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  Richmond Deserves Better City Council Behavior
April 24, 2013

I would think people who watch Richmond City Council meetings have noticed that the meetings have become increasingly dysfunctional. Last night was one of the worst yet. This chaotic behavior is embarrassing for the city and has to have a negative impact on the city’s prospects for luring jobs, businesses and productive residents. Richmond really deserves better.

There is a complete lack of respect for the function and authority of the chair to conduct meetings. Members talk whenever they want to without being recognized, continually interrupting persons who have the floor.

Using the city council venue for members to make personal attacks on other members is not acceptable. Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, adopted by the City Council many years ago, states, “Debate on policy is healthy; debate on personalities is not. The chair has the right to cut off discussion that is too personal, is too loud, or is too crude.”

Rosenberg also states, “…it is up to the chair and the members of the body to maintain common courtesy and decorum.”

I have been on the City Council 18 years, and this is the worst I have ever seen – by far. Over the years, we have had infrequent episodes of decorum lapses, some of which I freely admit to participating in, but we have never had anything like this that continues from meeting to meeting and just gets worse and worse.

I lay about 95% of the blame on Corky Booze, who has developed a pattern of incessantly interrupting, speaking out of turn, personally attacking and insulting other members of the City Council from the dais and engaging in lengthy harangues often unrelated to the business at hand. The rest of the blame lies with councilmembers Bates, Rogers and Myrick who enable Booze by failing to support the chair‘s authority. Myrick likes to characterize himself as someone who can make peace between factions, but the fact is that he is just making things worse. His naivety is starting to show. Similarly, Rogers believes that he can continue to straddle the fence with impunity, floating above the fray and joining with Booze often enough to keep him off his case.

For me, this will not work any longer. I am not going to participate in a City Council that is as chaotic as this one has become. I left the meeting early last night just to get away from it all.

I am also appalled by the conduct of members of the audience who clap, hoot and holler during the testimony of almost every speaker. They also interrupt and shout out from the floor. We saw some of this in past years, but it was sporadic and usually connected with an event or issue of considerable or unique community controversy. Now it happens all the time, and certain councilmembers tend to encourage it. We have very little authority to limit what speaker say, and I don’t think we should try to do it, but we can set a standard ourselves that may result in more decorum from the public.

I am urging the mayor to begin the next meeting by stating that Rosenberg’s Rules of Order will be strictly enforced by the chair and if any council member speaks without being recognized or participates in personal attacks, she will immediately recess the meeting to give members an opportunity to reflect on their actions and hopefully improve their conduct before reconvening.
Regarding last night’s first action item, listed on the agenda by author Corky Booze as “Receive a presentation and provide direction to staff on proposed initiatives in support of gun control policy,” a PowerPoint presentation was prepared by a staff person entitled “Strengthen and Mobilize the Richmond Community by Initiating Strict Gun Control Laws.” See http://sireweb.ci.richmond.ca.us/sirepub/cache/2/n1rb1qbj3szh0yszx0vkmxnb/36729904242013041911676.PDF for a copy.
Booze explained that he was motivated by Richmond homicides, which are actually trailing last year’s statistics, and particularly by a double homicide recently in Parchester Village. In the audience were a number of people speaking in favor of the item, many of whom had been personally touched by the gun deaths of loved ones.
The problem is that the presentation on the item provided not a single recommendation for gun control in Richmond, an area that is already pretty much preempted by state and federal law, currently highly contentious and politicized at those levels. Nether Booze nor anyone else was able to explain exactly what they had in mind for gun control in Richmond. They just wanted to do something and thought this would motivate staff to come back with something no one has ever thought of before.
Furthermore, the item gave false hope to those affected by homicides that there would be some effective new initiative to curb shootings in Richmond. This was nothing more than pandering demagoguery by Booze. Worse, Jim Rogers and Jael Myrick went along with him, as was expected, Nat Bates, moving the item to the head of the agenda for a lengthy discussion that postponed other critical business items until well after midnight.
I voted against it because there was no substance to the item whatsoever. I take violence just as seriously as any other council member, but I cannot support a vote for a measure that has no meat in it. Even Booze supporter Don Gosney criticized it as “too vague.”
Below is a story by Robert Rogers about the “gun control” item, followed by an email from Chief Magnus discussing how the Police Department deals with gun violence and homicides.
Richmond to explore local gun control measures
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted:   04/23/2013 09:55:07 PM PDT
Updated:   04/24/2013 03:20:57 PM PDT

