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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Transparency in a Non-Transparent World

UPDATE: Shakeup in the newly unveiled Community Services Division? Supervising Sergeant reassigned to patrol.

April Fool's Day approaches, the week the handful of new hires show up for work, will the one who was allegedly arrested on March 18 be among them? And when the old clashes with the new in Orange Street who will win?

UPDATE: Riverside/San Bernardino are #1 in the country for worsening economy.

Unemployment rate: 13.9%
Mortgages 90-plus days delinquent: 8.21% of loans
12-month home price forecast: 1% increase
2011 net migration projection: 4,110 residents leaving
2011 Job growth projection: 0.69% increase

[The Riverside Police Department's Community Services Division poses for a picture after the media discussion]

[Lt. Guy Toussaint who heads the division after beating out about 13 other lieutenants for the spot speaks to the audience]

[Riverside Police Department officers listening to the presentation for the media]

First of all, I have to apologize to Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz because I had circulated an invite by the police department to the grand opening of the Community Services Division in the police department. It's an exciting event in the police department that it's decided to revamp the division that was shut down by former Chief Russ Leach several years ago when former Lt. Tim Bacon was at its helm. In fact a couple of officers now serving on it, were assigned to it back then before it was dismantled and pieces of it were umbrellaed during different lieutenants in Special Operations. It's a great development that Diaz brought back the citizen academy and especially Crime-Free Multi-Housing which is under Officer (and sergeant's list candidate) Celeste Neiman. Why not have a community open house for a community-oriented policing division? Hopefully if yesterday's open house wasn't it, one will be forthcoming soon in different facilities within the Neighborhood Policing Centers. Because if the return of this division is something to celebrate, then the wealth should be spread outward.

Some of those people that received notice decided to attend because yes, there are people out there who were keen on finding out what had been brought back. But then it turned out in what Diaz called a "miscommunication", it was really an open house for the press rather than a "community open forum". I was happy to be invited though now looking back, I wonder if my inclusion was in itself a "miscommunication". because other bloggers apparently weren't included and I hope no one got dressed down over it afterward. And sitting next to NBC, a sizable contingent including editors from the Press Enterprise (but not La Prensa) and Inland Empire Magazine (but not Inland Empire Weekly), I'm somewhat different than what they represent. And so are others out there, they'll be out there writing and reporting on issues whether they're officially recognized by a city agency or not, it's always been that way throughout history. And alternate media has survived and thrived in many places whether officially recognized by city agencies or even cities themselves or not, it's something that sends most of them in a different direction. Even as larger media outlets struggle to staff their operations and even to survive. Check out either the Press Enterprise or the Los Angeles Times lately? How do they compare to just several years ago in content and size including advertising? And did anyone know that Mary Parks from Channel 4 had said that Comcast bought NBC and it is now NBC Local? All their logos on their vehicles, to their business cards had to be redone. It was interesting to see the Inland Empire Magazine courted because they mostly write on politics and Riverside's business and social scene at the highest levels of both. That might be a reflection of the desire of the police department to reach out further into the corners of the business community not covered by the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce.

Diaz tried to facilitate a discussion with the press and after the statements about proper attribution and professionalism, it became an interesting dialogue but it was clear that the concerns of the other news media was somewhat different because they're largely staffed (even the dwindling Press Enterprise) and very visual in the case of television media. Other media are more interested in how the city's law enforcement operates on a different level than immediate responses to crises. Some of us aren't worried about being caught on the wrong side of a barricade situation that's just arisen because everyone knows that the alternate media go where the public go and the larger media get special credentials anyway to go where they were that are issued by the agencies themselves. That's how it always worked including in Los Angeles where Diaz came from and they should just admit that rather than claiming differently. And Los Angeles is ripe with many media outlets literally in the hundreds which is much more common in larger urban areas than in smaller ones like Riverside.

