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

Friday, August 19, 2011

The City Looks for a Manager and Orange Street Station, A Locksmith?

[This condo was hit by flying embers from some distance behind it after the fire went up a narrow gully on the ridge. Fortunately, due to the fast action of the fire and police departments, it was the only structure damaged in last Friday's Sunset Ranch fire.]

can't afford to renovate a major city park. This is kind of what they said about the downtown library but not when it comes to assisting developers who are major campaign donors from coming up with revenue streams to make their bond payments or getting into the hotel and theater ownership business. The park might get fully renovated some day but the major concern right now with all city parks will be as one former Park and Recreations director once said, ensuring the city can afford to fully staff the positions to maintain and operate them during what will be the most challenging fiscal period of its history.

It'd be interesting to read the comments that people might write on this development but alas, the PE stopped allowing people to write comments on all articles having to do with Riverside's City Hall in the guise of "spam" protection. But then the relationship between the struggling newspaper and City Hall's always been complicated...

[A consultant from the firm hired by the city to hunt for a new city manager sits in between Councilmen Chris MacArthur and Paul Davis as they took public input at a forum in Orangecrest]

The city's started holding public forums to solicit input from city residents on what they hope to have in the next city manager, with the first one being held at Orange Terrace Community Center. But will history repeat itself? Will the city undergo this so-called recruitment and hiring process while wooing another candidate in the wings.

The Press Enterprise focused its attention on how few people attended without really examining why. One important reason was the lack of publicity given these forums to the public. In contrast to other events the city's promoted, this one remained very low key. Not to mention that many people received the mailer announcing the forum dates a day after the one that took place in Orangecrest. Councilman Paul Davis said himself that he wished the dates could have been set on better days given that in that area of his ward, Wednesday nights are for football and many families are getting ready to send their kids back to school. But no doubt, the city's desire to push the forums in the dog days of summer is absolutely deliberate. But the first forum was interesting though it was not very well attended. If you remember the Roberts Consulting was the same recruiter hired to seek out the last city manager and the city paid to have them present a list of eligible and well vetted candidates. However, they did that and they were interviewed but ultimately the city hired someone not on that list.

Three councilmen none still on the dais actively sought out former Riverside County Economic Development Agency head Brad Hudson to take the position, some say even before his predecessor George Carvalho was even fired. One of them even during a celebratory mood after Hudson's hiring announcement let that information slip while sitting on the dais in his comments.

The trio of elected officials wanted to launch the Riverside Renaissance largely on the backs of public utility rate hikes and apparently Carvalho wasn't into doing that. It's easy to be reminded of that because at the city council meeting this week when they did the by rote public hearing on the whole bait and switch land deal downtown, one person mentioned that two days later, a meeting would be held to discuss utility rate hikes.

And when it comes to utility rates and higher sewer fees, better get used to them. The city's facing about $230 million in bond payments due in 2012 and 2013 beginning in January. With sales tax and property tax revenue still being highly depressed due to the recession, what else is left to make the payments from the city's residents? And many of those on fixed incomes including the elderly are going to have a tough time keeping up, especially in the summers when heat waves strike and they might not always be able to make it to the few cooling centers set up for them because basically they either can't afford an air conditioner or to use it when it's needed. What's ironic is that two out of the three city councilmen who sought out Hudson and brought him here in the midst of a so-called recruitment drive the city residents paid for, don't even currently live in Riverside and neither does Hudson. They won't be paying any higher utility rates resulting from their decision making.

The representative from Roberts admitted that he was very disappointed the city didn't select from their candidate list last time and said that doesn't happen 99% of the time and that it was a highly unusual circumstance. Yes indeed it was at that. But it makes observers twice shy when the same hiring process comes up again even with a turned over city council. What was amazing and appalling at the same time is that when factual information was provided by individuals at that first forum just as it has been at city council meetings, the city council looked like it had no idea what was being said. This is all information to be read and reviewed in public documents that they all can access and they are all supposed to have read including agenda item reports. What's getting clear is that the majority of them don't seem to do this and rely on "staff" to tell them what they should know through reading and I guess how to think and ask questions as well.

