A darker shade of blue

Sept. 3, 2012

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — City officials across California typically spare police officers from even modest reductions in the pay and pension packages that are a leading cause of municipal budget problems, even when the alternatives are reduced public services or even municipal bankruptcy.

The common explanation is that politicians are afraid of the cop unions’ political muscle. That is true, but disturbing behavior by operatives associated with the Costa Mesa police union paints a much darker picture of the fear such unions instill in local officials.

Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer had finished speaking at a community meeting Aug. 22, and then headed to a pub owned by fellow Councilman Gary Monahan. Righeimer drank two diet sodas and drove home. Once in his house, a Costa Mesa cop showed up at his door and asked him to step outside and take a sobriety test, which he passed.

That a police officer can ask for a sobriety test after you have returned home is troubling enough, but the details of the case are even more astonishing.

A private investigator with connections to the law firm Lackie, Dammeier & McGill of Upland, which represents the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association and many other police unions across the state, called 911 and reported Righeimer as a possible drunken driver, representing himself as a concerned citizen. The caller said Righeimer stumbled out of the bar, even though surveillance cameras show no such thing. “He’s just swerving all over the road,” the caller told the dispatcher.

The investigator, Chris Lanzillo, a fired Riverside police officer who showed up at Righeimer’s house driving a car without license plates, said he was not on orders to follow Righeimer. The law firm issued a similar denial and promptly removed Lanzillo’s name from its website.

The Costa Mesa police union fired the law firm, moments before a city news conference. But this backpedaling is not credible. The law firm brags publicly about its brass-knuckle tactics, and its website features testimonials from unions thrilled by how its legal work brings city managers to their knees. There’s no sense believing anything said by a man whose statements in the police report about the Righeimer incident are not even close to reality.

The whole situation screams “setup.”

Extortion

“What you have here is police associations and their law firms hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on elected officials that they can then use to extort them, embarrass them, or worse, in order to get the elected official to vote against the best interests of the city to protect themselves,” Righeimer told me. “That’s the definition of extortion.”

The Costa Mesa City Council is gaining national attention for its willingness to challenge city employee unions. The council has passed pension reform and embraced job outsourcing. It recently approved the Civic Openness In Negotiations (COIN) ordinance, which subjects contract negotiations to a level of outside auditing and public disclosure that has infuriated unions.

It would have been an embarrassment had the union ensnared Righeimer, the ring leader of this reform movement, in a DUI. But this is the kind of behavior one expects from police states, or perhaps Mafia organizations.

It is not an isolated incident.

Recently, Orange County Register Watchdog reporter Tony Saavedra wrote about the “playbook” used by Lackie, Dammeier & McGill in its negotiations and, until recently, published on its website. These lawyers represent 120 police associations across California, and 19 of associations in Orange County, so these are typical tactics. The fake-DUI call occurred soon after Righeimer publicly criticized the law firm.

“Its primer for police negotiations is part swagger, part braggadocio and all insult in its portrayal of the public and the budget-conscious officials elected to represent them,” Saavedra reported. He gave this example from the playbook text: “The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of ‘do as I ask and don’t [expletive] me off.'”

The playback calls for work slowdowns, for mobbing council meetings with supporters of higher police funding, for scaring neighborhoods about crime problems by going to as many houses as possible, looking for suspects in minor crimes. It calls for putting the pressure on officials, gaining their loyalty and then moving on to the “next victim.” The treatment of Righeimer takes a page out of the book.

Police intimidation

At a news conference by Righeimer to spotlight the behavior of unions associated with Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, Councilman Fred Smith of Buena Park, who also has taken a tough stance on unions, said a uniformed officer entered a restaurant in his city, approached waitresses and demanded to know why there was a “Smith for Council” sign in the window. This, as police squad cars blocked the restaurant parking lot entrance.

Also at the news conference, elected officials shared examples of threatening statements and text messages by police union operatives. Councilman Monahan in the past has said police have staked out his bar and pulled over patrons as they leave, to harm his business.

“It’s a pretty dark side of American policing, and I have personally been a victim of this twisted cop behavior when I was police chief,” Joseph McNamara told me, after I mentioned Costa Mesa. He is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former police chief in Kansas City and San Jose. This “gangster cop” mentality, he said, becomes more prevalent during salary negotiations.

The solution? “Strong leadership, where the chief, the district attorney and even the feds if necessary treat this as a very serious crime against democracy itself,” McNamara said.

In addition to the “gangsters,” their consiglieres, such as Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, should be investigated as well.

It’s one thing for elected officials to be “taken out” at the ballot box. But quite another thing for them to be harassed, intimidated and set up on false charges by union operatives, sometimes acting under the color of authority, try to silence them.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is based in Sacramento.

Write to him at [email protected]

 

24 comments

Write a comment
  1. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 3 September, 2012, 10:36

    BOBA here is some pithy material to stress over!

    Someday you may realize Fox, Rush and CWD are paid handsomely as doom oracles!

    It is sick and preverse/unhealthy to take this continued onslaught seriously.

    Enjoy the Fall season.

    Reply this comment
  2. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 3 September, 2012, 12:23

    Well said U Haul— the bunker crew will have loads to spin about on this one!

    I think the tri lat comm boys may be in on this?