RICHMOND -- The city may be poised to jump into the national gun debate but exactly how remains unclear, and local law enforcement officials cautioned Wednesday that the approach may be misguided.
The City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to direct staff to develop a plan to "draft initiatives on gun control" and "support gun control laws."
"Our objective is to stop young people from getting killed in the city of Richmond," said Councilman Corky Boozé, the motion's author.
But Boozé's measure drew criticism from law enforcement leaders Wednesday who said local government's can't supersede state law.
"Our department is currently enforcing every available state and federal law related to
A Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum handgun is among the items in the property locker at the police department in Richmond, Calif. Wednesday, March 25, 2010. The department unveiled plans to more aggressively prosecute misdemeanor weapons cases at a City Council meeting Tuesday night. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)
gun violence," said police Chief Chris Magnus. "Unfortunately, our challenges in Richmond run deeper than what can be solved with new city ordinances."
In his directive, Boozé called on city staff to draft a local ordinance to "support strict gun control laws and federal and state funding to support them," among other actions, including a gun-buyback program.
Contra Costa County deputy district attorney Barry Grove said state gun laws are already among the toughest in the nation. "You can't create a local ordinance that is inconsistent with state law," Grove wrote in an email. "Also, any local gun-related ordinance would, at best, be an infraction or a misdemeanor, with penalties far less than existing state law."
The motion comes on the heels of a bloody month in Richmond, including two shootings in Parchester Village in a 48-hour period last week that left two teenagers dead and a 24-year-old man wounded.
Lori Reese-Brown, a staff member in City Manager Bill Lindsay's office, delivered a presentation outlining Richmond's struggles with gun violence and suggesting what she said should be a "citywide" effort to reduce gun proliferation and violence.
"Children and adults are afraid to visit friends and family in other parts of the city," Reese-Brown said.
Councilman Tom Butt was the lone dissenter in Tuesday's vote.
"I appreciate the seriousness of the situation, but I would really like more specifics. Richmond has done about the most we can do," Butt said, adding that the city has no jurisdiction over state and federal gun laws.
"Everything I have heard mentioned is a violation of some law on the books," Butt said.
Boozé was undeterred, saying that he wanted staff to "come up with an ordinance, whether it deals with bullet (sales), AK-47s or young people stopped with guns in their cars."
Several residents joined Butt in expressing skepticism.
Resident Don Gosney said Boozé's approach was too vague.
"I'm unsure what an anti-noise ordinance has to do with this," Gosney said, noting another provision in the proposal. "The inevitable court challenges will cost the city money."
But many residents, including some who have lost loved ones to gun violence, expressed support. Councilman Nat Bates said he hoped staff could craft something the council could consider in the coming months.
"Doing nothing is not an option," Bates said. "Let's just try something."
The specter of the Parchester Village shootings hung over the proceedings. Boozé' is a longtime advocate for the small housing tract, which was one of the first in the city to sell houses to blacks in the 1950s.
On April 18, Mercedes Williams, 19, and her brother Airian Holly, 16, were standing outside a home with a group of others in the 4100 block of McGlothen Way when two men walked up at 9:44 p.m. and began firing, according to Richmond police.
Two nights later, in what police believe was a related shooting, a 24-year-old man was shot several times as he sat in his car in the 600 block of Harrison Street. The victim hit the gas to escape and came to rest on McGlothen Way, near where the teens had been killed. He is expected to survive.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.

Dear City Council and other Richmond Community Members:

We have recently seen an increase in gun violence in Richmond—much of it associated with gang activity, some of it simply a result of “personal beefs” between individuals.  Unfortunately, gun violence frequently occurs in clusters--in many cases because incidents of retaliation follow the initial shooting—and are very difficult to prevent.

I am often asked how the Police Department investigate these gun violence cases, especially homicides, and why they are difficult to prevent and solve.  Here are some of the strategies and tools we use, as well as some of the challenges we face:

Community Engagement:  As an ongoing effort, well before a homicide or other gun crime even takes place, our patrol and School Resource Officers (SROs) are out in the community doing their best to build relationships, establish trust, make contact with neighborhood residents, and develop information about dangerous individuals who pose a threat to others.  This is key to both preventing and solving crimes.
Obviously, the community quickly hears about serious crimes after they occur through the media, neighborhood blogs, and word of mouth.  What most residents don’t know are the many crimes that are prevented because beat officers and SROs develop information or engage in proactive field work which allows them to intervene ahead of the crime.  These officers will make a key arrest, confiscate a gun (our officers take an average of a gun off the street each day), or conduct “compliance checks” to assure probationers and parolees are following the rules that allow them to be back in the community.
Our personnel work closely with many community organizations that provide services, or have a mission to prevent violence. They also engage the faith community, school personnel, and everyday residents to prevent and solve gun crimes whenever possible.