The land deal downtown that began with a favored developer and wound up with the police station is one classic example. I asked two questions at that last hearing in relation to developer Mark Rubin who receives campaign contributions from quite a few council members past and present. His office building, the Citrus Tower which is seeking tenants in a tough market was built using about $37.8 million in California Redevelopment Zone bonds. These bonds can only be paid off through revenue generated through leases and rents collected on a collateral property. In this case, that money was to be paid from another one of his projects, the Raincross Promenade which sets dark and mostly empty on Market Street in downtown Riverside.

[High priced condos for sale became apartments to rent]

If you remember the Raincross Promenade, originally it was marketed including by former city council members as bringing home owners to downtown which has a huge rental population. But these condos were very high priced and sold during the housing market crash when the same price could buy a person a whole lot more house. Only about four people bought into the units and so they became rentals for affluence seeking buyers. Originally marketed as including "affordable (low and moderate) income" housing, that fell by the wayside and the focus became on luxury. Problem was, no one was renting either and though some at City Hall claim it's mostly rented out, if you pass it at night, it's all dark like an abandoned palace. It's probably a pretty solid guess that there's not a whole lot of revenue stream coming from rents collected to pay off the bonds on the Citrus Tower. So I asked questions about if the Promenade couldn't pay off the bonds with its rentals, then how were the bonds being paid off and did the city help Rubin acquire the bonds and then provide a revenue stream to make the payments?

These questions were of course ignored and never answered during the workshop, not by these so-called knowledgeable people who keep telling us they know what they're talking about and that we don't or we're misinformed. But if they have done the research, had the answers and knew more than we do, those questions should have been readily answered and not brushed off. But they can't be answered because the city council members apparently had no idea that the Raincross Promenade was being used to pay off the bonds on the Citrus Tower. Maybe they don't even know about the CRZ bonds being acquired at all. Yet they made sure the public was unable to bring up this item for discussion in a public venue until after all the leases are signed so they could then say, well there's nothing they can do. They can't pay the money to undo a lease, which is only partially true.

Leases are challenged all the time after being signed, most often successfully when new information (withheld either accidentally or intentionally) comes to light that impacts them and the issues with the bonds and the revenue payment streams being so uncertain, well that's more than enough grounds to reexamine a lease without losing the city's shirt. Interestingly enough, Rubin sought me out after the meeting to say he liked my comments and asked me if I did a lot of research. He can afford to say that because he knows that he's popular with the city council even though his projects downtown are experiencing revenue stream problems and he knows about the bonds and the conditions surrounding him because he took them out...but he needed some city help to do that. It's odd that as 15 businesses including several in city owned and managed buildings have been pushed or forced out of downtown, that the city's expending so much energy and tax payer money to help Rubin make a profit on his projects that either are or are in danger of operating at a loss.

But why that is, and what extent the city government will go to help him, is really crystal clear when addressing a piece of fenced off property that lies adjacent to the Promenade. The story behind that parcel is very appalling, but because of efforts by the city to hide it, it's only started coming to light.

That property was known as the Swiss Inn and it's story is only beginning to unfold.

The forum attracted a few folks and yes, most of them were critics of Hudson as the local newspaper dutifully pointed out. I thought it was funny but that's par for publications that have always painted those who criticize issues or city councils as being critics or disgruntled (and employees who do like or file lawsuits are labeled as such) when apparently it never occurs to them that there are issues out there to be critical of and perhaps disgruntled about including unethical and illegal behavior.

The Press Enterprise has been perplexing as of late, given that they focus mostly on printing press releases issued by the city and its departments and as for everything else, if they stuffed every story they sat on in a seat cushion, some heads would be brushing the ceilings by now.