Diaz said that no employee of his would be punished for any statement he made about the media as long as the employee put his name on it which many a police chief has said but what often happens in other agencies is that while this is said, internally these people are searched for in attempts to root them out from coast to coast. Sometimes words can translate to actions and sometimes they don't as history again has shown. At the same time, Diaz brought the issue of training from everyone to watch commanders to the public information officers. But sometimes situations emerge that as every media outlet person in that room knew, when people don't give their names. And if the department really had ever welcomed transparency and didn't punish people who were concerned about wrongdoings, then history might have played out differently. But even with the reality that it wasn't like that, Diaz should remember one thing.

His own career path was greatly impacted by what did play out instead during most of 2010. The city owes a debt to individuals who came forward period, with allegations of misconduct however they did which turned out to be the truth because the city and department in their official capacities weren't being honest with the people who pay to be served by both. Unless we all missed the press release from either about what had happened before their phones started ringing off the hooks on Feb. 9. And let's see, those few who put their names to what they said, they were dealt with by the department's management and the city in a not so nice way, they sued, the city settled and they're retired. They're not employed by the department nor the city anymore and the evidence pointed towards their name attribution as being one of the main reasons why most of them are gone. The management could have looked at that coming in and said, that's horrible to treat people that way, let's change our culture to be more...transparent when bad things are done by those trusted to make decisions which impact every employee there and the public as well. But what happened at least initially, their claims were viewed as being frivolous and too many cases were settled too soon.

The point that they should go to trial is a valid point by Diaz and I agree with it, but because the court process increases transparency over what is being sued over which the city and its legal staffing knows very well...not because the claims themselves are frivolous. But it's more likely that the city settles the lawsuits because it doesn't want this transparency that the civil court system brings, rather than because they're truly frivolous. Because if you compare and contrast the claims and lawsuits filed, there were common denominators with all of them. It's a very specific area of the department that's being sued over, not really as much the agency as a whole.

Diaz might still be either back in his old police department or enjoying retirement or taking on some other challenging endeavor. He probably wouldn't be in Riverside assigned with the task of leading a police department which had seen troublesome times into a better future. Pretty ironic as well.

One of the reasons why the department has had issues in the area of public information is because it didn't know whether to assign that job to a civilian employee as a job position or assign it to officers who already had full plates or a variety of officers at one time to apparently rotate that responsibility according to their schedules. Remember Steve Frasher, the civilian public information officer/adjutant to the chief? He was pretty much the first employee the city laid off and after that, it went to then Sgt. Jaybee Brennan who was the adjutant and also assigned to the then existing audit and compliance panel which was shrinking. She was shipped out to field operations under some rearranging done by then Acting Chief John DeLaRosa and then Capt. Mike Blakely which seemed as much strategic as anything else. Because you don't ship supervisors out to field operations to fill vacancies and then replace them with other individuals already in that division which of course results in a zero net gain in terms of filling those same supervisor vacancies.

That's when the public information officer position fell by the wayside for a brief period until Brennan while still in field operations was given some of her old job responsibilities back in connection with the reemerging Strategic Plan and the tragic death of Officer Ryan Bonaminio necessitating a public information officer. And the current assignment of public information reporting responsibilities to the Community Services Division is Diaz' mark on the service which provides a conduit between the department and the media.

Diaz gave out phone numbers for contacts including to dispatch and to watch commanders and said he was "promiscuous" about giving out his own cell phone number which yes, the larger media do have that number. He was asked about public records accessibility and the role of the department and City Attorney Gregory Priamos in that and it's pretty interesting if someone disturbing how Priamos has been able to play such a hefty role in the micromanagement of the police department with Hudson and former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis also doing that as well. Diaz purportedly had been involved in distancing his relationship with Priamos which if true, can't have the city attorney doing anything but bristling in disapproval.

