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

Monday, October 04, 2010

Riverside Chief Sergio Diaz and His First High-Profile Internal Investigation

[Riverside Chief Sergio Diaz investigating officers for allegedly trashing homeless encampment]

Last week, Chief Sergio Diaz launched his first high-profile internal investigation since he became police chief on July 1 after a group of homeless people made allegations that police officers trashed their homeless encampment in the Santa Ana river bottom last week.

Diaz said to the newspaper that the investigation was in its "early fact-gathering" stage. He said that the department's investigators were still looking for witnesses. And that was the right thing to say that the department was investigating and needed witnesses rather than saying that the behavior was justified from the start as has happened in the past. That just sends the message that the department's not really interested in conducting an in depth investigation (which takes a considerable period of time to go through that process) whether it intends to do that or not.

One witness gave her view of the alleged incident.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In an interview Thursday, river-bottom resident Colleen Sykes said she was hiding in nearby bamboo brush when the officers arrived. She said at least one of the officers was lining up breakable items and swatting at them with his baton in mock baseball stances.

"They were laughing," Sykes said.

Record said she was most offended by officers who, she said, slashed bicycle tires and tents, and by one who disposed of a man's toolbox in the river. She said she donated much of the food that was crushed and smashed.

"These people have been here for years," she said. "They have nowhere to go -- the shelters are full and they're afraid to stay on the streets."

The homeless have been camping in the dried river bed between Riverside and the neighboring towns and cities for years and a film maker once made a documentary about it. But there's been police actions to clear the river bed which is also a flood plain the past decade. Not to mention other areas of the downtown at different period of time in the past decade or so. Most of the homeless who are cleared out of the downtown area wind up being pushed in the Eastside, especially the area which borders the Northside. The city's shelters for the homeless are in either the Eastside or the Northside, neighborhoods which are viewed as considerably less important than the downtown or the Wood Streets (which successfully nixed having a homeless shelter built within one mile of it).

Diaz pointed out that while the enforcement of the no trespassing laws was allowable (and several homeless people in the article agreed) the property damage itself if it happened wouldn't have been legal conduct by any officers who committed those actions. What an investigation needs to determine is did the officers engage in the destruction of personal property, did they ridicule the homeless while doing it, and were there supervisors present when this took place and did they direct any inappropriate or illegal behavior if it took place. What would be greatly helpful would be the recordings from the digital audio recorders issued to officers in Field Operations which would have been required to be activated if the officers initiated the contact with the homeless individuals. Hopefully they will shed some light on what took place.

Any investigation from a policy standpoint also should look at City Hall because often the policing of the homeless particularly in downtown Riverside (especially as opposed to other areas of the city where they congregate) is directed by the Seventh Floor of City Hall. One former city council member of the ward that includes downtown was allegedly notorious for trying to get political points for himself by trying to heavily police the homeless. A lot of policing in the downtown area including the homeless historically has been directed by City Hall, rather than the police department. Such policing practices are often referred to during election cycles as "political deployments" of officers and were practiced by two current city council members and two former ones so that they would appear "tough on crime" by pushing for the move of police resources into their areas.

Whether that's true now remains to be seen but again, another election cycle is upon this city so it will provide a good opportunity to find out.

But there's been alleged incidents that show that the relationship between police and the homeless is complex and it's also dependent on both the practices of police officers as well as the department's mission on policing.

On one occasion, three officers searched a homeless man carrying a pair of shoes among other things, piled him in a car and detained him for several hours until his mother was able to collect him. The same day that other homeless people were cleared out by City Hall due to some visiting dignitaries from Asia. This same homeless man alleged that five officers approached him several years ago when he picked up cans for recycling near the railroad tracks that snake through downtown and beat and kicked him after telling him he was on private property and he had placed his bag of cans on public property. Another homeless man was detained while sitting on a city bench downtown and told to start walking and keep at it "until you reach Corona".

But on the other hand, there are also many stories of officers who treat the homeless with compassion and help them find resources including those for mental health. There was a mentally ill homeless man who scared a lot of people downtown including when he allegedly threatened one man with a chair near Simple Simons. The police had to routinely 51/50 him for mental evaluation because there's not really much that could be done to help him and they were gentle with him when detaining him to take for 51/50. Others know that the homeless while often victimized themselves by violent crimes can be useful witness themselves due to their tendency to not be noticed and cultivate good relationships with them.

It really depends on the individual who's policing the city which way that relationship goes though it's hoped that the department views homeless in ways less specifically categorized than Diaz mentioned. It's a very difficult issue and the police are left to handle a lot of it. But effective partnerships with public agencies including those in Riverside County, private organizations, non-profits and churches and other religious institutions could go a long way towards making it more of a collaborative process.

