more with style over substance. But eventually, the city had to get down to business.

So the powers that be in the police department and the city government had to find a way to create and implement this strategic plan deal. It struggled with that a little bit before Lockyer and his team of attorney generals came to Riverside's City Council to lay the boom and to meet with community organizations to outline the stipulated judgment which was approved by the city council though not unanimously in early 2001 .

For the original plan, the department solicited some reliable business and community organizations like the Chief's Advisory Board, Cops and Clergy and the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce but not the city residents at large. Most of us in the majority of Riverside's 300,000+ population of men, women and children had no idea a strategic plan was in the works. The finished product wasn't really bad and had many good points, but it's pretty clear what faction recommended which component.

And that was one of the major comments and questions that I received on the Strategic Plan was where the input from the communities in Riverside had been solicited and the answer was, from venues where the department felt the most comfortable and secure that they wouldn't have to hear anything that might displease them too much. Communities like Arlanza, the Eastside and Casa Blanca, the trio which no one in the power structures of the city wanted to hear from were pretty much excluded as were neighborhoods like Mission Grove, Orangecrest, Arlington Heights, La Sierra, the downtown and Magnolia Center. Not to mention the Northside and University areas along with the area near the airport, Hawarden Hills and as you can guess, pretty much anywhere. Because soliciting opinions of one or two business or community or religious leaders of the city's communities and neighborhoods isn't necessarily getting any input from the majority of residents or business owners that those leaders purportedly represent. For example, there are businesses owned by people who don't belong to the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce including those that were disenfranchised by that organization including the decision by the Chamber to endorse the threat of eminent domain against some of these businesses.

Even on the employee side, most of the credited feedback was from the two police unions and the SEIU Local 721 leadership which is a great start but there are over 600 employees with the police department and were they individually interviewed or surveyed for their feedback on the original plan? Because the success of even the most awesomely constructed and designed plan (which isn't really either if so many people are excluded) won't bear fruition unless the people involved whether employee and/or community residents are fully engaged and essentially own that process. And the most important part of this actually unfortunately is to kick the collective butt of City Hall when it fails to be as committed. It's very difficult to have the successful implementation which has already been discovered when the powers that be drag their feet.

The old Strategic Plan expired in December 2009 and was originally supposed to be replaced by the new one when it "sunset" but as stated, the process experienced intense logjam from certain forces at City Hall. Former Chief Russ Leach said that City Hall was against the Strategic Plan and that attempts to get it moving forward had been futile. But several city council members when notified of this stagnation by some of these forces acted to undo the stalemate and the plan moved forward as Leach assured in an email to Mayor Ron Loveridge which the senior statesman read to the city council, audience and viewing audience at home.

But there were still questions about the effectiveness of even the initial strategic plan which had a list of objectives listed under six goals. Leach allegedly had some executives go back through those lists sometime in 2009 to check to see how many goals and objectives had been achieved and how many remained in place and to cross out everything that hadn't been worked, hadn't been accomplished or had fallen out of compliance and when that amended version of the Plan returned into his hands, only a skeleton of it remained. Budget cuts had done their damage to many components of the Plan while others just had started and stopped in a fitful pattern and others hadn't been achieved at all. Such was the fate of the original Plan but then again, some people in positions of power were supporting it with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

[City Manager Brad Hudson who considers himself at the very top of the "chain of command" of the police department didn't appear to be much of a fan of strategic planning. Probably not nearly as sexy as acquiring police toys such as badges, cold plates and Glocks complete with Apache holsters.]

[Riverside Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis apparently was way too busy doing...other things during the initial attempts at coming up with a brand new strategic plan. Did these "other things" get him canned by Hudson with a sweet-heart deal?]