Partnerships with other Law Enforcement Entities:  RPD personnel work with many other police, corrections, and prosecution entities to address violent crime in Richmond.  This includes local jurisdictions close to us like San Pablo PD, El Cerrito PD, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department (CCSO), BART PD, and others.  It also includes the Contra Costa County Probation Department (especially important based on the recent realignment of California’s corrections system that shifts responsibility for many offenders away from the state and to the counties instead), as well the CDCR (State Corrections) Parole Section.  RPD also has a close relationship with personnel from several federal agencies, including the FBI, ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), the DEA, and Customs (although we have no involvement with ICE—the immigration section of Customs).
Lastly, we work closely with county, state, and federal prosecution agencies, including the Contra Costa District Attorney, the State Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Most of our violent crime cases, including homicides, are prosecuted (or evaluated for prosecution) under State law by the D.A.’s Office.  Certain gun crimes are referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution under federal law when more serious sentencing options are appropriate based on a pattern of ongoing violent crimes committed by the offender. 

            Although the media often refer to many crimes in our immediate area as having been “committed in Richmond”, a great deal of our retaliatory gang violence involves young men who live or hang out in unincorporated North Richmond—which is not part of the City.  Because of this, a significant number of gun crimes associated with our larger community are the responsibility of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department.
This means it’s essential that RPD work closely with the Sheriff’s Department.  When a shooting occurs, it’s not uncommon for the perpetrators to flee from Richmond into North Richmond, or vice versa.  This complicates our ability to make arrests and close cases, but despite this reality, our officers and detectives communicate on an ongoing basis with CCSO deputies and investigators.  We also work regularly with investigators from the D.A.’s Office.
            The City of Richmond contracts with the D.A.’s Office to have two assistant D.A.s in our headquarters who focus exclusively on Richmond gun crimes and other criminal cases.  They work with our patrol officers and detectives to give special attention to repeat violent offenders.  They review cases, provide immediate feedback, answer questions, and provide training for our personnel that make our officers more effective in dealing with violent crime.
The D.A. convenes regular meetings to discuss Richmond homicides and crime trends. These meetings involve not only RPD personnel, but lead investigators from other local, state, and federal jurisdictions.  In addition, as a result of a new protocol put in place in August of 2011, the D.A.s assigned to Richmond respond to most homicide scenes to provide assistance as needed.  This can help with prosecution efforts later.

Crime Scene Investigations and Evidence Processing:  Our department has 13 officers specifically trained as Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs).  These personnel are available 24/7 and respond to the scene of all homicides and many other violent crimes.  CSIs have many important responsibilities.  They document the physical nature and characteristics of crime scenes, which is painstaking and can be quite time consuming.  This typically involves taking photographs, collecting ballistic evidence (bullet casings, unexpended rounds, etc.), gathering other evidence (clothing, items left behind by the offender), taking latent prints when appropriate, and working closely with the other investigators at the scene. 
            Processing crime scenes and evidence is very little like what’s portrayed on television.  Evidence handling at a crime scene is complex.  For example, people sometimes wonder why the body of the deceased isn’t moved or taken away from the scene of a homicide more quickly.  They may perceive this as disrespect or lack of caring by the officers.  What they don’t realize is that a detailed inspection of the deceased at the scene--including the position of the body, bullet entry and exit wounds, condition of the deceased’s clothing, and many other factors--can be key to solving a case later on.  It is a lengthy process.  In addition, it usually takes time for the County Coroner to respond to homicide scenes to do their job. 
            The Department’s CSIs pay close attention to ballistic evidence at the scene.  There may be numerous bullet casings, and even unexpended rounds, spread around a wide area that need to be collected.  In some cases, a gun may be located—occasionally one that belonged to the victim.
            We hear a lot about DNA evidence through the media.  On television, DNA processing of evidence occurs in minutes and is usually matched right away to a known criminal—facilitating an immediate arrest.  In reality, many DNA cases take months to be processed. There is not necessarily a match to anyone—since the DNA data-base is limited to persons who have DNA samples taken from them at the time of a previous arrest or who are in the data-base for other reasons.  DNA analysis is extremely expensive for the submitting agency. 
            Crime labs are overwhelmed with evidence from Richmond and other cities in the county.  One of the frustrations for our investigators is the time it takes to get lab results.  Physical evidence can be one of the strongest parts of a criminal case, yet it is not uncommon for months to pass before analysis results related to key pieces of evidence comes back to investigators.  This can delay the ability to link a suspect to a crime, assuming a suspect has been identified.