But this incident is disturbing and needs a thorough investigation.

Some obvious questions to ask in this case, are about supervision. Where the supervisors present and how did they direct any actions, legal or illegal, inside policy or outside, that took place? And did the officers activate their digital recording devices as required if they initiated the professional contact and what was captured. If the devices weren't activated by one or more officers, why not?

Another internal investigation that took place that seemed to be particularly notorious involved a pair of police officers who allegedly ran over a dog in an intersection on purpose and then they drove by where people went to look at its body before driving off without stopping. When asked by supervisors why they did these actions which were captured on their digital video camera installed in the squad car, they said they were responding to a call when their CAD sheets showed no such call for service or response. Did they hit a dog, leave the scene and then not be honest about it in their interviews?

If this incident took place, it reflects problems worse within those involved than hitting a dog. Perhaps this speaks to what Diaz and Asst. Chief Chris Vicino refer to as "ethics based" policing. But if incidents like the above take place, even if they're not close to the majority of all police and public encounters, they do damage to community/police relations that's more difficult to repair than it is for the damage to be done in the first place. And when faced by incidents that are troubling, what's the response to both address those issues and how they impact these relationships between the police and communities?

Just after the incident a homeless man was attacked near the airport section. Diaz said that he was investigating his officers for the alleged incident but also said that homeless in the river bottom were "shelter resistant" because they couldn't sell "dope" or commit violent crimes. That might explain a few people but there's many others who don't use shelters because they have dogs that they don't want to be separated from or they themselves fear violence or theft in shelters including the armory or theft of their property if they're forced to leave it to go into a shelter. Other homeless choose to leave their property in the river bottom while they're away from it. Many seem to be apprehensive of being around homeless people they don't know. After all, many individuals who aren't in that situation couldn't imagine themselves going into shelters with a 100 or so people. That's part of the challenges is the diversity of the population as one-size-fits-all solutions don't work.

The homeless are a very diverse population (and this economic crisis has both added more homeless people and further diversified the population) and so are the reasons for them not going to shelters. Including ironically, themselves being fearful of each other in many circumstances. Homeless people might commit some violent crimes but they're also victims of violent crime including those who are non-homeless including those assaults and worse similar to hate crimes. And they're witnesses to other criminal activity because they're not always noticeable and fade into the background or they know victims of crimes. After all, a homeless gentleman related to me incidents involving former Officer Robert Forman and women several years before he was arrested and charged with sexual abuse under the color of authority and sexual battery.

Diaz' experience with homeless comes out of a long career spent in the Los Angeles Police Department and as the commander of downtown L.A., he would have spent much time dealing with homeless issues including the controversies surrounding the handling and policing of homeless in Skid Row. An area of many homeless not to mention the site of what's been called "patient dumping" by several hospitals who drop off discharged patients including those still on their stretchers.

But in order to better enforce and solve crimes involving homeless as perpetrators and victims, again, it's most helpful and productive to foster good relationships with them so that they'll trust the police. Because often times, that can make the difference in solving crimes including violent crimes.

Diaz has said that they're investigating both the encampment incident and the violent crime incident but incidents like the former if it took place will make investigation of the latter more difficult than it would be already. Because a lot of the issues of trust and willingness to work with police even in more distrustful populations hedges a lot on how police officers interface with them and if it's negatively, then it makes investigations of crimes in a vulnerable group of people more difficult and unfortunately, it doesn't take negative behavior by too many officers to make it difficult for all of them. Police officers are among the most readily identified not as much individually as who or what they work for in terms of their city and law enforcement agency. The badge and uniform are very strong identifiers for most people that police officers encounter both positively and negatively.

That was shown during testimony in the Forman criminal trial when Officer Justin Mann testified about how distrustful one of the victims was in terms of even allowing police officers in the house on a domestic disturbance called. When he asked her through her closed door why that was, she related the incident when Forman forced her to have oral sex in lieu of arrest, a charge he was later convicted on by a jury. Mann had nothing to do with what Forman did but he had the same badge, the same uniform and drove a squad car marked in the same way so he was indirectly associated with the aftermath of the actions of Forman even though he wasn't responsible himself. So what Forman did had a definite impact on Mann's ability to carry out his duties in policing.

Unfortunately, that's often what happens when one or a few misbehave and commit serious misconduct, it has a rippling effect on everyone else who works alongside with them.

Riverside Renaissance Over?