Now city management including Hudson had never appeared to have been a fan of the strategic plan but then maybe the city officials guiding it and him at the time weren't huge fans of it either and the rest of the electeds were too apathetic on the entire process to get involved. After all in March 2006, the city council and mayor had been so excited that the five year stipulated judgment (the name given to the nation's very first state consent decree to appease Loveridge) was finally over, the boot off of their collective necks and they voted 7-0 to implement a more limited strategy of oversight by having quarterly audits done for two years and reaffirming their commitment in some very nicely orated soliloquies and then very quickly forgetting what they had done. The police department went back up on the shelf though some continued to play with it as was revealed in court documents earlier this year.

The city and department began experiencing problems with their implementation of the department's strategic plan and the city's vocal commitment to key elements of the stipulated judgment which were to remain permanently in place. Management personnel inside the department were very uneven in their forward movement with some not moving forward at all. This was similar to what had happened in other cities either post-consent decree/mandated reform or even during, as had been reported by the federal monitor of the consent decree in the Los Angeles Police Department which lasted longer than the five-year period originally set for it. The LAPD consent decree was much broader, and complicated in many of its required reforms (and the process for enacting or implementing those reforms) than that in Riverside plus for many of the reforms, the federal judge required a two year compliance period after their implementation. The reforms in the LAPD also tried to address corruption as the consent decree was launched in the wake of an investigation into the department on the wake of the Rampart scandal.

But at any rate, sometime during mid-summer 2006, Hudson had decided to tinker with the direct work order he had been handed by the city council meaning that he was going to shorten the time length and scope of the auditing being conducted by an outside consultant. Actually, the plan apparently was to low ball the consultant and then go back to the city council and say I couldn't hire the consultant because he wanted too much money. Whether Hudson acted on his own or had been directed by one or more council members still isn't known. But you have to remember that this all took place when city management and an elected official or two were involved in getting badges, cold plates and not long after Hudson and DeSantis had gotten their guns from the police department (though before the State Attorney General's office got wind of it). So maybe they were just busy doing all that and let their direct order go fallow. But at any rate, Hudson was unable to secure the appropriate contract with the hired consultant, Joe Brann who had listened to Hudson's reduced offer and then submitted a counter-offer which apparently had been met with silence from City Hall.

This ongoing drama was taking place at about the same time the long, hot summer of labor union rallies, strike votes and lawsuits happened and all this was written about in blog postings including one titled "What Would Lockyer Think" and as it turned out, Lockyer wasn't too happy at all when he read it. But some city council members decided then that they had to pressure Hudson to move their original March 2006 mandate back on track. Eventually, that took place but allegedly Deputy Attorney General Lou Verdugo, author of the police department's stipulated judgment wasn't happy either including with the lack of response by community leaders to that situation. The police department's reform process had been determined to involve a tri-partnership between the department, city residents and City Hall and none of those in leadership representing those components had really acted when it was necessary to keep the continuation of the department's Strategic Plan on track, instead of running aground right out of the gate. It should have served as an important lesson in what can happen when those who know they need to be engaged in a process opt out for whatever reason. And that has to be kept in mind always when strategic planning and putting any such plan into tangible action.

So with that in mind, some of the similar disturbing trends manifested themselves last year involving the creation of the next generation strategic plan though mostly at City Hall. The plan was to have begun its germination early in 2009 but stalled for most of the remainder of that year until its very end when the city government or enough of it began to think that maybe it should get involved and get it moving again. Which meant taking a stern hand to their direct employee, the city manager and his minions.

The actions of several city council members apparently was enough to relieve the blockage at City Hall and the solicitation of input by the community originally took place at community forums put on by management personnel along with the audit and compliance bureau which was encharged with the process of creating and drafting the newer strategic plan as it had done with the earlier one.

The original draft of this newer plan was allegedly completed by the spring by members of this panel but Deputy Chief Mike Blakely said in July that the drafting of the plan was still in progress and that the process had been delayed by the management changes including the hiring of a new police chief. But the recent Press Enterprise article mentioned the previous draft which included objectives such as embracing diversity in the department, increased traffic enforcement and education and management level training (and also accountability). These components and those involving apparently discontinued or suspended community and policing programs were mentioned a lot by people in different venues.