Time is of the essence in these cases.  If witnesses are not contacted as soon as possible, it may be impossible to identify or locate them later on.  You may have heard of, or watched the TV show, “The First 48”—which portrays how critical it is to gather evidence and identify witnesses during the first 48 hours following the crime.  When it comes to engaging with witnesses, however, the process would better be called “The First 48 Minutes.”  The more time that passes following a homicide or serious shooting, the more difficult it is to identify and locate witnesses.
            When investigators fail to locate helpful witnesses initially, they make every effort to continue this process in the weeks and months that follow the crime.  Sometimes, important leads come from informants (also known as “Confidential Informants” or “CIs”).  Sometimes information comes from neighbors or other eye witnesses close to the scene of the crime who may need persuasion or reassurance over time to get involved.  Sometimes information comes from a family member or associate of the suspect(s) who develop a motivation to work with the police.  There are cases, however, where no one comes forward and no one can be identified to interview.  This is  a problem because eye witnesses are equally as valuable as physical evidence in shooting cases.
            A major problem we face in dealing with witnesses is that they are not always reliable.  Sometimes a witness has such a lengthy criminal record and/or such questionable motivation, there is little chance a prosecutor can put them on the stand to testify, for fear they might actually jeopardize the case.  Another problem can be locating witnesses later on (for preliminary exams or trial, for example) because individuals may leave the area, become uncooperative, or generally make themselves as scarce as possible to avoid testifying.
            On TV and in the movies, witnesses not associated with the suspect or victim almost always seem to pick the suspect(s) out of a photo or police line-up.  In reality, witnesses may only catch a fleeting glance of a suspect; it may be dark; clothing worn by the suspect(s) may make it difficult to see them; and things often happen incredibly fast during the commission of a crime.  Eye-witness testimony is not always reliable, so investigators and prosecutors have to be very careful about how this evidence is developed and used.
            On a positive note, because of the relationships many of our officers have developed with the community, it is not uncommon for beat officers and SROs to be told about the “word on the street” going around about a particular shooting.  This information may not be enough to make a solid case against a suspect, but it can provide us with a starting point for further investigation.

Who decides about charging a suspect?  If a suspect is actually identified and there is probable cause for an arrest, a state or federal prosecutor must still make a decision about whether there is enough evidence to obtain a signed warrant from a judge and ultimately to try the case in court.
Many people believe the police make charging decisions that involve suspects, but this is not how the system works.  Charges against suspects have to be made by prosecutors—and prosecutors base their charging decisions on multiple factors.  It is not uncommon for a district attorney or federal prosecutor to send a case back to detectives requesting “more information or follow-up” before they will move forward with prosecution.
In some instances, it is simply not possible for detectives to obtain additional information, so a case may be stalled for months or even years.  This is often extremely disappointing to family members or friends of the victim, who may believe a case is “going nowhere” because the police and/or prosecutors “simply don’t care.”  This is simply not true.  Nothing makes officers and detectives more frustrated than “knowing” who committed a crime, yet not having sufficient evidence to get a suspect charged and tried in court.  This is not an uncommon occurrence in Richmond homicide cases.
Prosecutors are legally and morally obligated to not file charges against a suspect unless they believe they can convince a jury of 12, beyond a reasonable doubt, of the suspect’s guilt.  People often ask why charges aren’t filed in an effort to make a suspect go to trial, even if the prosecutor knows the trial will end in an acquittal.  The reason for this is that such conduct could be construed as malicious prosecution.