Paying the Piper

"The government in this city is out of borrow 60% of 1.5 totally irresponsible.....I pay taxes in the city of riverside..and have owned property in the city since 1976......borrowing and rushing to spend a billion....dollars on city governments pet projects is totally irresponsible.....they are already talking about a sales tax increase....if they just improved infrastructure ....roads....sewers...power delivery facilities...that would at least partially make sense...they are spending money on refurbishing the old Fox Theater....built in 1929...hardly a benefit to all of the citizens in the City...just an example of a government boondoogle......"


Riverside Renaissance might have run out of steam but don't worry, the enormous debt is just waiting to be stamped "past due" on city residents which have led people to fear that there will be huge utility rate increases. It's already been alleged that department leaders said in a meeting that the utility rates will see considerable hikes in the area of electricity use after the so-called rate freeze expires. But when it comes to a huge chunk of Riverside Renaissance, the city residents haven't really started paying for it yet, but be patient, those days will be coming because soon enough, that debt will have to be paid.

It's good to take care of infrastructure but as Renaissance winds down, at least one neighborhood just had three power outages in about a week as ancient transformers melt down or blow out to the point where you cross your fingers any day it gets warm. But there's those nice empty condos or apartments in the downtown area to look at. Some of the properties purchased under threat of Eminent Domain on Market Street were actually paid for initially by money "borrowed" from the city's sewer fund. Some of the changes in infrastructure were needed. Some were not, and seemed to be sweetheart deals to developers who contributed to several elected officials' campaigns. Others were projects that were done and then had to be done over because aesthetics trumped infrastructure when the latter is needed to be done before the former. And often accessibility by pedestrians and the disabled were greatly hindered or even blocked by scheduling projects to be done at the same time leading to simultaneous closures on both sides of a street. It's kind of funny to read a sign telling you a sidewalk is closed and go to the other side and then cross the street, only to see the same sign on the other side telling you to cross to the other side and so forth.

But it's not funny for those who are disabled or people with young children to have to practically walk in the street or in the center divider when this happens. Because even people on foot have to get places.

But Riverside Renaissance is still hailed as this great success. It's so successful that three politicians who touted it highly in their political campaigns were booted out of office as was nearly a fourth. So clearly the "success" of the Renaissance hasn't helped these elected officials overcome their deficiencies nor is it viewed as a strength either even though the involvement of city council members is advertised in marquee sign fashion all over the city.

And Renaissance is part of the reason why primarily because of its use to fund private developers' projects and the fear that when it's time to pay the piper, it will mean major collection of those monies from the city's residents at some point. The people who are saying well, we're going to have to raise sales tax, or pass a bond to raise property taxes are really out of touch because people do believe in paying for things but during these difficult times of recession (which doesn't appear to be quite over yet in the Inland Empire), not so much.

And will city residents be paying for these debts during difficult economic times when people are fighting to keep their homes and their livelihoods?

Human Resource Board Hears First Grievance in Years

[The Human Resources Board including Chair Ellie Bennett (r.) heard the grievance involving a non-union employee from the Human Resources Department]

[SEIU leader, Gregory Hagans represented the city employee in her grievance with the Human Resources Board]

The Human Resources Board heard its first grievance in several years, this time a non-union employee from the Human Resources Department which is interesting considering that the Board is highly dependent on that department for receiving information and performing its own duties under the charter amendment and municipal ordinance. The Board which has struggled in recent months with resistance from both the Fifth and Seventh Floor in terms of doing its job, was recently diverted in deft fashion by City Manager Brad Hudson into redefining itself rather than continuing to push for a sit down meeting with Development Director Deanna Lorson about the departure of a number of employees from her department lost to retirement and resignation including older female employees.

At its prior meeting, City Attorney Gregory Priamos had told the Board that the grievance would be held in an open session but on Sept. 30, a notice was posted on the board outside City Hall ordering it to be conducted in closed session.

[Riverside City Attorney Gregory Priamos issued this order on Sept. 30 to convert the open hearing into a closed session, a decision ultimately reversed.]

The grievant and her representative nixed that order and waived the confidentiality to have it heard in an open session. When asked about it, Priamos said that he had been approached after the last Board meeting by the chair and vice chair of the Board who had concerns about the "sensitive" nature of the proceedings and so the decision was then made to have it conducted behind closed doors.

