By Tommy Purvis
It was more than a bit ironic when Hemet Public Safety Director Andy Hall crashed a second car in several weeks with untraceable license plates on his way to work in late August. It was illegal. California state law clearly restricts a civilian from the use of a vehicle with so called “cold plates.” The special law enforcement plates on the Ford Five Hundred Hall navigated to work after he declined city housing is meant solely for use in undercover police work only. The often repeated uh-oh moment comes after the discovery last year that newly hired City Manager Brian Nakamura was also in possession of a car with cold plates, along with longtime former council member Robin Lowe.
The issue in Hemet was first brought to the light and was supposed to be handled through administrative channels after local activist Howard Tounget agitated the community at a city council meeting last summer. He took photos of the Toyota Highlander that he said Lowe would often drive for personal business at a fundraiser for then-gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Assemblyman Paul Cook. Lowe defended the use of the car at the fundraiser due to her position as the president of the League of California Cities. Former Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana said he did not want the cars to have the typical government plates that feature a capitol “E” in a diamond because he felt they were unsafe for city leaders to drive home.
Both the Hemet city hall and the police department has made a good faith effort to put the most recent case of cold plate misuse out of sight in a increasingly long lineup of similar and worse incidents in Riverside County. But the under-the-radar transfer of police powers to city hall executives that are increasingly influenced by corporate special interest proves it is indeed a brave new world for any person in the IE that might want to step up to fight city hall, county corruption or even wage an occupation.
Consider a deposition in regards to police labor issues of former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach—who retired after an investigation into his arrest for drunken driving—that reveals a plot one would expect to see in the sequel to the film Training Day with peace officer powers given to city hall staffers. In this case Leach had to drop the dime that the former Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson, and two of his assistants, Tom DeSantis and Michael Beck, were given cold plate vehicles to drive, police ID badges, concealed weapon permits and a semi-automatic Glock .40 and 9mm.
Hudson now works as Sacramento County’s executive officer and Beck is the city manager for Pasadena.
The current and former police chiefs and executives of Hemet and Riverside all claim ignorance to the law or the fact that cold plates were being used in unlawful capacities. It seems to be an outlandish claim from Hall who was the former police chief of Westminster. The state attorney general office was not compelled to files any charges. But an investigation that resulted in the powers and tools being taken away from the Riverside city staff did take place. The city maintains that guns and police ID badges were never used on the streets.
“There was no malicious intent,” says recently sworn-in Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown in the latest round of cold plate controversy. He, unlike City Manager Brian Nakamura—who chose to hide behind his secretary after numerous unreturned phone calls and a few office visits—was available and courteous. He explains that the both the Ford and Highlander that Hall drove—either without lights, sirens or radio communication—already had cold plates when they were mistakenly transferred from the police fleet to the city fleet with second-class exempt license plates.
Still, the circumstances should be enough for any activist that wants to highlight corruption at their city hall to take a brief walk through the parking lot on the way to the council chambers.
One never knows what can be found in the vehicles that park up close in the reserve parking spots. (Tommy A. Purvis)