But while the meeting that I might or might not have inadvertently crashed while interesting seemed a bit more ironic than perhaps intended. All of the management team except for a vacationing Deputy Chief Mike Blakely attended as did three out of four of the area commanders. But among the management team, one of the captains in attendance had been the center of some disturbing allegations earlier that week stemming from an incident that allegedly involved one of the department's new hires who was to be sworn in as an officer. It was interesting to hear the word "transparency" mentioned perhaps a dozen times by Diaz as being department-wide and others with that elephant in the room. If transparency had existed, the other media outlets would have been aware of just how ironic that meeting proved to be.

But then again if the department had been so transparent, would one of those captains who attended been sitting in the room surrounded by media during an open house? It's be a good guess that the answer would be not.

At any rate, an enlightening and interesting event.

Californians Aware and their police record accessibility audits which led to this overall assessment. Several done within the state include grades assigned to the police department. Unfortunately Riverside's department didn't get very high grades in its own audits.

Judge: RPD Doesn't Have to Rehire Fired Probational Officer

But is the RPD Facing Another Situation Involving a New Hire?

[With one former probational officer trying to get his job back and another recent hire perhaps struggling to keep his, it's been a busy week for Riverside Chief Sergio Diaz who has decide whether one of his newly hired officers will be joining the department next week.]

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips issued a tentative ruling that Riverside doesn't have to rehire former Riverside Police Department Officer Jose Nazario. Nazario if you remember was fired by the department while still a probational officer after the NCIS showed up to arrest him while investigating him on charges of war crimes committed while he was stationed as a U.S. Marine in Fallujah, Iraq. He was later indicted on manslaughter charges by a federal grand jury.

This situation involving Nazario that's been going on since he was terminated several years ago and then later acquitted on those charges at trial ironically continues to play out as the police department allegedly had to deal with another more recent situation involving one of its hires before that individual was to be sworn into his officer position by the police chief. How that situation was apparently handled in the immediate days after an alleged incident involving that new hire has raised some questions.

The city claimed in its filings that it didn't rehire Nazario due to a 2008 temporary restraining order related to domestic violence action by his wife. That information was uncovered during his background check as part of his reapplication process which covered the period of time between his firing and his reapplication for an officer position. The city also argued that comments that Nazario made during federally wiretapped phone conversations brought the issue up of whether or not he was fit to work as an officer. Some of those comments were that working for the RPD was like "Cops", beating the shit out of criminals and coming up with a reason to arrest them after the fact. It's a unique circumstance indeed that's not encountered much about comments made to a military sergeant (who was essentially trying to "sting" him) would be caught on a wire tap and later received by a Wall Street Journal reporter. He wrote an article that the police department was also interviewed for in terms of its response to the taped comments. So what began as what was believed to be a private conversation winds up having excerpts from it quoted in a nationally circulated publication.

The Wall Street Journal, the second largest circulating newspaper in the country wrote about his comments about working at the police department. Nazario presents his reasons for making the comments about being a police officer. However, it places his employers in a very difficult position of having to make a decision about how to address them, because they didn't reflect well on Riverside. What do you do when you have an officer who says that he beats the crap out of people and then makes up a reason to take them to jail after the fact? Many people in Riverside have expressed concerned about what's called "contempt of cop" so if you have a Riverside officer making comments in that direction, it leaves the agency with the unenviable task of explaining them or explaining them away.

It could be just machismo or being intoxicated (and Nazario said he had been drinking) that produced them but the agency and the public has no way of knowing that for sure unless the department investigates them to find out whether while employed, Nazario engaged in that behavior as he said or he didn't and just was acting what same say is macho. The city said that the department investigated his comments and found no evidence that he had ever acted on them.

That needed to be done for the public and for everyone else Nazario works with as well . Because what do you do when a colleague or former colleague makes comments like that which become public and you're not out doing that behavior yourself? How is that going to affect how people view you and your agency? Because officers are so heavily identified by symbolism including badges, marked police cars, uniforms and guns. Comments like the ones he made, fair or not are going to have a detrimental impact on the policing agency that employs those who make them because of the nature of law enforcement, policing powers and the always evolving issue of public trust in both of those things.