After all, they have been sitting on what happened with the over $700,000 that was paid off to former city employee Connie Leach over several years, even though she was contracted to only work 12 hours a week. Not to mention the fact that quite a bit of that money paid off to her came out of the police department's asset forfeiture fund. The same fund that one department head joked about at the soiree given to Hudson several weeks ago. Beginning with $35,000 to the Multi-Cultural Youth Festival under the 15% "allowable" use but somehow that money wound up dropped in the general fund instead, which if it happened is considered an illegal use because asset forfeiture funds can't be co-mingled with other monies or can they supplant general fund expenditures even involving the police department. There's no evidence that this money ever saw a bank account associated with a non-profit like the Festival maybe because the city wrote it all down on post-its and then accidentally recycled them or flushed them down the john.

At the same time that former Chief Russ Leach as executive officer of the fund gave $35,000 from asset forfeiture to the project handled by his own wife, other organizations like Alternatives to Domestic Violence, the Rape Crisis Center and Operation Safe house (for runaway and at risk youth) had to go to city council to beg for money out of the general fund. Project Bridge, the city's award winning gang intervention program pretty much went belly up after its grant funding dried up. But then there's so many questions about this whole situation the city won't answer like why so many city departments were funneling their budget money into her part-time working contracts in the first place. If it's a mayoral position, why was Development, Redevelopment, Public Works and others donating funds to one of his pet causes? Surely someone at City Hall could come up with one reason.

That's why when the fire chief made his asset forfeiture joke that even the current police chief smiled at, there were some party poopers in the audience who didn't find it funny at all. It's not because we don't have a sense of humor or need to lighten up. It's just that misusing highly restricted funds is a crime and not a joke and using the police department to do illegal or unethical behavior's not funny either. It was done with the more than questionable firearm sale that when the State Attorney's office was notified about it, it had to essentially be laundered through a private dealer. It's disrespectful to the over 600 employees who work hard to do their jobs even as there are fewer of them to do them and also the public they serve in this city.

[Certification report from 2007 showing expenditure involving Multi-Cultural Youth Festival]

But while the Press Enterprise knows about this, they're not writing about any of it any more than they're writing about what happened at the Swiss Inn. At least they are allegedly looking into the mysterious house on Arlington near Hawardan Hills that had part of its hillside severely graded within the past month. The ownership of that property is somewhat mysterious and the official version is that one of the banks owns it as a foreclosure. Yet, that struck me as a bit odd because since when have banks even performed basic maintenance on their foreclosed properties meaning weed abatement of yards and the care and cleaning of pools and spas to keep them from going "green"? Yet we're supposed to believe that the bank that owns this property paid tens of thousands of dollars to have major grading done? Okay, it makes me wonder who really paid to have that extensive work done, was it the same as who paid to have the Swiss Inn demolished?

[Newly graded area on Arlington was allegedly done by a local bank for one of its residential properties]

It's beyond interesting that a bank of all types of property owners paid huge bucks to have a hillside graded like this apparently legally according to one council member but it gets even more so. It turns out that the driveway to that property received its very own turn lane as well.

[Brand new turn lane on Arlington for the residence]

It's be great if the city would design and install turn lanes for everyone off its busiest streets but does that happen? This property owned by the bank gets a nice big huge arrow, and a separate lane (which made the bike lane adjacent it much more skinny) so who paid for that? Who do you have to know in this city to be able to severely grade a hillside and get your own turn lane? Where can mere mortals among this city's populace sign up for this program?

Former RPD Officer Honored at City Hall

[The City and Riverside Police Department honored the city's first K9 officer at the recent city council meeting]

[Officer Brad Smith's K9 after the ceremony at City Hall]

[Riverside's first K9 Officer, Loren Mitchell and family members at City Hall where he was honored]

A packed house including police department employees watched as the department's first K9 officer Loren Mitchell was honored by the city and others for his service. About 50 years ago, he had come up with the idea of using a canine officer believing it would be safer for officers in certain situations while pursing fugitives or other suspects. His family was there to watch him be honored and it was a good reminder of how innovative thinking and looking outside the box for solutions to challenges is always a viable way for a law enforcement agency to go.

