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, January 16, 2011

January 2011: What Does the Future Hold?

[Riverside Police Department Deputy Chief Mike Blakely and Chief Sergio Diaz attend the award ceremony of a patrol officer whose career remains in the balance pending the outcome of a game of hot potato at the upper echelon of the department]

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Above is what greeted me (and probably everyone else who tried to access) this weekend when I tried to research documents on the laserfiche at the city's Web site. It's been having this problem of going offline occasionally, on the weekends indicating that perhaps an update or upgrade is being done if not on a database, a server that it might share space with or have some connection to that's somehow causing the laserfiche system to go down. The City Clerk's office has been notified and database was returned to service on Tuesday morning. But there needs to be some investigation done by the city's Information Technology division as to the cause of these occasional outages given that they always seem to happen on the weekends.

[Chief Sergio Diaz, Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer and Asst. Chief Chris Vicino all hailed from elsewhere before coming to Riverside]

[Deputy Chief Mike of Administration and Personnel Mike Blakely (l.) has returned to the position that he held when he arrived in the early 1990s]

A new year, 2011 has started and a lot has changed since this time last year including new faces on the canvas in Riverside. Who would have guessed last Jan. 17 that there would be three new management employees inside the police department including Chief Sergio Diaz? Or that the city would be short an assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis or a Community Police Review Commission manager, in Kevin Rogan? Had 2010 been the year of the interloper, the invasion from outside Riverside? There's been talk in the community about how a department that had averred to rebuild its leadership internally during the stipulated judgment to reflect more of a "business culture" had wound up resembling an episode of Survivor Island soon enough.

But then 2010 wasn't an ordinary year as it turned out.

Especially for the police department which as of January 2011 looks much different than it did just one year ago. Departing were its police chief of nearly a decade, Russ Leach as well as Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa and Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel. Replacing them were three outsiders including two from the Los Angeles Police Department. These were Chief Sergio Diaz, Asst. Chief Chris Vicino (hailing from Pasadena Police Department) and Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer. The Riverside Police Department had promised about 10 years when it hired an outside police chief that the next one that would place him would be from inside the department. Of course that didn't happen and it wasn't possible given that the department's highest management collapsed like a house of cards in a sea of revelations that unfolded last year. But that was hardly surprising given the stiletto sticking that had been taking place at that level for several years as some aspiring captains were able to take advantage of actions taken against others during the promotional process including one candidate who had her promotion vetoed by City Hall allegedly by a sitting councilman within several hours after being told she would be promoted. Another captain candidate had to nix shopping Riverside and meet to "clear the air" with that same councilman at an eatery in Corona when his own promotion was stalled. But within 12 hours of that meeting, he was promoted to the captain's rank.

The city and Diaz were probably aware that there were very limited opportunities to promote individuals from inside the department into upper management positions largely due to the somewhat micromanaged promotional process at that level from forces inside City Hall, elected and appointed. Not to manage the highly contentious and often cutthroat atmosphere that developed as a result. Former Capt. Mike Blakely who had entered into the police department as a deputy chief appointed by former Chief Ken Fortier another outside chief, had been left adrift by the abrupt departure of Fortier in a sea of controversy in 1997. Of all the captains, Blakely had been the only one who had seemed to thrive in the chaos that defined much of early 2010 in the department, putting his nose to the grindstone and when the officer he mentored became acting chief, things got very interesting indeed during the brief DeLaRosa/Blakely tenure of leadership.

Even before that, the department suffered from very high vacancy rates at nearly all levels, both sworn and civilian. The percentages ranked from 33% at the lieutenant's level to 20% on the civilian side and about 12% overall as positions that were vacated by attrition were frozen and left unfilled by the city management office. Mirroring conditions that had existed the last time the city had been impacted by a severe recession in the late 1990s which left the department in such a state that according to then State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, it was inadequately staffed to do any of its jobs including community policing. Training budgets had been cut, including POST required by 25% just as it had been reduced in the 1990s.

Being the head of either labor association on the sworn side of the department required hazard pay given that two former members of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association and one past president of the Riverside Police Officers' Association sued alleging retaliation for their involvement in labor activities. RPAA president, Lt Darryl Hurt and PAC member Lt. Tim Bacon had been heavily involved in the contentious "at will" situation that arose involving the controversial attempts by City Hall to convert two key management positions in the department to being "at will".