But even though the Human Resources Board is utilizing one of its powers as it did when it was called the Personnel Board, in this case it was a bit problematic simply because the employee who was contesting a suspension without pay was an employee of Human Resources. The director of the department she worked for, Rhonda Strout, sat on the dais next to board members and Priamos. The Asst. Director, Jeremy Hammond also works extensively with the Human Resources Board as does a young female employee who actually was the employee's daughter and sat with her during the proceeding. With the Human Resources Board so heavily dependent on the Human Resources Department for information and its services, would it really risk burning it by issuing an advisorial finding against the discipline issued by the Human Resources Department.

The Department described by the employees advocating for the discipline sounded so different than the one that used to exist. Back then, the department employed a customer service employee who sat near the window at the old digs on Market and University rather than had an employee sit 5-6 feet away and be assigned to other jobs besides customer service. The department insisted the employee had too little work to do, which didn't seem logical in a department which has seen huge employee cuts as a result of over 30% budgetory cuts in the last few fiscal years.

When getting public documents on statistical information on city employees from Human Resources for the past 10 years, I had interacted with different department employees mostly female including the grievant and had always had excellent customer service even though employees were clearly quite busy. But clearly the department's cuts have had an effect on the allotment of its employees to probably multiple assignments to make up for the vacancies in that department that remained unfilled.

The other worrisome part that stood out is that this employee had 32 years with the city and consequently was close to retirement age at 55. And unfortunately, there's been cases where city department heads have allegedly made it difficult for employees nearing retirement age to stay on and collect their pensions, particularly those that were female. After all, the Human Resources Board had wanted to discuss the attrition rate for older employees including women in the Development Department with Lorson but were blocked by Hudson (and themselves) from doing so. So when it's an older employee that suddenly incurs disciplinary action after years of stellar investigations and commendations especially when there's a change in supervision, there's all kinds of things to look at (whether employee burnout or supervisory harassment to attrition them out) that might be going on, particularly in Riverside's work force.

City Quietly Recruits for Community Police Review Commission Manager

This job description was discovered posted on the city's site with the closing date for applications on Oct. 12. The vacancy was created when former manager, Kevin Rogan left for a job with the Los Angeles Police Commission last month.

The position was described by the following language:


Under general direction of the City Manager/Assistant City Manager, to administer the activities of the Community Police Review Commission Office; to exercise authority and responsibility for the monitoring, review, and assessment of police misconduct investigations; to administer broad oversight powers that include the evaluation of the overall quality of police conduct and the authority to recommend systematic change in training and other preventive measures which will improve the quality of police services; to educate the public on the role of the position and the Commission; and to assist the community with the process and procedures for investigation of complaints against police officers; and to perform related work as required.

This classification is exempt from the classified service. The incumbent shall be appointed "at-will" and serve at the pleasure of the City Manager.

Administrative Analyst Mario Lara is currently filling the interim position as he did before Rogan's hiring in the summer of 2007 but when CPRC Chair Brian Pearcy gives the annual report on the commission's activities to the city council tonight, Oct. 5, it's expected to include a plea for the position to be filled by a permanent employee as soon as possible given how far behind on complaint review and other duties the commission fell the last time it had an interim manager. It's not clear whether or not the new manager will be reporting directly to Hudson because the previous ones reported to former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who is on his way out of city employment.

The commission has not thrived during the past several years to infighting and problems of micromanagement by individuals in City Hall including Hudson and Desantis.

Three Inland Police Agencies Receive COPS Grant Money

Riverside, Fontana and Banning Police Departments all received COPS grant money to fund new or vacant police positions.

In Riverside, Asst. Chief Chris Vicino was ecstatic about the department receiving just over $5 million in funding, enough to fund 15 entry level officer positions.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"This is Christmas in September for us," said Riverside Assistant Chief Christopher Vicino. "We were very excited."

But it will take months for the new officers to start patrolling Riverside, Vicino said. At least four officers with other police departments have expressed interest in joining Riverside police, he said. Other positions could be filled with new applicants, who would have to complete a six-month academy with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

When the new hires arrive, they will be welcome, Vicino said. Councilman Andy Melendrez agreed.

"It allows more flexibility for our current officers," Melendrez said. "And it allows for our chief to spread the resources of the police around to better serve the communities."

A budget surplus discovered by City Hall had freed up funding for 12 police officer positions and 15 had been promised under the 2010-2011 fiscal budget which were either to come from the funding or from any recieved from the COPS grants. The positions will go towards filling the high number of vacancies in the police department which have resulted from attrition (retirements, resignations and terminations) and promotions at the higher levels to fill vacancies in management and supervision in the past eight months.

It will take time for the positions to undergo recruitment and hiring process and about a year or so until they're ready to be deployed solo. The grant pays their salaries and benefits for three years and the city has to promise a minimum of a 12 month commitment for these salary packages after the grant expires.

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