Chief Sergio Diaz Vs the 'Cheeto' Brigade
Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz expressed his displeasure at online comments made criticizing tactics used in relation to the killing of one of his officers, Ryan Bonaminio who responded to his last radio call on Nov. 7. Hundreds of comments were written in response to the article, most of them deleted by the Press Enterprise which also posted unprecedented administrative warnings on content within the comment thread the kind an action not taken when commenters demean women who have been killed or raped including Norma Lopez or racial and gender slurs are used in postings. Diaz, a Cuban-American, himself was initially labeled as a Mexican who would turn Riverside into a Sanctuary City after his hiring by the city and before he had even started working as the newest police chief. Meaning that he was labeled based on his last name and where he had worked previously with a stereotype before he had even arrived.
And Diaz responded to the latest round of comments by throwing out a label of his own.
Those online critics "sitting at home eating Cheetos in their underwear," Diaz said, may know little about police work and not understand all the variables in the case but don't hesitate to question the officer's decisions.
"I have to laugh, but it's an angry laugh, when I read some of the comments, (like) 'Well, if Officer Bonaminio had followed procedure...'" Diaz said.
"There's no academy class that says if you're in a one-officer car and it's 10 o'clock at night and you encounter a hit-and-run driver, this is what you do."
The comment seems to be geared towards individuals who criticized the tactics used by Bonaminio most markedly when he responded alone to a pursuit of suspect Earl Ellis Green into Fairmount Park where he allegedly fell on a slippery pavement and then was attacked by Green who shot and killed him by the officer's own gun before taking off with it. People on the site argued whether he should have gone in to the park after Green after Green fled a traffic stop of what turned out to be a stolen truck cab involved in an earlier hit and run or whether he should have waited for backup. Whether or not he should have been patrolling by himself at night, whether there's a "procedure" or not involving such stops and pursuits, or whether there's an unwritten rule (or not) not to run into Fairmount Park alone at night as officers.
Interestingly enough, other highly insensitive comments made against Bonaminio by anonymous commenters apparently weren't included in his criticism. Which makes it appear as if the criticisms not necessarily the intent behind the commenting is what galvanized his public response.
These issues have been discussed in other venues and including by law enforcement officers from other agencies as is not uncommon after a highly charged and tragic incident involving a loss of life. Maybe some of it is second guessing, or what's called "Monday morning quarterbacking" but a lot of that discussion is tinged with sadness and the sense of wishing the past had turned out differently as much as anything else. Including some of it on the Press Enterprise site.
There's a sense of loss and the futility of second guessing life itself before it happens that fuels some of these discussions and that's difficult to get around. That's what has dominated discussions in many places including on the newspaper's comment threads which Diaz says he reads because he's interested in learning more about the public sentiment involving his department and perhaps himself as well. Not to mention that a fair number of comments clearly come from inhouse on many articles in relation to the department.
Diaz was clearly frustrated by the commenting and that's understandable given a lot of the content and the criticism of the actions of an officer who can't respond to them. The department including Diaz has said in press conferences that much is known about what happened in the final moments of Bonaminio's life thanks to eye witness accounts and other evidence not to mention that the face of his alleged killer was caught on the dash cam of his squad car both leaving and coming back to the stolen truck. But what can never be known was what Bonaminio was thinking, what was running through his mind during the incident because he's unable to relate that to anyone. A lot of people have guessed and tried to explain that for him but the truth will never be known about what he was thinking or feeling, while responding to the call, deciding to chase the guy or facing a man who had his gun.
There's been some errors posted that he shouldn't have gone after someone feeling from a stolen vehicle but it's not clear whether the vehicle had been reported stolen at any point beforehand to the officers on duty and it is known that the license plates of the truck were not placed on the back of it so the plates couldn't be run through KLETS. All that was known was that it had been reportedly involved in a hit and run accident a short distance away, a little bit earlier in the night. Bonamino had called for backup before running into the park, and the backup officers were arriving, as the window of time between the departure of Green in the truck and the officers' arrival was about a minute or less.
But Diaz words of criticism or of "angry laughs" towards a group he said was sitting in its underwear eating cheetos isn't likely to really move them or encourage them to change their behavior or their posts. Instead, he's probably made them more likely to respond in kind in the future now that they know he's reading and that they have his attention. Some members of this crowd don't care what they're labeled or whether the attention they attract is negative or positive. And shaming them by attributing a stereotype isn't going to stop them from commenting either after some of them stop laughing about it. angrily or otherwise.
I received some interesting responses about the article, which surprised many with its publication because even though it's titled to address questions being raised by individuals including the commenters about the fatal shooting of an officer by a man who's been charged with capital murder, it's mostly geared towards Diaz' reaction to online commenters. And most of them likely are not members of Diaz' chitos brigade but are asking questions about whether or not some of what the critics have said have struck a chord inside of him or whether this is indicative of how he handles criticism of other forms as well and in other forums. Being a police chief including in difficult times is a challenging profession and part of it is facing critics of all kinds.