The city denied that the process had gone very far during the brouhaha that was played out at a March 2007 packed city council meeting but in actuality, both DeLaRosa and Esquivel had signed contracts, they had just disappeared and couldn't be found by City Attorney Gregory Priamos for about three years according to a California Public Records Act request that had been filed back then. Then out of the blue, the contracts reappeared in the defiant hand of City Manager Brad Hudson at a city council meeting shocking more than a few people. But yes, the contracts had been "found" and guess what, they bore the stamp from Priamos office on them, which just goes to show that when Priamos does these exhaustive searches for public documents maybe he'd better include his own office.

But Hurt and Bacon had been busy with other projects including uncovering the whole unseemly guns, badges and cold plates scandals and the city was getting ready to pay out quite a bit to keep that "old news" (as one councilman called it) from coming to light. Well the best laid plans of men often don't quite work out and the information came to light anyway and played out But by that time, they had sued alleging that the department had denied them promotional opportunities and had retaliated against them in other fashions. A lawsuit ultimately settled that offered them pensions as top level captains retroactive including back pay to a couple years earlier plus cash payouts. Quite a bit generous for what Priamos likely at one time called a frivolous action that the city would defend itself against vigorously.

Then not long after, former RPOA president, Det. Chris Lanzillo also filed grievances and a federal lawsuit alleging that he had been retaliated for his involvement in union activities and particularly after he had confronted DeLaRosa during one of his "rally around the leader" visits to roll call sessions in late February and asked him why it had taken so long for the Leach incident to be handed off to the California Highway Patrol. Lanzillo had a claim denied, then a tentative settlement hammered out with DeSantis which then got vetoed in closed session before another settlement was made not long after that. But Lanzillo spent some time in the "penalty box" at Orange Street Station with Lt. Leon Phillips who had been transferred from his watch command to sitting at a desk all day along with officers who had allegedly committed misconduct so serious that the department's management kept them there, waiting until the disciplinary clock ran out on their cases.

Phillips of course had allegedly been busy researching his own case file and hadn't been transferred there to await disciplinary action with a scarlet letter attached at all. When speculation had steered towards Phillips' transfer having to do with discipline he would face in the Leach incident, DeLaRosa naturally ran all the way across town to roll call to assure the troops that no, Phillips wasn't being sent to Orange Street to be disciplined at all but to undergo training for a "special assignment".

Well just one week later, Phillips apparently received his "special assignment" in the form of a notice of intent to terminate, which had allegedly been done in the old school way of when faced with an unwilling subject to impose more severe discipline on him or her hoping that they will "plead out" to the discipline that was originally to be imposed. But Phillips instead apparently turned the tables on his management by working his discipline all the way down to a written reprimand (which was also being contested by him) and allegedly securing an agreement from the city management to never be assigned to work under Blakely ever again. If Phillips hadn't advocated for himself, it's likely that he would have been demoted and suspended (for several weeks), thus being the only member of the cast of characters implicated in the mishandling of the Leach incident to go into retirement with less of a salary to work with than those who outranked him.

Which would have just gone to show that Hudson's mantra is that the buck stops...with midline supervision, not with management and certainly not City Hall which despite all the questions raised about cell phones turned off and how key players inside City Hall were notified about the incident without phone records showing how, wasn't about to include itself or its residents as being included in any "independent" and "sweeping" investigation conducted by Hudson.

Even as chaos reigned for a good while and city residents clamored about what had happened in their midst, the elected officials at City Hall for the most part remained quiet enough themselves so that pins could be heard dropping all over City Hall. A couple asked questions earlier on and then zipped their lips. Others never said or asked anything at all, leading to speculation that they had done so on advice or even orders by their city attorney who himself claimed "attorney/client" privilege and dodged any chance of being investigated for what he might have known or done himself.