    Beck por vida’

    Ted

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 3 September, 2012, 14:57

    Well said Steve!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GED edcuared cops comping $200K to $300K with OT is the scam of the century…………..ending soon though.

    Reply this comment
  4. Donkey
    Donkey 3 September, 2012, 15:34

    Great article Steven! The process you have written about was created by the PS RAGWUS feeders to complete their conquest of the purse strings at every level of govenment.

    I have pesonnaly seen off duty police officers, that are not citizens of the city for which they are employed, sit in on council meeting and record what transpires. I have seen this information used to both intimidate non-elected citizens and politicians at the city level.

    This is a prime example why the PS RAGWUS needs to be liquidated, and sent to the trashbin of history!!

    There is no doubt that the simple math of the problem will bring an end to these crooks. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 3 September, 2012, 15:40

    Are you serious?

    Shocked!!!

    Reply this comment
  6. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 3 September, 2012, 16:07

    I hear the cops make upwards of 500k not including the billion dollar pensions and the private jets they are given!

    Reply this comment
  7. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 3 September, 2012, 16:07

    Oh Greeny—– zzzzzzzzzzzz—–same old deal.

    Reply this comment
  8. Tax Target
    Tax Target 3 September, 2012, 16:51

    Almost sounds like the Gestapo to me. Police intimidation is absolutely unacceptable. The Occupy crowd certainly thinks so. Hmmmm… I wonder if some here are thinking double standard? I am.

    Reply this comment
  9. Bob
    Bob 3 September, 2012, 17:39

    Scary stuff. But I guess it is to be expected. What is going on in Costa Mesa is not unique.

    What can one expect when every major institution in this society is corrupt?

    Reply this comment
  10. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 3 September, 2012, 17:55

    I hear the cops make upwards of 500k not including the billion dollar pensions and the private jets they are given!

    This is true Uhaul….errr Teddy 😉 ….. how else would a dumb GED educated FF get $300K PER YEAR in just a pension??????

    Craig Bowen;
    http://www.contracostatimes.com/danielborenstein/ci_12265599

    Reply this comment
  11. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 3 September, 2012, 20:37

    Yes 500k per anum in salary alone!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  12. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 3 September, 2012, 20:38

    Hey Greenie– I didn’t read the whole article— What was TRighties blood alc level? Was he hammered?

    Reply this comment
  13. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 3 September, 2012, 22:30

    Actually the cop hater posts are rather boring…yawn!

    Reply this comment
  14. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 4 September, 2012, 00:24

    $500K is very possible with OT!

    Reply this comment
  15. Edward Steele, Chief Investigator
    Edward Steele, Chief Investigator 4 September, 2012, 08:55

    500kmbase PLUS 300 to 400k overtime PLUS benees is what I make.

    Reply this comment
  16. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 September, 2012, 09:49

    Teddy….shocked….had no idea you’re struggling with your budget so much.

    Your a magician!

    Reply this comment
  17. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 4 September, 2012, 10:27

    Its possible Teddy, f a GED FF can get a $300K pension at age 51 then 500kmbase PLUS 300 to 400k overtime PLUS benees ois easily in the ball park 😉

    Reply this comment
  18. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 September, 2012, 11:11

    Poor Poodle…on recycled K-rats in Randsburg….not a pleasant existence!

    Reply this comment
  19. Edward Steele, Chief Investigator
    Edward Steele, Chief Investigator 4 September, 2012, 13:35

    Poodle– I am telling you– I make 1 mil a year as a cop— plus my pension and other bennees—- wake up. I could buy you a dough boy pool for your trailer!

    Reply this comment
  20. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 4 September, 2012, 14:19

    Teddy, you’re no cop…meter maid-maybe, cop NO WAY JOSE 🙂

    BOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  21. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 September, 2012, 14:22

    I’ll throw in a 99¢ Store Moldavian snorkle!

    Reply this comment
  22. Edward Steele, Chief Investigator
    Edward Steele, Chief Investigator 4 September, 2012, 16:03

    That’s right Poodle—- I am no cop……mmmmmmmm….lol……if you only knew…..and you want to …..real bad……cause—— I live in your tiny skull!

    Reply this comment
  23. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 4 September, 2012, 17:53

    I owe you rent teddy for living in your rea sized brian 🙂

    Reply this comment
  24. sg
    sg 4 September, 2012, 17:58

    Steve, in an age void of heroes, you are filling that void. Thank You.

    While you’re at it, go after the traffic judges/cops/sheriffs that are shaking down the populace, and jointly making sure that anyone that tries to fight a ticket loses.

    For the first time, I went to fight a ticket a year ago. The situation by the sheriff was agregious and worth fighting. I sat through 60 cases where at least 12 of the defendents were credible, very well prepared. Reasonable doubt was undoubtable. Not one case dismissed. None. Nada. Statistically, this is almost impossible.

    You should have seen the charade. When the sheriffs forgot their lines, the judge jumped in every time to assist them.

    Taxation without representation. Another rouse to keep the money coming in to keep their pensions in healthy condition.

    The sad thing. Think about it. Who is most likely to fight a ticket? The outraged – me. But mostly the poor folks that can least afford it.

    Steve, keep lansing the boil and let the pus out.

    Reply this comment

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