It was written in this blog last year that Nazario hadn't passed his re-background exam and his domestic restraining order back in New York where he had lived came to light. That's a disqualifier in many cases for people who are applying in law enforcement for good reason. Part of a background exam is looking into the candidate's relationships including with spouses or other significant others. Including how the dynamics of the relationship worked out including disagreements and arguments, as this provides some clues about how this candidate will interact with the public in some very stressful and trying situations as well as colleagues. Domestic violence is more common in those in law enforcement. The blog, Behind the Blue Wall documents many of the cases that have taken place.

While felonies automatically disqualify candidates for obvious reasons, misdemeanors don't although what are called crimes of moral turpitude do and some are in that level. Domestic Violence is a disqualifer at the hiring level and has been an issue addressed by many different law enforcement agencies to varying degrees though only about 45% of police departments even have written policies addressing inhouse domestic violence.

It's hard not to look at Nazario especially in hindsight and not see quite a few red flags go up that appeared to in the city's claims have impacted its decision whether or not to rehire him. In his case, some of the red flags came to light in rather unusual ways but that doesn't change the fact that they arose. Did the police department ever expect that it would have to respond to the Wall Street Journal on his comments? Probably not, but it did have to do that.

Nazario had that and the domestic violence situations working against him as a re-candidate. Although he inadvertently had given the city a way out of a situation that also involved the allegations made against him by the NCIS and later turned into indictments by the grand jury. The Press Enterprise article mentioned how the police department had investigated the allegations involving war crimes against Nazario (that he was acquitted at trial) and sustained them though it's not clear at all how it could do that. After all, a great underlying weakness of the federal case against him was the scantness of evidence because his colleagues including a sergeant who had tried to sting him as well as one who had "confessed" during a polygraph interview both recanted later on and no physical or forensic evidence was ever uncovered.

But the city said it had nothing to do with it although of course it did, because why do an independent administrative investigation of a military related incident that very well could have happened though it could never be proven. Admittedly the standard of proof would be far lower for an administrative investigation of alleged misconduct including criminal misconduct than the criminal conviction at trial would require but it's interesting that the department and city went that route and then later denied its importance in its own findings.

But Nazario had red flags which the vast majority of those hired in Riverside as officers haven't had so it's not too difficult to understand the great reluctance to hire him back into the department. Screening and testing officers for positions is very critical but difficult including whether with people going to the academy or who are lateraling for other agencies. It's one of the most critical jobs that there is to protect the public, the police officers in an agency and also reduce civil liability. There's no shortcuts to it nor should there ever be in any situation. Current Community Police Review Commission manager Frank Hauptmann actually has a lot of good information to provide on this issue having been Maywood Police Department's final chief and trying to rewrite the very troubling hiring policy over in that city which was a large contributing factor to lawsuits filed against the self-insured city that might bankrupt it.

Because Maywood police officers, many who were fired from other agencies, released from probation and/or arrested were involved in just about every allegation of misconduct imaginable from beating or tasing handcuffed individuals to committing sexual assault under the color of authority. The city council proved that it was a major part of the problem by voting in two acting chiefs with records of criminal convictions and firings. Riverside's not Maywood anymore than it's Bell but it's always important to remember that one way to prevent a Maywood is to through a department's screening process for its officers before hiring.

But while this played out with Nazario, another situation involving a newer hire who hadn't apparently been even sworn in played out. Allegedly last Friday, March 18, an individual newly hired by the department to fill an officer position was involved in an altercation in Corona that involved being intoxicated and getting into a fight in public. He was arrested along with several other individuals by officers from Corona Police Department which contacted one of the police captains in Riverside's own department, who happened to be his father. Concerns were raised in several areas including the notification process between Corona's department and that in Riverside as whether or not attempts were made by this captain to dilute or eliminate any paper trail involving any arrest. Although allegedly the watch commander in Corona nixed an early release from jail for the captain's son and the others arrested with them when asked to do that for the new hire.

