Police reluctantly OKs reform; vote averts federal intervention, but members are critical of the plan to deal with racial and rights issues
Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer
(RIVERSIDE, Calif.) -- Displeased but unwilling to take its fight to court, the Riverside City Council on Tuesday grudgingly adopted a plan by California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to rid the city's troubled Police Department of racism and civil rights violations.
Reacting largely to the 1998 shooting of a black woman, Tyisha Miller, by four white officers--an incident that created an uproar and exposed a racial divide in Riverside--Lockyer plans to oversee a far-reaching reform plan over the next five years.
It marks the first time in California that the attorney general's office has imposed such a plan on a police department, a role typically reserved for the federal government.
Lockyer's plan--which sets aside the need for federal intervention provided Riverside aggressively pursues the reforms--is designed to increase training, supervision and monitoring in the Police Department.
It is designed to improve the city's methods of collecting and analyzing complaints from citizens and increase methods of documenting uses of force.
Video cameras will be installed in squad cars--a step that has been taken in many communities, largely to combat racial profiling.
Lockyer's plan also calls for showing daily roll calls on closed-circuit TV to improve monitoring of officers. Senior officers, including Police Chief Russell Leach, will watch the roll calls, and the attorney general's office may also watch periodically.
Much of the attorney general's investigation leading to the reform plan focused on the 45-minute roll calls that begin each shift. Leach said the roll calls, typically held at 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., had become a "breeding ground for racial issues and discriminatory comments."
Lockyer was armed with a new state law explicitly granting him the authority to bring litigation against practices of law enforcement agencies that violate civil rights.
"I'm doing my job," Lockyer said in a conference call with reporters after the City Council accepted his plan. "I have a responsibility under the law to see that every person's civil rights are protected."
Many in Riverside believe that the city has taken substantive strides on its own to rid its Police Department of bad cops and racism since Miller's death.
And some residents and city officials believe that Lockyer's move is the beginning of a dangerous trend: interfering with local government. Many officials have said they were tempted to fight Lockyer's plan to the point that they have openly discussed the names of attorneys they could hire.
But the attorney general insisted that he would take the case to court and win, and the City Council voted to adopt the plan.
As Councilwoman Terri Thompson said before voting for the plan: "I'm going to fold."
Indeed, many city officials said there wasn't much choice.
"What we heard today was a lot of pride," said Leach, who was hired five months ago as part of the city's independent campaign to improve the Police Department and its relationship with minority communities.
"I am absolutely positive that he would have filed a lawsuit. There was no choice, really."
Even most of the City Council members who voted to adopt the plan were skeptical of the notion that Lockyer's proposal was a "partnership"--a "partnership," said Councilman Chuck Beaty, "in which trust is hardly a consideration."
"We've been presented a deal that we can't afford to refuse," Beaty said.
Councilman Ed Adkinson disagreed and was the only one to vote against accepting Lockyer's plan. He said the city has spent more time and money defending a city ordinance that restricts the operating hours of a local pool hall.
"It's been gnawing at me," he said. "I don't think Lockyer has the right to require a higher standard for Riverside than in other cities. That right lies with the people of this city. The leadership of the city belongs to the people of Riverside, and not to the attorney general."
That has changed--at least as far as reforming the Police Department goes.
The reform package will cost the city about $785,000 this year, and $275,000 each year after that. The Police Department has an annual budget of about $50 million.
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