Chief Sergio Diaz and his cabinet including the rarely seen Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer made appearances along with active members of the department's K9 team and retired officers including Rick Albee and members of the Rubio family. Retired lieutenant, Darryl Hurt was at the meeting for the presentation on the exchange student program with a city in Germany that might be a future addition to the Sister City Program. When Councilman Steve Adams was rhapsodizing about his own years in the police department including time spent on the SWAT team, he recognized past officers in attendance including Hurt by saying that he's a captain now.

Adams was sued by Hurt and retired lieutenant, Tim Bacon as part of their lawsuits alleging retaliation by him and others due to their involvement in union activities.

It was good to see a man like Mitchell honored and the management team attend to support that though while some of them stood together, two individuals in particular appeared to make it clear that they wanted to be on opposite sides of the chambers from each other. It seems that the friction between some members of Diaz' cabinet continues and what's become a question is whether Orange Street Station is big enough for the both of them.

As the World Turns at Orange Street

The Locksmith Cometh

[The scene of some very interesting dynamics in the management team]

The Locksmith Cometh....

Whose locks needed to be changed on the top floor of the administrative headquarters and what does that say about the dynamics at the very top of the department?

With a lease of only a dollar a year paid to Riverside County, it's clear that Orange Street Station delivers a lot of bang for the buck. It's been the scene of a lot of activities involving those who still occupy it. With the dispatchers finally moving out of the basement dungeon filled with mold and mildew to better (and seismically safer) digs at the Magnolia Police Center, there's still two floors left for plenty of dynamics to play out. This long-time administrative facility has been the location for the "Penalty Box" for broken officers, the place where Lt. Leon Phillips plotted his campaign to overturn first his notice of intent to terminate and then his demotion/suspension in very successful fashion. Benched here by then Acting Chief John DeLaRosa, Phillips used his downtime while "receiving training for a special assignment" to turn the tables on those who intended to use him to be the fall guy in the whole DUI incident involving the former police chief.

But then in July, the changing of the guard took place at the police department with Sergio Diaz eschewing retirement from the Los Angeles Police Department to take the top position and soon after his swearing in, he began appointing his cabinet. He chose internally first and chose Capt. Mike Blakely who ran the department's personnel division. That made some sense because Blakely was the hardest working, most experienced captain who didn't get promoted through the intensely competitive lobbying process that reigned during former Chief Russ Leach's tenure. Whereas the other captains stumbled as a result of a system that fostered cut throat tactics above leadership and management skills, Blakely had been riding out the decade or so since he arrived from the San Diego Police Department in very rigorous style. Diaz was advised even warned not to select Blakely from different circles including City Hall but chose him anyway. In reality, if the first selection had to come inhouse, he didn't have much to choose from at the captain's level.

An expert told me that the best hopes the department had of cleaning up the mess at the top that took place last year would be to "golden handshake" or sell retirements to everyone ranked captain and above and then hire from the outside to fill those positions, giving them long-term contracts. Whether that's practical or not, it's recommended under the idea that if the top level was so contaminated by issues including unethical behavior that one has to tear out the roof and build anew. The way that most of the highest management team fell out on its own or through power plays launched by those from a different "team" does give a lot of credence to that. But as we all saw, the city led by Hudson did the opposite. It retained most of its upper management that didn't attrition out and when it hired from the outside, it made the employees "at will" with three year contracts. Employees who are "at will" even those with retirements secured already are still vulnerable to becoming "yes" men or women to the one who holds their reins. And if any of them go against the grain even to do what's right, they can still be dismissed without explanation.

But what was fascinating and made the situation even more complex and more problematic is that one management team member didn't go "at will" and that was Blakely. After all, he's a member of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association and can't be forced to go at will. He may have the choice and Blakely's smart enough to refuse it. While the others can be dismissed without explanation for doing whatever, all that can happen to Blakely is that he's demoted back to captain again. Intentionally or not, that set up a current power play that's apparently unfolding inside Orange Street Station right now between him and other management employees. Two very dynamic, very driven, very type A personality type employees would soon be ready to clash professionally but though one outranked the other on one scale, his footing was less secured as his subordinate. The other's trained others who rise through the ranks even above him and knows how to pull the strings of those around him always while standing on terra firma. One a former outsider turned Old Guard and the other, a member of the latest trio of interlopers brought in by scandal.

