A recent column in the Orange County Register, which prints what Long Beach medias choose to ignore.
by Stephen Downing, retired LAPD Deputy Chief
I have had occasion during my three-year residency in Long Beach to evaluate the investigative processes used by the Long Beach Police Department, as well as apply my experience as a police executive to observe police activity in the community.
I am personally convinced that the current practice related to investigations, review, officer tracking and retention and disposition of use-of-force matters has resulted in a culture of impunity within the rank and file.
I strongly believe that the recent announcement by the LBPD establishing a Use of Force Review Committee is just one more Band-Aid in a decades-long series of ineffective patch jobs designed to calm an outraged community.
The last real reform effort took place in the early 1990s, when the city charter was changed to create the Citizen Police Complaint Commission in response to community outrage over the overt brutality of Long Beach line officers.
However, the charter amendment was designed by the city attorney in such a manner that the CPCC had no real authority or ability to change the status quo.
Thus, the agency has been and remains ineffectual primarily because its sources of investigative information are controlled either by the police department or compromised by the fact that it has no authority to hire and fire its own investigative staff.
Its decisions are not detailed in a manner that provides policy or training guidance, and its findings are compromised by the lack of expertise and the whim of the city manager, who also exercises total authority over the chief of police and the police disciplinary process.
The city of Long Beach is of such a size and complexity that supervision of the police department and authority over the police disciplinary process by the city manager are outdated, ineffective and subject to the many conflicts that arise with respect to the city manager's relationship with the city attorney, police union, liability concerns, campaign contributions and the like.
Most all of these conflicts have served to suppress proper administrative processes within the Police Department in order to serve the longstanding demands of the City Attorney's Office to avoid paper trails that might be used against the city in civil lawsuits – the kind of paper trails that could provide factual analysis and administrative insight at all command levels and effectively serve the proper and effective management of the Police Department's investigations, administrative review, training, retention and disciplinary processes.
What the city should be undertaking is fundamental reform as opposed to adding another ineffective and powerless level of review.
The people need to change the city charter and bring the authority, structure and control of the Police Department out of the Dark Ages. The kind of committee that should be formed is a blue-ribbon committee that will study and recommend changes to the city charter that will accomplish the following reforms:
• The authority, powers and duties of the Police Department should be outlined in the city charter and the chief of police given disciplinary authority over all members of the department subject to civil service or court appeal.
• The chief of police should be made subordinate to a board of five citizen police commissioners, selected from residents, who serve as the policy head of the Police Department.
• The mayor, subject to City Council ratification, should appoint the board of police commissioners.
• The board of police commissioners should have hire-and-fire authority for an executive director and an inspector general, each provided with the necessary authorities and personnel to investigate, audit and make recommendations to the board related to all police functions, with special emphasis on use-of-force and shooting policy.
• The chief of police should be hired from a list of three candidates selected by the police commission and forwarded to the mayor. The mayor must select from the list of three, subject to City Council confirmation.
• The chief of police should be hired under contract for a five-year period, subject to renewal by the police commission for one additional five-year period and no longer.
• The board of police commissioners should have the authority to terminate the chief of police for cause, subject to mayoral and City Council approval.
• The City Council should have the power to remove the chief of police by a two-thirds vote.
Once in place, the commission should assign staff to study the investigative, review and disposition processes of use-of-force and shooting investigations as practiced by the Los Angeles Police Department and other police departments that have in place investigative and review systems that are contemporary, thorough, transparent and effective in maintaining a level of discipline and professionalism that overshadows the current practices of the LBPD and inspires public confidence.
– Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired deputy chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department.