It's unsettling to say the least how far the police department had fallen in the four years it had been free of the five-year stipulated judgment with Lockyer's office. With its staffing levels including at supervision not to mention its training budget getting slashed despite full knowledge of the serious problems that could and indeed did erupt in the past when similar actions were taken. The department had stumbled mostly due to Hudson's failure to act on implementation of the Strategic Plan and reduced oversight of the department's progression that had been enacted by the vote of the city council after the judgment had dissolved. The city council had given Hudson rather simple instructions and whether due to his own actions or just as likely, a behind the scenes change of heart by some key councilmen, he went off and changed his marching orders while the department's management team went off in different directions regarding how it carried out its own oversight of the department. It took some effort to resteer the S.S. Hudson back on the right path. The same had to be done again when Strategic Plan 2 was nearly torpedoed before it had even gotten started in 2009 and it took the pressure exerted by two council members to get that plan back on track again where it went through two separate public input processes in 2010, one per chief and is currently awaiting the huge summit that will take place involving the command staff which will meet soon to start ironing it out again.

No women were promoted into supervisory positions after the dissolution of the stipulated judgment and only one African-American (in August 2006) even though on the sergeant and lieutenant promotional lists that were still active in early 2010, women and African-American male candidates held very high positions on both. Community policing had been "decentralized" and not successfully as it turned out, due partly to depletion of employees on both the civilian and sworn sides. Five officers were arrested and prosecuted for various crimes ranging from oral copulation under the color of authority to armed robbery during a 14 month period. The majority of employees did their jobs professionally as they always had but it's difficult to have as much upheaval taking place and not be impacted particularly by what had been going on at the top. Ironically or not, all those who would later blast the media outlets for writing about what unfolded in 2010 as if the media had created something out of nothing were silent during the months and years that issues like staffing depletion and controversial promotional practices at the top were playing out in front of them. These issues that were coming to light in the past would have consequences in the future as is very often the case.

The city management and inhouse management with a council member or two tossed in that mix tussled over the reins of the police department. Different employees aligned themselves on different competitive teams formulated around Leach and another high-ranking management employees giving the department a kind of fiefdom feel.

Promotions to fill supervisory vacancies were made early in January and actually had been in the works before Leach's retirement as the freeze had thawed a little bit and Hudson met with union leadership last January for discussions. The first round of promotions turned out to be very interesting in that the sixth candidate on the lieutenant's list was promoted and there had been some upset over the passing over of a top female candidate off the sergeant's list who had over 20 years of experience, eight years in investigations and no previous terminations from employment.

Several weeks later, the announcement was released from the department that Det. Linda Byerly would be promoted to fill a sergeant's vacancy and after that, there were further promotions including a slate done before Diaz' hiring. Some moves were made to rearrange employees in and outside of Orange Street Station, before his arrival including the transfers out of two female sergeants and one male sergeant filling one of the female sergeant's assignments. Diaz arrived in July and quickly created his cabinet, first announcing the appointment of Blakely to deputy chief. The only inhouse candidate who was able to fill that position at the time, and it quickly became clear that the other two positions including that of assistant chief would have to come from the outside and so they ultimately did. But once again, promises were made as they were 10 years ago that the next generation of leaders in the department including the next police chief would come from the inside. That would require completely changing the management culture of the department to one less dysfunctional and destructive than it had been in the past.

One of the problems cited when Leach had come in was that he hadn't been able to appoint from outside the agency which some see as an important power for a chief from the outside to be able to exercise. But at any rate, Diaz had that ability and brought in Vicino, a finalist for the chief job from Pasadena and Greer, from the LAPD. The cabinet settled down quickly enough though some interesting dynamics erupted right away including the shuffling of the open door policy at Orange Street Station where some doors were shut after being open and some individuals in management managed to circumvent those closed doors anyway. And doors themselves between offices at Orange Street Station themselves became interesting components in the redefinition of the power dynamics at the administrative level and provide some of the most telling clues of how management team members relate to one another.

Greer's arrival had been somewhat different than the dynamics that allegedly emerged between Blakely and Vicino who share offices close to one another while Greer had been stationed across town at Magnolia Police Center which is appropriate for his assignment of overseeing the operations and personnel in field operations (housed largely at Lincoln) and investigations (housed largely at Magnolia). Greer's transition apparently was challenging in other ways than that faced by Vicino but both men brought very different personality styles into the department which provide an interesting study in contrasts.

