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Controversy over chief's accident is a setback for Riverside Police Department

Russ Leach was credited with implementing sweeping reforms. But the department's handling of the crash that led to his resignation has some worried that progress will be undermined.

February 21, 2010|By Mike Anton

The main source of concern are limits that have been placed on the Community Police Review Commission to independently investigate officer-related deaths. In 2008, the City Council voted that the commission could no longer use city funds to initiate such investigations until after law enforcement agencies finish their probes and deliver their reports. Having the commission investigating concurrently could jeopardize a criminal case, city officials said.

But Beeman said the move undermined the commission's job of providing accountability. Four officer- related deaths are under investigation by authorities; all occurred more than a year ago. By the time the independent commission gets a crack at them, Beeman said, the cases will be stone cold.

How the city handles the investigation into Leach's accident will say a lot about where Riverside's once deeply troubled police force stands today, she and others said.

"There's this whole perception by the public of police covering up for one another," Dunn said. "The public could easily see this as slipping back to the behavior patterns of a different time and be left wondering whether those behaviors had ever changed."

mike.anton@latimes.com

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