Blakely's had his share of controversy being linked to the departure of former Chief Jerry Carroll after he and another former captain took some complaints against Carroll by a group of white male sergeants to the Human Resources Department. Some said that Carroll's ultimate departure had Blakely's fingerprints on it but it's hard to say given the environment already surrounding Carroll in the wake of Riverside's most controversial officer involved shooting. Critical incidents like that one often lead to the ousters of chiefs (as witnessed recently in Fullerton) but did Diaz even know about this history and if so would he care as it's clear that history's not one of his favorite subjects? Blakely's about as driven as they come, clocking in his full 10 hours at the Orange Street Station (and no afternoons on the golf course) and he had time to mentor others like the man who eventually outranked him, DeLaRosa and a host of others who were moved like chess pieces up the promotional ladder by Diaz during that first round of promotions in July 2010 whether the new chief was aware of it or not. During that first round, the DeLaRosa and Blakely camp set themselves up a chain of command including members of their team even while DeLaRosa lunched with both Diaz and later Vicino providing them both with advice.

Diaz is still pretty close with DeLaRosa and the latter attended a community meeting recently where Diaz gave a presentation and lectured those in attendance how he had found out through is own experience how wrong the information provided to him on certain individuals had been. People in the audience scratched their heads a little bit but what he said would wind up playing a large role in the organization of his department.

Building leadership in the police department hadn't been happening in any effective or meaningful way in the last five years or so. If that hadn't been true, the department's management wouldn't have collapsed so quickly last year like a house of cards. That left an outside chief to be hired who would see two out of three of his cabinet members hired from outside as well. It didn't take long for Asst. Chief Chris Vicino from Pasadena's police department and Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer from the LAPD to be hired to fill out that cabinet along with Blakely. Diaz had promised in several speeches that he'd build leadership from within the department so that after about a decade, there would be individuals inside the agency ready to step into the position vacated by him. How this would be done was never really explained though another cabinet member, Greer said he was "all about mentorship". So will these plans materialize in reality or are they just ideas?

But then Hudson wasn't great at mentoring leadership either. Even though more assistant city managers, three of them, worked under him than any other city manager in history, none of them wound up being appointed in the interim position by the city council and mayor. The city government can rave all it wants about Hudson's greatness as they see it but the fact is, when it appointed his acting replacement, neither Belinda Graham, Deanna Lorson nor Paul Sundeen were selected to fill the position. Instead Community Development Director Scott Barber who's allegedly not quite the yes man (or woman) as the trio above him, was the choice. Allegedly when Hudson got wind of the city council's selection, he was as some said, "very pissed off."

But Hudson's off in Sacramento in his new job and the chief might have the most freedom he's had since at least 2005 to build leadership with his management team. Vicino's background is in strategic planning and he's been busy in helping draft the Riverside Police Department's 2010-2015 version of that. Pasadena's had developed its own Strategic plan in 2009. Greer's arrival made him the highest ranking African-American in the department's history.

However along the way in the past year, some interesting dynamics have developed between Diaz and his management team. Whereas in the beginning, they were often seen together as a united front, more lately they've been spread out and some have become somewhat scarce certainly out in public. That's partly normal because they're more established in their positions and the responsibilities and roles they play but it's also a bit odd in some cases.

[Who's the police department's own version of Waldo?]