Nothing has been filed in the Riverside Superior Courts in connection with the individual and Corona Police Department hasn't returned contacts with its watch commanders division.

This individual was also allegedly hired by the department after problems in another law enforcement agency in Orange County which released him from probation a month before his academy graduation (but he did graduate as a non-hire) and then concerns were raised about whether or not any issues involving him were overlooked during the hiring and screening process in Riverside because he was a captain's son. One can look at that and hope it's not true but if it is, then it needs to be immediately addressed and yes, if an individual is certainly not in control of themselves enough to avoid an arrest before being sworn in to a position that carries out arrests as part of enforcing the law then that person needs to be fired even if he were the chief's son. Because for one thing, the vast majority of police officers employed and many hired, don't go out getting drunk and getting into public fights and some of those who get cut because those who do get hired instead for whatever reason, don't engage in that behavior either. Doing that raises the questions of anger management, impulse control and how will that behavior translate on the job. Will it endanger the public, endanger an officer or officers or cost the city major millions in a lawsuit down the road? The police department actually fired a non-probational officer in January 2011 who'd been in a bar fight and then allegedly wasn't honest to investigators who interviewed him as part of an investigation.

Backgrounds and psychological evaluations are done for a reason and that's precisely to screen out this type of behavior whenever at all possible. Here, it has apparently become possible. If Diaz is dealing with these issues, it's got to be one of the tougher parts of being a chief but it's important too. He doesn't strike the public as being a person who would tolerate that kind of behavior and if he's got a member of his management team who crossed the line in handling that type of incident with his son, then he needs to address that as well. He's the boss and he's got to send the message loud and clear to his management team, all of them that he's an engaged chief (which he appears to be, in sharp contrast to his predecessor) and he's going to hold all of their feet to the fire if they opt to engage in behavior which frankly probably reaped benefits for them in the past, perhaps at the expense of others besides themselves. This is how the majority of this management team rose up to the management level in the first place. By getting the stilettos out and undercutting each other at every turn.

If he doesn't do that, then incidents like this one will continue to take place on his watch. Because anyone who engages in naughty behavior will believe he's not watching. And it's going to take watching until the management team receives the message loud and clear through action that its members have to behave themselves even when they're not being watched. Diaz definitely should have the capability to do this very well and most people in the community and inside his agency probably would expect him to do that and support those efforts to move the agency forward down a healthier path than it had been on for the past few years.

A department that advertises to hire and employ the "best of the best" as its motto deserves no less.

Governmental Affairs Committee Recommends Expansion of Charter Review Body

[The Statement of Inclusiveness posted outside the Mayor's Ceremonial Chamber where the special Governmental Affairs Meeting took place]

[The Governmental Affairs Committee hears comments as about 20 people attended the special meeting on the composition of the Charter Review Committee]

The Governmental Affairs Committee held a special meeting on Tuesday, March 22 at 1 pm. to discuss whether or not to add members to the Charter Review Committee which was selected by the city council and had already met twice. As soon as the selection process was completed, the city council had appointed a committee that was only comprised of White city residents in a city where that racial group comprises about 39% of the city's population according to older census data. It apparently went unnoticed by most of the city council until the Group sent a letter out that addressed this issue and challenged the city on its recruitment and selection process. What the city council and mayor had done was stacked the committee with quite a few of their own peer group including former city council members (currently working for Mayor Ron Loveridge), a former interim city manager, a current partner at the city's choice firm, Best, Best and Krieger (which someone pointed out was a conflict of interest). It's left many people watching trying to figure out what the agenda is going into the process.