There was concern that several components of this draft wouldn't survive the editing pen of either the police department's management or that at City Hall. And what happens to them still remains to be seen, whether they will remain integrated in the Plan or be removed and replaced by others and what the reasoning will be either way. Vicino has allegedly expressed quite a bit of interest in the earlier work product of the plan which will probably be very useful and credit should be duly given to those who put in hard work on the original product earlier this year.

But still the creation of the Strategic Plan apparently remains a work in progress.

The department's personnel and training division should be once again more active in terms of working with the Human Resources Department in the hiring of at least 27 police officers. These positions including the 12 positions announced after the recent surplus of extra money found by Hudson's office as well as the 15 positions funded through the $5.1 million received by the department from the national COPS office.

Currently the police department's Web site has these job announcements for the hiring of lateral officers only as is stated on this listing on the city's own Web site. Lateral officers require less of a financial investment for the department and city than officers who are being sponsored by the department for their stints at police training academies in Riverside or San Bernardino Counties. There's less of an investment in training them on the job to be police officers overall as the time is spent training them on how to be Riverside Police Department officers. However, in many law enforcement agencies, when it comes to the screening of prospective lateral hires, more care often has to be taken in trying to find out why they're leaving their law enforcement agencies.

There are reasons, both good and not so good. The Riverside Police Department once hired a lateral from the LAPD, Bill Rhetts, who was among about 60 officers included on the Christopher Commission list of high-risk officers. He was medically retired out by the city in 2000 at about the same time another LAPD lateral, David Hackman resigned and went up North to work for two agencies, Hollister Police Department and San Benito County Sheriff's Department where he wound up with a medical retirement after a high-profile incident and lawsuit payout.

He then went to a baseball game at Anaheim Stadium, got involved in an altercation there with another attendee and eventually was convicted on a felony assault and sentenced to nine months in jail, ending his ability to ever work in law enforcement as an officer again. There are of course good lateral officers too but like with new hires, there are pros and cons with laterals hires.

The Riverside Police Department had a very high attrition rate between 1999-2001, the time period of the fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller, three outside investigations and the state consent decree and thus had to hire many newer and younger officers to fill the vacancies from 2002-2005. That shifted the average age of a patrol officer from about 32 (in the 1990s) to 23 (and 2.5-3 years experience) so the department tried to "age" its patrol division through the hiring of more laterals which came and filled spots in the field training officer division and some special assignments including METRO.

Both Rialto Police Department and Oceanside Police Departments sent quite a few officers to the Riverside Police Department. In Rialto, there was much more turbulence due to serious problems with its administration including then police chief Michael Meyers which nearly caused the collapse of that department's leadership. That led to the city government voting to contract with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department for policing services yet the process didn't follow the legal requirements of ensuring the police labor unions their bargaining rights. The city eventually hired another police chief to oversee the department and nixing the county contracting. But turbulent conditions in an agency can result in officers lateraling out as happened with Riverside Police Department in 1999 and 2000 because of uncertainty about the future and whether the situation will improve or worsen and that impacted Rialto.

Issues also existed in how much support that Rialto's police officers felt they were receiving from the communities and city government though many people did protest the city's initial decision to contract out police services to San Bernardino County.

Oceanside Police Department had serious issues of its own including morale problems stemming partly from salary scales where a sergeant there earned less than an officer in an agency like Riverside's. A number of officers lateraled over from Oceanside including several detectives who were hired by Riverside at the officer level and the former Oceanside Police Officers' Association president, Julian Hutzler. Most of the laterals except Aaron Miller remained in the Riverside Police Department and in recent years, six of them have been promoted including four sergeants and two detectives. Those promotions elicited some interesting reactions with some saying that they set the bar that everyone had to be challenged to meet or surpass (and thus it was good news) , there was some concern about it or that it earned the department the nickname of "Promotion-side." One of the many facets of discussion of promotions in Riverside's police department. The testing processes for detectives and sergeants has just been completed, while the written testing for lieutenants is done but not the oral interview portion of the process.