Diaz came into the Riverside Police Department on the heels of a chief who was prosecuted and convicted of drunk driving charge and after revelations of how that incident was handled inhouse came out, not to mention other controversies including the guns, badges and cold plates scandals. Other serious issues await in the wings in relation to a period of the city's history when apparently people in the position of authority in management and perhaps in elected office abused or misused that authority. It's a difficult task that he fared and many people are still watching and waiting to see how he will make his mark and what kind of chief he will prove to be, not to mention the roles that will be played by his cabinet, two out of three coming from outside the department. As with most chiefs who serve as ambassadors and spokes people for their agencies, he will receive compliments and he will receive criticisms and he has to be open enough to accept both.
But what some have asked is how well Diaz will receive criticism outside of the so-called underwearing, chito chomping crowd as the commenters he spoke against have been labeled. Others even those who disagree with the comments themselves have asked, well if I have a criticism or a complaint that I tell him, will he take it seriously or will he figure out a label to call me that's unflattering including in the press? Can he handle that or does he want to surround himself with "yes" people?
Diaz has shown that he can address controversial incidents on his watch including launching an investigation into the alleged incident involving the trashing of a homeless encampment by officers rather than defending their actions the day after the incident takes place. But he's shown that he can stumble in some comments he's made to the press as well as in the case of the comments made by a now-medically retired detective who he had a charged verbal exchange with before making them. He's made himself more available and open to media outlets than the previous chief in his final years when he was pretty much invisible after the controversial appointments of two upper management personnel in March 2007 which was followed shortly after by a hefty salary increase from the city manager's office. But he had been less visible to front line officers in roll call appearances after he made over a dozen promotions to fill vacancies in July. Even as several of those promotions generated controversy themselves.
He's set out to reinstitute abandoned community programs and the Community Services Division which will be headed by Lt. Guy Toussaint and carried out his first promotional testing and listing process with some changes to the lieutenant's level. He's brought in two outside and "at will" management personnel but maintains close ties with former Acting Chief John DeLaRosa who retired not long after his involvement in the mishandling of the Leach DUI incident came to light courtesy of the public release of city-issued cell phone records.
But how will he take criticism if he applies labels to some of his critics? Because that action on a smaller group of people who might be a pain in the butt could ripple out to how others view his ability to really listen and accept criticism and perhaps even look into it and consider action if necessary. He's considering changes to how the DUI grant funded checkpoints are conducted based on feedback he's received including from the community which caught people's attention There's diversity of opinion on issues including those that impact policing in communities and that's really needed to improve operations in the department, to continue and build upon what's positive and works and to improve or fix that which doesn't. Hopefully, Diaz will recognize that particularly from his years spent in the Los Angeles Police Department including commanding the downtown area while recognizing Riverside as its own unique city.
The city's residents including those living in the over 25 neighborhoods in seven wards and four neighborhood policing centers need to feel confident that the new leadership of the police department can accept input both positive and negative. But it goes behind just the residents of the city that need to have this confidence, it includes the over 600 employees both civilian and sworn that Diaz leads who need to have this as well. They need to be able to say what's positive and to applaud what works but more importantly, they need to be able to feel they can freely, openly and safely criticize the department that employs them. The reason why the latter component is more important is because it's the side of dialoguing that's often endangered in many police agencies, many of Riverside's city departments including the police department. Diaz talks about wanting better and more open communication within his own agency but to do that he has to remove the fear and intimidation factor that resides there in connection to criticizing the actions of the department and its leadership. In avenues and channels that don't impact officers' ability to get promotions, special assignments and their careers themselves.
Officers need to be able to criticize actions to their superiors including the police chief without worrying that someone at Orange Street is going to call up someone in Internal Affairs at the downtown bus terminal saying hey, we need to get together and compare notes on this officer who just mouthed off at me, filed litigation or said something else I didn't like. The history of the misuse of Internal Affairs to go after officers who file complaints, grievances and lawsuits is very well documented through litigation from that filed by former Sgt. Christine Keers in 1996 to the lawsuit filed by Officer Roger Sutton in 2001 to the dual lawsuits filed by two lieutenants several years ago. Of these lawsuits, two received pretty large settlements, the other a $1.64 million jury's verdict in a trial where both jurors and the presiding judge said the strongest case was made against the department concerning retaliatory action against Sutton. So the city has paid a lot of money in these cases and perhaps because it's settled so many lawsuits filed against it, it's now "self-insured". So the retaliation against officers and other employees who criticize their agencies or file complaints against them has proven to be expensive for city coffers, enough for the leaders to sit up and take notice that creating an environment of fear and intimidation inside many city departments doesn't help the city and it might prove to be expensive in different ways including financially in the long run.