Mayor Ron Loveridge during the interview process for this committee had asked each candidate if they supported the ward election system or whether that process should go city-wide. A past council member or two had proposed to have at least run offs between candidates go citywide but the mayor's apparently trying to take it a step forward. Creating a city-wide system would kill grass roots campaigns which have dominated the past few election cycles bringing the likes of Councilmen Paul Davis, Mike Gardner and even Andrew Melendrez onto the dais.

[Would grassroot campaigns like those that brought in Councilman Paul Davis (r.) be eliminated by changing the election of city council members city-wide?]

So yes, it was pretty clear even in the interview process that there is at least one agenda surfacing already and remember Loveridge in particular has been involved in this process, with his push last time out in 2003-04 to get an initiative on the ballot that would give the mayor the ability to pick the chair of all the city council subcommittees. Loveridge apparently wanted to go further than that and have it so he could pick the members of the subcommittees as well but the whole thing fell apart because even though the initiative made it on the ballot, voters rejected it.

[Even though he claims to essentially be a lame duck mayor, Loveridge is always a pivotal one to watch for behind the scene action involving Charter Review. After all, he already got his point man, Tom Evans in as chair.]

What other agendas might emerge is always very interesting with this critical process with either tinkering with the city's constitution or leaving it alone but one area to watch, Riverside Public Utilities which has vexed City Hall only because the city wants more of its hefty dollars in the general fund to be spent by it. Currently it's about 11% cap on doing that, will voters be asked to increase that in the future? Stay tuned.

One candidate for Ward One, Dom Betro has discovered Twitter. He's running on the platform that among other things, he brought current City Manager Brad Hudson to Riverside and is the only one who can handle him. That's interesting because the move to recruit Hudson began even before Hudson was out job hunting during his stint in the county and one former councilman let it slip that this recruitment started a year before Hudson's hiring which meant uh oh, his predecessor George Carvalho was still employed.

If Betro was alluding to the whole guns, badges and cold plates scandals, well he'd better remember that those scandals happened in 2005-2007, when Betro was actually still holding his council seat. So if Hudson needed "strong management" then, who was providing it? And is it really the best way to endorse a city management employee's skills by saying he needs strong management anyway?

Betro did run interference for Hudson at least once in 2006 when Hudson didn't carry out a directive on the police department's Strategic Plan

Councilman Chris MacArthur to face Election not Appointment

[Councilman Chris MacArthur will have to be reelected by the voters]

The city council put an item on the meeting agenda on March 22 that would determine whether or not Councilman Chris MacArthur would face an election in the fifth ward or be appointed by his colleagues on the dais. Due to the fact that he was the only declared entry in the June mail in election, state law required that the city council and mayor place the item on a public meeting agenda.

MacArthur didn't choose to participate in the discussion and vote although City Attorney Gregory Priamos said that he could do so. He said he didn't think it was appropriate and didn't cmoment on whether he thought he should be appointed or elected for another term of office. After he left the room, citing budget constraints, Councilman Steve Adams proposed a motion to save the city $55,000 by canceling the election and having MacArthur reappointed by them.

That seemed to get some support judging by the nodding of the heads and then Councilman Rusty Bailey said that it didn't really work with him because he thought that it was important to have an election and not bypass that process though he valued the contributions of his colleagues. That also led to some nodding heads on the dais. So the city council changed the motion and ultimately voted 6-0 (by MacArthur abstaining) to hold the election and uphold democracy. City Clerk when prompted had said that the eligibility period for write in ballots extended into May which several elected officials said they didn't know.

So the city council and mayor made the appropriate decision to hold an election, as they did in the previous three times since 1965, when only one candidate filed for a city council seat. The money's already been allocated and democracy doesn't have a price tag.

Medal of Valor

[Officer Ryan Bonamineo received the Medal of Valor from the American Legion which also honored Officers Jesse Castro and Silvio Macias. Earl Ellis Green who's been charged in his murder was scheduled for a preliminary hearing.]

[The Sedgwick River crested at least half a foot or higher after the last rain storm sent it over its banks once again]

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