Rhetts himself was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about LAPD shootings analysis and in this video which addresses the veteran cross memorial. At the end of the news article, Rhetts talked about being sent to a psychiatrist after a nonfatal officer involved shooting in Riverside and being declared unfit to serve as an officer and said that after reviewing his career at two law enforcement agencies (which as he described it, including alcohol and steroid abuse) that the doctor might have been right in his assessment.

Police Chief Magazine wrote this excellent article on the challenges of recruiting, screening and hiring lateral officers from other law enforcement agencies including reasons for officers lateraling out, the "rogue" lateral and advice against "poaching" from other agencies.

But will the hires be coming from other law enforcement agencies or the academies or a mixture of the two? That remains to be seen.

Interim CPRC Manager Mario Lara Runs to City Council

It appears that the interim manager of the Community Police Review Commission Mario Lara (who's sitting in for a departed Kevin Rogan) has fired off an email to the city council and Mayor Ron Loveridge rather than his own boss, City Manager Brad Hudson essentially telling the city government that he was being pushed by several commissioners to solicit complaints. Several commissioners had talked about doing outreach to the homeless population in Riverside including those who live in the River Bottom about the CPRC's complaint process and access to complaint forms as they had done with other city residents or communities in Riverside. Lara objected to allowing them to do this outreach, claiming that they were soliciting complaints.

Lara, an administrative analyst under Hudson, had served as the interim manager after the resignation of Pedro Payne in late 2006 until Rogan's hiring in the summer of 2007. During his tenure, the commission fell severely behind in its handling of citizen complaints and officer-involved deaths investigations.

With antics like Lara's the city government's on shaky ground when it complains about city residents believing or suspecting there's a coverup hiding in every corner because when it removes accountability and transparency from any mechanism available for use by city residents including yes, homeless people, then it just promotes the image that it's always got something to hide from the public. The alleged incident involving the homeless encampment on the river bottom is being investigated by the department as it should, and Chief Sergio Diaz appealed to the public for witnesses which is proper. But the people in that situation if they feel they've been treated unfairly or had their rights violated have the option of filing their own complaints with the CPRC as well as that's a mechanism set now by the city's charter. Doing so isn't going to subtract from any probe that's currently taking place and it's nothing really to fear either. Two out of four members of the department's management team including the chief have dealt with a police commission with a greater range of powers and a greater scope of oversight than that held by Riverside's own version of civilian oversight. So it certainly shouldn't be seen as an issue by them either.

But Lara needs to be reined in and do his job as interim which is to serve as support staff to the CPRC, not be serving as the City Hall watch dog by creating layers of opaqueness over the operations of the CPRC. The fact that he emailed the city government directly and not Hudson means that either he's carrying out Hudson's direct wishes (so Hudson doesn't need notification if he ordered it) or someone on the city council asked for him to report directly to him, her or them. And any appearance of cover up in this current climate is what's likely to prove to be the most harmful.

Former police officer, Karl Mansnoor who also teaches police ethics at a training academy is busy working on his new book so he hasn't written any blog postings for a while but he wrote this one on skillful communication and use of force.

Also interesting reading was On being a rogue officer written by a former rogue officer who was a fugitive for years too.

A Corona Police Department office investigated for any alleged ties with the Vagos Motorcycle Gang is now separated from the department.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board picked out its four candidates of choice in the San Jacinto City Council race. If you'll remember, this city's government was torn apart by political scandal and criminal charges so they might be seeing some turnover this November. Like Bell, this government should be seeing some new blood come election time.

From elected to appointed? That's what voters will be deciding about certain key positions in the city of San Bernardino.

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