Chief Lewis Defends the SVPD

I’m used to taking the unpopular position, so I’ll go ahead and say this: I don’t believe the SVPD has done anything wrong in their handling of the Takasugi fraud case, the controversial criminal complaint regarding Mayor Huber’s former law associate. And these aren’t just my miscellaneous thoughts on the subject. I believe I have asked the right people the right questions to better understand the situation as well as the investigative process and required resources for such cases.

Even though I was on vacation last week, I was still tuned in enough to be thoroughly disappointed when the Ventura County Star decided to run another story on the SVPD where the City Council requests a third party investigation on their handling of the Takasugi case. The story shed no light on any new facts or information and seemed to only keep the topic fresh on the minds of Simi Valley readers. I wasn’t the only one who saw it this way.

Chief Mike Lewis has drafted a response to be published in the Ventura County Star. He lays out the facts regarding the timeline of events as well as the resources allocated to the investigation. Understandably, his frustration is evident regarding the story’s constant revival in our local paper.

When we’re not in the midst of an election cycle, I’m proud to say that I’m a supporter of our City Council. But I don’t always agree with every stand they take, either as a unified Council or individually. I hope that our City Council can let this issue rest for now and I think they really have since mentioning this issue several weeks back. Even better, I’d hope the Ventura County Star can ease up until there’s something new and relevant to report. There’s an awful lot we don’t know about how these cases are investigated, not to mention an even bigger issue regarding available resources and concerns about mandatory job rotations. Rather than open Pandora’s box, I propose we all rest easy and let this play itself out.

Here are Chief Mike Lewis’s thoughts on the matter:

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

For many weeks now, the 195 fine men and women of the Simi Valley Police Department have been maligned regarding the alleged delay of a complex fraud investigation.  Normally, our internal review and a subsequent request for an investigation (which was declined) by the District Attorney’s Office would be sufficient to quell any questions regarding the allegation of an inappropriate action, in this case the intentional delay in completing an investigation.  However, this particular issue seems to have taken on a life of its own, and I will not silently stand by while the integrity of my officers and support staff is continually impugned for questionable purposes.

A review of the facts are as follows:

Beate Kirmse, administrator for the estate of Oscar Muro, filed a criminal complaint on October 19, 2010, alleging attorney Russell Takasugi, embezzled funds from the estate of Mr. Muro.  This was 14 days before the recent City elections.  An article reporting this criminal complaint appeared in the Ventura County Star on October 25.  This was one week before the election.

When this complaint was filed, our lead expert economic crimes investigator was out of the office for an extensive training class to prepare him for a new position as the Department’s lead homicide investigator.  A law enforcement agency must constantly review its workload and allocate resources based upon priority of the type of investigation and our detectives’ current caseload.  Based upon this review, our Investigative Unit made the decision to wait until our lead investigator returned from training to assist a newer detective with the investigation of this particular case.  There were no exigent circumstances requiring immediate action such as the destruction of evidence.

Fraud and embezzlement cases are very complex and require hundreds of records, including bank statements and other types of documentation, which must be subpoenaed from banks, trusts, estate attorneys, etc., before a case may be presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Investigations of this nature typically take many months, even years, to complete based upon the complexity.  Only after an investigation is complete would there be any information released to the public.

We are now a full six weeks into this investigation, and it will probably take several more months to complete.  If I had put my entire Investigative Unit on this case when it was first received, there would have been nothing to report before the election and this investigation would still be ongoing.  As the head of this agency, it is my professional opinion, based upon knowing all of the facts, that the Department took the proper steps in an appropriate timeframe.  For some to suggest otherwise is nothing more than an attempt to keep this “story” in the news with unfounded claims of biased policing.

The constant rehashing of this story smacks of Police Department bashing.  In fact, much of this story is attributed to second hand comments reportedly made by a civil attorney during a probate hearing in Superior Court.  The repeated assertion that there is a “black cloud” over our Department comes from not knowing all of the facts and not allowing the City Manager to complete his review and report back to the City Council with his findings.  I have already stated my desire to have full transparency on this issue and once again pledge to the community of Simi Valley that a review is welcomed.

As the Chief of Police, I am proud to state that I stand with the investigators who are diligently working this investigation; unequivocally support their decisions made, and the Department’s handling of this case.  As with all of the calls for service we receive, this case will be handled with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism because this purported dark cloud truly has a silver lining composed of the 195 dedicated staff who make up the Simi Valley Police Department.

Mike Lewis, Chief of Police
Simi Valley Police Department

Election Union Wars

Eric David Halub, write-in candidate for Simi Valley Mayor, has said on a number of occasions that he believes Steve Sojka is influenced by unions. But it isn’t Sojka who is benefiting from the tens of thousands of dollars spent in campaign advertising by the Simi Valley Police Officers Association. Bob Huber and Keith Mashburn are.

This morning, a full page ad in the Simi Valley Acorn paid for by the Simi Valley Police Officers Association calls out to readers with the following headline:

Ask Any Cop – We Are Sounding the Siren on the Truth About Your Safety & the Rise in Crime in Simi Valley.

These guys mean business. They’ve collected thousands in dollars in union dues with the intent of making their message loud and clear: they want the old guys out and they want THEIR candidates in.

How serious are they? The ad mentions a figure of $391,714.04 as the city manager’s 2009 compensation. Months ago, the anonymous poster calling himself “Sedell Soldier” dropped off a copy of that same compensation breakdown at my home with the same total figure. Since then, I have received copies of that document dropped in my mailbox TWICE while I’ve been at work. The intent, I’m sure, is to get me to publish the detailed figures. The problem is the source is always anonymous (or off the record in the case of “Sedell Soldier”) and the document is printed on plain paper with no identifying City mark, making it relatively useless. Today’s Acorn ad reveals the source is from a 10/2009 public information request by the POA, but it also reveals to me the anonymous source of this frequent gift in my mailbox!

Days ago in the Ventura County Star, an editorial was published regarding Police Unions flexing their muscles to influence elections. I grabbed the following snippet that relates to the Simi Valley election:

The same sort of power play by public safety unions has been seen in Ventura County in recent months. There was an independent expenditure campaign mounted by the Ventura Police Officers Association against Councilman Neal Andrews last fall, and this year the launch of a political action committee by the Simi Valley Police Officers Association. That group is backing outside challengers against incumbent members of the City Council in the wake of tough contract negotiations that included pension issues.

One reason public safety unions are so politically powerful is because they can cloak their support for a given candidate under the banner of concern for public safety.

In a message on its website — posted beneath a form to order lawn signs backing Bob Huber for mayor against incumbent Councilman Steve Sojka and Keith Mashburn for council against incumbents Glen Becerra and Michelle Foster — Simi Association President William Daniels writes: “When we hear demands for cuts that threaten public safety, we have a professional and moral obligation to sound the alarm.”

Click here for the full article…

Currently, the City of Simi Valley benefits from a balanced budget. Part of getting their meant a number of sacrifices, among them were pay cuts for city employees as well as pay cuts for police officers. It’s a very unpleasant fact, and one that makes me grateful not to have to make those decisions. I certainly don’t want our elected officials making promises that put them in a position to rob Peter to pay Paul once they get elected.

SIMI PD FACTS: All Police Officers represented by the union make more than $110,000 in pay and benefits annually. A third of Simi PD officers make more than $175,000 in pay and benefits, making our department the highest compensated officers in the County. Read the facts for yourself.