Resources:  Almost every police agency believes it needs more resources to solve (and of course, prevent) homicides and other serious gun crimes.  The plain truth, however, is that the need for additional resources (especially personnel) is much greater in Richmond than many other communities, simply because of the amount of gang violence and the overall challenges of crime in the city.
            When I ask members of the public how many sworn police officers we have in Richmond, I get answers like “1,000”, or “500.”  We actually have 195 sworn personnel, which includes everyone from the newest recruit (who may still need to go through a Basic Police Academy or be partnered up with a training officer for on-the-job training) all the way up to me--the Chief.  About 90 of our personnel are patrol officers (about another 20 are supervisors:   patrol sergeants and lieutenants)—and about between 15-30 of these personnel are on duty at any given time patrolling the entire city.  The remainder of our sworn staff are detectives, officers assigned to special details like the Regulatory Unit or Recruiting and Training, as well as Administrative personnel.  In addition, most people do not realize that we always have personnel on leave days, vacation, going through mandatory training, recovering from injuries or on long-term disability, and otherwise away from the job for a myriad of reasons.
            There are approximately a dozen investigators available to handle homicides, although about half of them are primarily assigned to work robberies.  Homicides tend to come in groups, so the reality is that these personnel can be spread very thin.  Homicide investigators may be called out day or night, 7 days a week, and then work long, long hours to follow-up on a murder or serious shooting in that key period following the crime(s).
            Thanks to the support of the City Council and the City Manager, RPD has been fortunate that our overall staffing levels have increased over the past 7 years.  Despite these increases; however, we are still staffed below what a city with our level of crime ideally needs.
            Our department utilizes a variety of technologies to assist us with the investigation of violent crime, including Crime Lab services (which come with a hefty price tag through the Sheriff’s Department), Closed Circuit TV (also expensive and complicated to operate, maintain, and monitor), ShotSpotter (which triangulates gunfire to provide the location and type of gun being fired—but it can’t help with the fact that shooters generally don’t stick around for the police!), and license plate readers (LPRs).  Residents often assume these technologies are available and functioning throughout the entire city, but because of cost, they are mostly limited to neighborhoods with higher levels of violent crime.  This is frustrating to many members of the public and police officers alike, who wish there was a camera or a gunshot sensor available and operating in every area where crimes occur.

            The Department also relies on our crime analysis resources, including our ability to track field contacts, provide timely crime data to our personnel, and conduct meaningful analysis of crime trends.  We have one Crime Analyst who works behind the scenes with our officers and detectives to track serious crimes, including gang activity.  This has to be done carefully and accurately to protect people’s rights and to be most effective
Thanks to recent action by the City Council, the Department is contracting for a service known as “Predictive Policing,” which is being successfully used in other cities, such as Los Angeles and New York City, to utilize complex algorithms in predicting where future crimes are likely to occur so greater resources can be placed in these locations.  It sounds like science fiction, but this process has a track record of proven positive results.

Ceasefire:  The Richmond Police Department is part of the Ceasefire—Lifelines to Healing working group and overall effort.  The Ceasefire program cannot prevent all homicides, but it is recognized as a “best practice” around the country to reduce shootings.  The Ceasefire program involves police detectives and other key individuals identifying persons involved in, or at high risk for committing, gun violence.  These individuals are then “called in” to participate in a discussion about the law enforcement consequences (greater police attention, enhanced prosecution efforts, etc.) for continuing to commit shootings.  They also hear an important message from the community, which is that people care about them and that a support system exists to help them turn their lives around.  This effort involves community groups, service providers, the faith community, formerly incarcerated individuals, and many others. 
            There are no instant or magical outcomes associated with the Ceasefire program, but real prevention and long-term successes are hard to measure and difficult to achieve.  This program requires the persistent dedication and commitment of many people and groups.  It also requires sufficient funding and resources to provide effective interventions.  To provide sustainable interventions, shooters who want to make major life changes often need life-skills training, employment, mental health and substance abuse services, anger management and conflict resolution skills, education, and other assistance.  Few of these services are available to the degree they are needed in our community, despite the best efforts of many groups and people.

No Giving Up:  Here’s one especially important thing I’d like people to know about our homicide investigations:  We don’t give up.  Homicide cases are never closed.  Even when evidence is very limited and no witnesses have come forward; even when we have exhausted all leads—unsolved homicide cases remain open in case information or evidence is developed later (sometimes years later) that helps us solve a case and charge a suspect.
            A good example of this is a 2009 homicide case that our investigators just made an arrest on.  We know how important this kind of closure is to victims’ families and friends.  It’s also important to our personnel, who have often spent several thousand hours investigating a case.  Our personnel are invested in these cases.
            Another important thing to keep in mind:  The Department offers a standing $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who committed any homicide—even a homicide many years ago.  Lesser rewards may be available for critical information that helps us with other serious shooting cases.

I hope this information has helped explain the ongoing work and challenges faced by the police (and others) in addressing the problem of gun violence in our community.  This work is difficult and there are many obstacles to achieving success.  We are fortunate to have considerable support, and an ongoing commitment for this work, from our City Council and other regional elected leaders.  We also have a caring group of residents who are highly invested in this effort.  That said, nothing is easy—and our needs remain considerable.  I appreciate your time in learning more about these issues and your willingness to partner with us as we move forward.

Chris Magnus
Chief of Police