Vicino had been assigned Diaz' number one priority at Orange Street Station which is the newly reinvented Community Services Division which had been largely disbanded as a unit that had resided offsite several years ago for that decentralization of community policing which hadn't worked well. Programs that had dropped off the radar including the citizen academy were dusted off, revamped and will be returning into operation. For some reason, being assigned to be the lieutenant overseeing this new (old) division was a hot prospect as at least 75% of the lieutenants allegedly put in for it with Guy Toussaint who resided in the Traffic Division getting the assignment. In contrast the competition for the sergeant position was somewhat weaker, with no sergeant requesting it, so Toussaint went out and allegedly recruited one, Dan Warren to work with him. Warren who has an advanced college degree and has been involved in a lot of the training since his arrival from the very hot lateral agency, the Oceanside Police Department will be working with Toussaint and other employees, both civilian and sworn.

Vicino also will be replacing Blakely as the liaison with the Community Police Review Commission which finally hired its latest manager in former Maywood Police Chief Frank Hauptmann who still has not been afforded a public welcoming reception or even an introduction to the city council and mayor by Hudson like his predecessors. If Hudson wants to make it not look so much like he's back dooring Hauptmann then perhaps he had better consider introducing him to the community, because what's one of the words included in the name of the CPRC again?

But it doesn't seem like the city council and Mayor Ron Loveridge are exactly in a hurry to meet and greet with this new management employee either, which is interesting considering all the involvement of the city government in what's been going on with the CPCR during the past several years. With the 2011 election cycle not yet in full swing, there's speculation about how much the election will be impacted by the events of 2010 and their fallout. The filing period which begins appropriately enough on Valentine's Day will be the starting point of determination how each ward race will be shaped. But some incumbents who've already announced the intent to run again are starting to raise money.

Some have signed up again with Michael Williams Company which has announced some fund raising activities already including the following.

Councilman Chris MacArthur who will hold his fundraiser at the home of former Interim City Manager Tom Evans on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 6-8:30pm with a VIP reception beforehand.

Councilman Steve Adams will hold his at Ciao Bella a tasty restaurant near Spruce and Chicago on Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 5:30-7:00 pm with his VIP reception before that.

Other council members running who've signed up with MWC include Rusty Bailey who hasn't announced any fund raisers yet. And other candidates and incumbent Mike Gardner don't use that company in their own fund raising efforts. The economy's been harsh and that might impact the contributions made by individuals to the various political campaigns most certainly including those who are developers including from out of town. But it's too early to see how that will impact the money raised by different candidates in this upcoming election cycle.

Contrary to some beliefs, this blog doesn't endorse political candidates for any election. For some that's great and it's even necessary, but there are others including me who view it as sheer madness at best. It's amazing that larger sized groups and organizations can engage in that practice with limited bloodshed.

Besides, an endorsement from this blog might make some candidates recoil and perhaps be unhappy given that it's not too popular with some in high places. And it's really up to the wards themselves to elect their own leaders, to take it upon themselves to field debates and public forums for the candidates who run and to show up at the polls and vote for their representatives in much larger numbers than they've been doing. The one thing that this blog does endorse in the municipal election process is for people to go out and vote, as one of the greatest rights for people in this city and this country.

Is Redevelopment Dead in California?

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors are doing something that's apparently quite rare. They are convening an emergency session on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The topic? Newly reelected (and for once, not an oxymoron) Governor Jerry Brown has decided as part of the massive budget cuts he's proposing that redevelopment agencies be phased out of the cities and counties. The meeting's actually being held to discuss the issuance of $155 million in bonds to address redevelopment projects so they won't be included in any future phaseout.

Some of the supervisors made comments on the meeting and what's up with Brown's proposal.

(Excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Buster said Friday that county officials do not know the ultimate extent of any potential changes to redevelopment.

"We have been heavily dependent on redevelopment, and now we are seeing its vulnerability," Buster said. "We need to talk about not just the current situation, or crisis, but also redevelopment over the longer term."

Buster said the bonds would not go to fund any speculative or unworthy projects.

Supervisor John Tavaglione said Friday the county has "been waiting for the appropriate timing to go out to the bond market."

"It wasn't in place to deal with the governor's budget, but the timing was right that we should do it now, because of what might happen," Tavaglione said.

Except Tavaglione, if it were just a matter of "timing", would the Board be making a decision on bond issuance on a holiday?