[In this photo, it shows a rare public sighting of Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer who's been rather invisible as of late]

Greer who used to be highly visible in public often with Diaz has pretty much vanished. You can go three to four months without a sighting of the deputy chief of field operations and investigations. That's quite a contrast when compared to his predecessor, former Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel who was pretty much seen in public all the time, more often in fact than DeLaRosa who apparently didn't favor public appearances and making speeches. DeLaRosa had risen up through the ranks largely on the inside taking assignments in Personnel and Training and heading Internal Affairs whereas Esquivel was well known at community meetings. Greer in contrast has hardly been seen since about six months after he first arrived. Some say that is in part because he's trying to keep under the radar because of some dynamics that have erupted among other personnel at the top. Keeping his nose down during his three year contract, and since he's assigned at Magnolia Police Center which is across the city from Orange Street, it's not that difficult. The culture that entrenched the department during Leach's tenure hasn't changed enough to engage it. Employees still feel pitted against each other for promotions and special assignments with some people who excelled in assignments being dropped out in favor of others. People still moving from one special assignment to the next without time spent in patrol in between. Employees at the highest levels avoiding investigations for allegations of off-duty misconduct.

Greer's invisibility is very noticeable and it's said that his relations with Blakely are somewhat on the passive aggressive side. They're equal in rank even as their responsibilities differ. And apparently internally, Greer's akin to the invisible man as well. He's probably the most quiet and soft spoken member of Diaz' management team by far but his withdrawal from being seen by anyone, is it a reflection of the dynamics? But maybe Greer's learned some history that preceded him including the dynamics that allegedly played out with Blakely and former Captain Lee Wagner.

His tenure at the department's been much more quieter than that of Vicino. The assistant chief who actually came in with chief's experience is very extroverted and out there at meetings even though most of his work is on the internal side of the department. Personality wise, he's the opposite of DeLaRosa and he's got his nose to the grindstone under Diaz' charge. He launched some changes in the department's internal affairs procedures earlier on including getting cases involving officers that had languished or put them on desk duty under review. Apparently, he highly criticized the handling of more than a few of them, overturned findings and disciplinary actions and tossed some out. This allegedly caused friction between him and Blakely who ran Internal Affairs under his roster of duties. Diaz mostly watched from his perch how this dynamic played out in between public appearances including his victory in a charity dancing competition at the Fox Theater. But in his old haunt, management is very separate from those it manages including those on its team so he had learned that role well and brought it to Riverside.

But he did allegedly change the procedure to where the captains would play larger roles in the disciplinary recommendation process and then forward their recommendations to Greer and Vicino bypassing Blakely. Some of the captains not surprisingly stumbled at these changes because they had been struggling at their ranks given the means to which some of them rose up through them under Leach. One captain waited until the 14th month period to decide to recommend the termination of two patrol officers while their onscene supervisor would get a two week suspension.

First of all, that exceeded the 12 month period allowable for discipline under state governmental code 3304(d) and second, it seemed peculiar perhaps to lay people that two officers would commit fireable offenses yet the sergeant who supervised them onscene would only get a brief suspension. One would think if what the officers did was so egregious enough to be fired that the sergeant could have reined them in before that happened. But anyway, some of the changes that Vicino made purportedly at the will of Diaz did add to the dynamic that had apparently developed between him and Blakely.

Orange Street Station has an interesting floor plan on the second floor with the different offices and how some of them adjoin each other. Diaz has his corner end office and his two main management team members residing there as well as civilian management also do as well. Some of these offices have doors between them which can be opened or closed, depending on the decision of whoever's in the office. Vicino apparently had his door opened when he first started working at Orange Street Station and Blakely walked inside his office pretty freely and pretty often. Even when Vicino had assigned his subordinate something to work on, Blakely came in frequently to talk to him about it. It apparently didn't take too long for the friction to develop between the two headstrong men. That and the changes that Diaz had instructed Vicino to carry out that impacted Blakely's own role in management.

Not much of this was on display as Diaz and his cabinet went out to the community to solicit input on the upcoming Strategic Plan. All four of them appeared to listen to community members and most of the time, Vicino led the forums with enthusiasm and energy. But later on, as the dynamic between Blakely and Vicino continued to develop, the two men allegedly had a very loud argument while walking to their city-issued vehicles in the parking lot of their headquarters. Then around that time, Vicino began to have more of a closed door policy with Blakely, to discourage the deputy chief from dropping by his office. But Blakely allegedly still managed to do so.