The article also included different police practices experts responding including Ray Martinelli a former law enforcement officer who happens to be one of the investigators on retainer by the city manager's office involving the Community Police Review Commission. The police department itself is expected to review the tragic incident as part of its practice of analyzing critical incidents involving its officers. It's not clear whether any changes in policy, training or tactics including deployment of officers would be made or in what form since that process is highly internalized. But in order to do an analysis that worthy of the officer who lost his life, that really tries to look at it objectively and if necessary, to make a difference for future officers, that means asking some hard questions and perhaps finding more difficult answers. That's just the nature of these types of procedures and the police department's used them well in the past to implement some serious improvements in the department including procuring of equipment, implementation of new training (and for several years, the police department's officers received more training than those in many other agencies) and even hiring more officers.
But it involves allowing and even encouraging an environment where different opinions of those doing the analysis can be heard and accepted, including the more difficult ones.
Diaz mentions that his former haunt the Los Angeles Police Department uses two-man officers mainly at night and in high-crime areas but it's rare to see single officer cars in L.A. at any time of day in different areas including the Westside. The only time I saw a one-officer squad car during my recent trip was a officer responding to a 911 call I made around Third and Oxnard of an accident involving injuries to different parties. L.A. like Riverside's a highly horizontal city over most of its acreage and has about 10,000 officers after a hiring drive by former chief, William Bratton. It traditionally has had a higher resident to officer ratio including 426 to 1 in 2005. So the LAPD is different than Riverside's own department but these issues will probably continue to be raised and debated and discussed which isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. If you're going to as chief ask city residents to be engaged in their department, "OurPD" then you've got to take the criticism along with the compliments and do your best to head the department in the best direction for its future development. Because not everyone who criticizes even likes chitos.
[Riverside City Councilman Steve Adams will have an ethics complaint filed against him heard by his panel of peers on Dec. 7]
The complaint filed against Councilman Steve Adams by the La Sierra Arlanza Neighborhood Alliance alleging administrative interference which would constitute a violation of the city's charter will be heard by the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room at City Hall. There was some protest that the earlier dates had put it during the day when many people couldn't attend and City Hall's response was to put it earlier in the day in the morning. Since Adams sits on the committee, Councilwoman Nancy Hart has been approved by the city council as sitting in on the complaint hearing in his stead.
[The Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee will hear Councilman Steve Adams' (center) ethics complaint on Dec. 7 and will exonerate him no doubt adding to its pristine record doing so.]
The process of having a city council staffed committee led by Mayor Ron Loveridge hear and decide on an ethics complaint against an elected official was one that it seemed that only those who actually are elected officials trusted and believed to have integrity. But the public's will finally won out as the city government's own ethics review committee included in its recommendations to have an independent and separate panel of non-elected officials receive complaints leaving any disputed findings to go back to the city council. With an election year coming up after the Year of Scandals, it's interesting to watch how elected officials could first vote to rescind the so-called "24/7 language" from the code itself and then go for this independent panel, some of them kicking and screaming granted.
But these issues matter to the public who've been reading about the travails of Riverside's power structure during the past year not to mention hearing and reading about what's been going on in Bell, California's capitol of corruption this year from the very evil media. More have been vocal about what they wanted including in a ward survey conducted by Councilman Paul Davis.
Still City Hall has to address the issue of complaints, the majority of them, either getting sidetracked to City Attorney Gregory Priamos or City Manager Brad Hudson as happened to a recent complaint filed against Adams, again for administrative interference this time involving promotions made at the highest level of the police department.
Riverside's City Hall kicks off its venture as a hotel owner when construction of the new Hyatt begins and it also wants to run a state owned park within its boarders.
First the gates have been closed, now they shall be closed as decided by City Hall in recent weeks.
K9 officers get themselves some armor and Hemet Police Department in light of recent attacks gets reinforcement as well.
Riverside Sets Deadline for Applying to Boards and Commissions
That deadline is going to be Dec. 15 for the public to apply to fill any current or upcoming vacancies on the city's boards and commissions. What struck as a bit odd was the openings made available to residents of Ward One for both the Community Police Review Commission and Human Resources Board given that the former already had three out of nine positions filled by Ward One residents and the latter already has members from Ward One too. But that's because the terms are coming up for expiration in 2011 with one being ward representative and the others citywide positions. If it's a first term, then the commissioners have the option of applying for renewal which will be evaluated through the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee along with the applicants for all the board and commission vacancies. But others like CPRC Commissioner Brian Pearcy will be terming out.
The applicants and their information will be forwarded to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee which will engage in an exercise of sifting through the applications and then asking each other, "do you know this person", and making their decision rather or not to consider them usually based on that. For the Planning Commission, the Board of Public Utilities and the CPRC, the applicants will be interviewed by the full city council and appointed through a public vote.
Applying is encouraged especially in underrepresented wards but it should be known that this process is often highly political and often still it comes down to who knows who on the city council and more importantly, vice versa.
Two more Strategic Plan public forums will be conducted by the police department in December to solicit information from city residents which will be part of the process to create the police department's next five-year Strategic Plan. The department has also been surveying its own employees as well.
December 2, 2010 7:00 PM
California School for the Deaf – Social Hall
3044 Horace Street
December 6, 2010 7:00 PM
Nichols Park – Multi Purpose Room
5505 Dewey Avenue