And Buster raises an important point that long-term redevelopment in the county is what needs to be discussed in light of the uncertain future of the agencies themselves. Because what needs to be understood is that redevelopment itself and redevelopment agencies aren't exactly the same thing. The latter were created as a tool to do the former but had shifted away from their original mission some time ago as the definition of what is "blight" and who gets to decide that has changed, not to mention the city serving as the "middle-man" in property interactions that they shouldn't even be involved in for the first place. And many people in Riverside have renounced the use of or threat of eminent domain for private development projects (which is much, much different than that for public use) that usually go to firms who line the campaign chests of politicians. So much so in cities like Anaheim that when an organization in Riverside tried to circulate a petition to put it on the ballot, it was hit with a SLAPP suit and then told it was for their own good.

Riverside's already talking about laying off 72 city employees in the development, planning, public works and city attorney's office. About a $8.6 million shortfall and incurring $75 million more debt. Because after all if you don't carry debt, you can't have a redevelopment agency. It's a bit disconcerting how incurring huge amounts of debts whether locally and even on a national and international scale had replaced manufacturing and even service industries (costing tons of jobs through outsourcing) as an economic currency. Because all debts come from borrowing money from the future generations of city and county residents, as well as citizens. Concern about redevelopment agencies and the debt they incur have arisen in that the economic picture is so uncertain in the future particularly in the Inland Empire that some wonder where the money to repay these debts will come from. But one major issue with redevelopment agencies is how project areas are combined and where the money was funneled. The University Avenue corridor is one such zone but not long ago was combined with Sycamore Canyon to create one agency zone, just as the downtown was combined with the area by the Riverside Municipal Airport which makes one wonder if that's just a way of funneling money designated to one area of the project zone to the other.

It's a complicated issue but it doesn't seem like redevelopment agencies were created to last forever and that they aren't self-sustaining. There's talk about how much money redevelopment puts into city coffers but now how much it takes away, say money reserved for Riverside's sewer fund that was "borrowed" against to purchase properties through threat of Eminent Domain to hand off to developers including those who donated to past council members' political reelection campaigns. Or money "borrowed" against employee vacancies to cover redevelopment costs. Riverside, the city, has vowed to spend funding suing the state to stop it, a measure that likely wouldn't succeed and would put Riverside more into the hole. What needs to be done instead is to have open dialogues about what redevelopment means, how it should be done, the roles of all elements of communities and neighborhoods all over the city.

And the Development Department itself has been the subject of much controversy about the high degree of departures from that department, so many including older women who opted to resign in a difficult economy rather than remain working with the city. The sudden departure of longtime employee Howard Fields also drew concern, not to mention issues that this department had its fingerprints on. The Human Resources Board at one time had been so concerned about the exodus from that department or as one person put it, "where they're dropping out like flies"
that it wanted to do a face to face dialogue with Director Deanna Lorson but Hudson in his very congenial style appeared at a meeting to essentially nix that in the bud really quickly and then rather deftly convinced the Board to go redefine its mission which is city speak for, get out of our hair and leave us alone.

Interestingly enough, the Press Enterprise Editorial Board crossed party lines to propose to nix redevelopment and discusses the abuses of redevelopment that have taken place. The issues of accountability, transparency including local input particularly with financing are ones that definitely need more attention from local city and county officials.

But not long after pronouncing that there would be massive layoffs and probably cuts, City Hall began discussing again the expansion of the Convention Center in downtown Riverside which would require at least $25 million. It remains to be seen if the economic climate in Riverside will be receptive to that or not given that City Hall has just essentially announced that the plans to redo the library downtown (which was chosen over renovation of the existing facility) are off again.

It will be interesting to see how all this drama plays out in the weeks and months ahead but it's inevitable that redevelopment itself will have to be, redeveloped into something much different than past practice. That's just reality but it remains to be seen who out there including the electeds will be willing to even involve themselves in those very necessary discussions including with the city and county residents.

Redlands is getting ready to pick a new police chief after losing its long-time chief, Jim Bueermann to retirement.

And in the Riverside County District Attorney's office, the changing of the guard continues with the departure of the head of investigations. Not an unexpected development at all.

Public Meetings

Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 3p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The city council will hold a meeting to discuss this agenda and vote on it. Items include the closed session evaluating the city manager

However, the scheduled public hearing at 3pm for the city council and mayor to discuss salaries and compensation has been continued to Feb. 1 at the same time. No reason for that delay's been given but given that the laser fische database is down again, that delay might allow some time to research the backup material.

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