So in more recent weeks, Vicino allegedly took greater steps, using furniture and then apparently changing the locks to his door. Diaz' response to this isn't known but he's been taking a hands off view when it comes to the relations among those in his cabinet. And he's had his own challenging situations among his management team to deal with or not, including off-duty behavior involving one of his captains and a pair of lieutenants. One captain had a son who had been hired by the department after being released from probation by another agency while in the final month of training at the police academy. He was due to be sworn in to his position in Riverside and start field training when he got arrested for public intoxication and creating a disturbance in public with three other men. All four of them wound up locked up in the Corona Police Department jail and the captain allegedly called the watch commander to try to get his son released without a paper trail. When it came to light, his son was allegedly pressured to resign, which provides him the opportunity to work elsewhere because technically he failed to pass probation and no excuse or reason for termination is needed. Not long after that, two lieutenants including one at Orange Street station had a physical altercation at the house of one of them.

Diaz declined to do any investigation in that case citing it a private matter and allegedly when asked about whether or not they should be booked, said he didn't hear anything. That's in marked contrast to Officer Miguel Rivera and Det. Scott Impola who were both fired and Impola charged with misdemeanor offenses for off-duty physical altercations albeit by a different police chief. At least one of the lieutenants involved allegedly joked that he hadn't been in a fight that weekend or in the blog and yes, he can afford to do so because he can be in a fight and not be investigated for it. That reality carries a strong sense of entitlement and the joking is simply a reflection of that.

[Asst. Chief Chris Vicino back in his days in Pasadena where he served as interim chief twice]

[Chief Sergio Diaz sitting here with Deputy Chief Mike Blakely at an award ceremony last year but is Diaz now distancing himself from his deputy chief?]

But it's interesting this dynamic that's apparently playing out between Blakely and Vicino but puzzling too. After all, in the hierarchy of the department, the two men are not at equal levels. Vicino technically and through the pay scale outranks Blakely so why the conflict, and why was it allowed to get to the point that it apparently has gotten? If they were lower in rank and this was playing out, wouldn't it at some point be viewed as insubordination? But then maybe it's two dynamic personalities clashing but if it comes to Vicino allegedly deciding to change the locks for his office, what lies ahead for this tumultuous relationship? And was Diaz at Orange Street when the locksmith showed up to do the job, and if so what did he think?

Blakely's a very strong personality who was smart to avoid the whole "at will" contract issue. But the appearance of all four men at the recent honoring of the K9 officer was noticeable in terms of serving as a stark contrast to how they appeared earlier at the public forums connected with the Strategic Plan. Though in any type of engagement in a power of wills between the two men, it's very hard to dismiss Blakely who after all has survived three police chiefs not including those in acting or interim capacities.

Speaking of which, the Plan had been given to Blakely in 2010 to lead the creation of and he had diligently along with then Sgt. Jaybee Brennan presented an update of it at the Public Safety Committee in March of that year.

Over a year later, Diaz and Vicino would head off to City Hall to provide another update, through a power point which dealt with the five goals of what Vicino called a 30 page draft report. They were greeted with comments and questions by the committee.

Strategic Plan Unveiling

[Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz (l.) and Asst. Chief Chris Vicino (r.) unveil the update on the department's 2010-2015 Strategic Plan with administrative analyst Mario Lara sitting between them]

Riverside Chief Sergio Diaz and Asst. Chief Chris Vicino appeared at City Hall to attend the Public Safety Committee meeting in order to present on the nearly completed Strategic Plan which was to have encompassed 2010-2015. However, it stalled last year amid a chain of events that shook the department and the city. He talked about the five goals, the role of community policing (including programs like the youth court and the crime free multi-housing program) and why the officer level badge on the mission statement was changed to that of the chief's instead. He said he changed the badge on it to essentially say that the buck stops with the police chief when it comes to accountability. It certainly has in cases ranging from the incident in the river bottom involving police officers and a homeless encampment where he was rather public about to cases involving those in the higher ranks where he was more reticent and in at least one case chose not to investigate.

Diaz aided by Vicino outlined the emphasis on community policing, reestablishing programs like Crime Free Multi-Housing and Youth Court and focusing on youth, which were very important. Diaz spoke of crucial connections he had established with area organizations and religious institutions.

Some things were missing in the latest draft, which followed an earlier one completed in the spring of 2010 before Diaz arrived. That included the diversity plank which had been included in the earlier version but was apparently missing in this one, ironic given that the city's got open litigation involving a Black police sergeant who filed a lawsuit a month ago.

Diaz also commented on other topics including what he called the references by the public that every city's like Bell and that the city manager, Brad Hudson's the "anti-Christ". About how the criticisms of the public last year tore the department down and that he and others were building it up. Okay, there's only one way to respond to that which is to point out that what happened last year inside the department, was what the management at the time brought down on itself through its own decision making and actions carried out. No member of the public forced the last chief to drive heavily intoxicated and wreck his city issued car, nor did any city resident force the police department's management to have him driven home rather than arrested or at least sent home with a citation including a notice to appear in his pocket. No city resident forced guns to be first given away and then later sold illegally to two city management employees. The public didn't cause at least nine officers to be arrested in a 14 month period with six being prosecuted on various criminal charges during that time including the chief. No city resident forced the department to hand over asset forfeiture money to the city's general fund to possibly be laundered for inappropriate and illegal use and no one forced city department heads to joke about misusing that highly restricted fund at a public event. No city resident forced at least two city officials and a city management team from being heavily involved in the operations of the police department.

All we as city residents did is we spoke up in various venues and objected to all this abusive behavior which impacted city residents and over 600 employees inside the department. That's not being too critical, that's not sitting around in your underwear eating junk food, that's called doing your civic duty. Certainly if city management is forcing the department to engage in illegal behavior that attracts the investigative powers of the state's highest ranking law enforcement/prosecutory agency.

If you value public safety and your law enforcement agency, then you speak up when what happens last year happens, simple as that. The department's past management tore the department down on its own watch and it took some years to do that and it impacted everyone down to the two patrol officers who stopped their police chief and worried about the consequences for doing their jobs. The new management is hired with the task, the public's trust and ultimately the test of rebuilding it back up within five years after it exited a state consent decree.

The buck as Diaz said with his badge change ends at the top and he's right about that. But that applies to the management who preceded him just like it applies to the one that is currently working there only because of what transpired last year. If not for 2010, the three newest employees would be enjoying their retirements or in other jobs. They are here because of the failures of the prior management to keep the department from heading where it needed to go. The Strategic Plan should have a plank within it that assures the public that such behavior won't be repeated because accountability and professional integrity were two of the top qualities viewed as being absolutely necessary according to feedback processes both inside and outside of the department.

As Diaz and his cabinet deal with internal turmoil in their own rank which they try so hard to keep bottled up, they should remember that they picked up a mantle that was discarded by their predecessors.

Diaz being a latecomer to this saga can afford to make jokes about people calling his former boss, the "anti-christ", after all he didn't have to send letters to a state AG investigator explaining why his department as an unlicensed gun vendor was selling them to city employees. Now with Hudson gone, there's not much he has to think about when it comes to the shenanigans that Hudson and former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis engaged in during their tenures. His greater concern is the hiring of his new boss and to what degree, the new city manager wants to retain the current city department heads. It's not anticipated that the city would ever hire anyone who'd make major shifts in department management, given that it's going to be difficult enough for City Hall to come up with a version of the city's financial status that will be palatable to the candidates.

Diaz has chosen not to be a student of history and that's his choice. It's not the best one but he and the other non-students in his cabinet minus one who's lived it and learned have only given themselves half of the tools they need to do their work. Time will tell if that will be enough.

As for Bell, it stands on its own but the one lesson that should have been learned from its example, is the importance of remaining vigilant in the operations of one's government including the elected officials. The one city employee who watched Bell play out observed that it would have been better if there had been more active civic involvement in that city.

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