Editorial: Where is the LBPD POA When the Rank and File Needs Them?

Stephen Downing

On May 31 an email blast was sent to the rank and file from the Long Beach Police Officers Association (POA) headquarters announcing that Steve James, their president, will retire in October, and praised the 17 years he has been their elected president, boasting that he “became a leading voice on police labor issues at both the state and national levels.”

Come October, James will begin enjoying the fruits of those 17 years of union experience by having qualified himself (at taxpayer expense) to take a highly paid executive position with one of those “national” labor organizations dedicated to the dark ages of east coast policing.

The POA announcement said nothing about what James has accomplished for the rank and file over the past 17 years. What we have seen from our perch is not much, other than crony politics, self-promotion and personal enrichment, the last being the most recent POA contract that delivered a nine percent raise to the troops while James – who sat at the negotiation table – ended up with a 19.8 percent increase.

The rub that has got to be grinding on the troops is that James hasn’t worked a day on the street over those 17 years, but has been allowed by city hall to promote twice from policeman to sergeant to lieutenant with no qualifications or experience to effectively function in any of those positions – a testament to city hall cronyism – at the expense of the rank and file.

But, the other rub is that POA headquarters (James) told the troops in that announcement who their new leader is going to be:

  • “To be eligible to run for the full-time position, a candidate must be on the current Board of Directors for at least one year (presently, there are eight potential candidates). If more than one candidate chooses to run for the office, the vote goes to the entire membership via mailed ballots. If only one eligible candidate runs for the position, they win the election by default.”
  • “The eligible board members have made it clear that Jim Foster will be the only candidate, and barring anything unexpected, he will take over for Steve as the president.”

In other words: The fix is in – “barring anything unexpected.”

James will pass that 17-year baton and Foster will run around the same track and end up at the same finish line:

  • A city that still has their officers working one-man cars at night
  • A police academy that looks like a shanty town while hundreds of millions are spent on a new city hall and a swimming pool complex
  • Assignment, promotion and classifications that provide no internal job protection
  • A thriving organizational culture of retaliation that nit-picks, demotes and terminates officers who stand up for integrity and quality job performance
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars in their dues spent to support individual political ambitions that have nothing to do with their own wage and working condition interests and
  • A crony-oriented city administration and POA alliance that remains silent because all of it keeps the status quo quietly in place.

After 17 years of having all of that stuffed down ones throat one would think that the troops (and the board of eight eligible candidates) would want something better, fresher and more innovative than the east coast style of union politics that keeps their organization – and the organizational culture of their department – in the dark ages.

So, keeping the “barring anything unexpected” codicil in mind perhaps the troops should ask the question: What are you going to do for us, Jim Foster?

And before he even begins to answer that question Sgt. Jim Foster needs to first unload some of the very heavy baggage he’s picked up over the years. He has a credibility problem that goes back to the Officer Eddie Sanchez cover up this column covered in depth last year.

Rather than represent what was right for the rank and file when Sanchez was set up for a false termination at the hands of Commander Don Wood, Foster helped James – and city hall – in covering up the retaliatory firing after it was proven that Sanchez was victimized by the administration. And the evidence of Foster’s complicity is still out there in the ether in the form of two email blasts he personally sent to the troops to deny, obfuscate and cover up.

If Foster is right for the job he should start unloading that baggage and show his stuff. He should redeem his credibility by demonstrating to the troops that he has the integrity and the courage to stand up to a corrupted administration that orders its officers to compromise their integrity and endanger the public in favor of the tainted politics inside city hall.

The events of last week are a perfect place to start. Street cops – those most needed by the community and most disrespected by the administration – are in tumult over the compromising position the administration has put them over the egregious – politically corrupt – manner in which the criminal violations of Councilperson Jeannine Pearce and her former chief of staff, Devin Cotter, were ordered to be handled by department brass.

A rookie cop and his field training officer (FTO) have been compromised and the POA has done nothing to support them and everything to assist a crony administration in a sleazy cover up.

They were made to violate the law and standing policy that mandates arrest for the perpetrator (Pearce) of felony domestic violence when injuries to the partner (Cotter) are evident. They criticize the manipulations ordered by the brass to mitigate blood alcohol levels and release the councilperson from DUI charges and then make press releases that announce she passed a field sobriety test.

They complain of being improperly ordered to drive a suspect with an outstanding $50,000 DUI warrant home, rather than to jail (and the hospital to treat and document the injuries incurred as a victim of domestic violence) only to later respond to another scene where the former chief of staff left the place he was driven by police to once again confront the councilperson at her home. Only then did the brass allow the $50,000 warrant to be served – one that had been outstanding for months with the full knowledge of city hall.

A veteran LBPD street cop said to me, “What if one or both of them ended up dead at that second scene because the officers released them? Do you think for a minute the brass would have taken responsibility? Hell no, it would’ve all run down hill like it always does.”

If the individual street cop speaks out, objects, points to the political corruption that their bosses have forced upon them, they know that they will be targeted, nit-picked with creative disciplinary actions not applied to others and eventually taken down for doing the right thing – there are just too many recent examples of demotions and terminations and millions in settled lawsuits coming out of the LBPD that supports that fear.

Yet, where are those from POA headquarters who are suppose to speak out on their behalf so they don’t have to put a target on their own backs?

On June 9, Courtney Tompkins of the Press-Telegram – able to reach POA President Steve James on the subject of the Pearce/Cotter incident – published an article the next day quoting that voice:

  • Steve James, head of the local police union, said Thursday it is not uncommon for police to arrange a ride home for a driver, even if they pass a sobriety test. "If somebody has been drinking but does not rise to the level of drunk driving, we still don’t want to put them back behind the wheel because we don’t know if they are rising in their blood alcohol content or declining," he said.
  • James also explained that police do not always arrest someone with a relatively low-level warrant like Cotter’s. "These people are out of jail oftentimes before we finish doing the paperwork, so it’s not uncommon for us to just advise people they have a warrant, tell them to go to court, and get it cleaned up," he said.

That is the voice of city hall, not the rank and file. A properly-trained police officer never lets a $50,000 warrant ride. And the only people they give a ride home is the passenger when a DUI driver has been arrested. It is a voice that ignores the integrity of the cop on the street who wants to do the right thing and can’t because city hall politics come first with the current leadership of the POA. It is a voice that fails its membership when they need it most. It is the word of a man speaking for the honest street cop who has not been on the street for 17 years.

The question before the troops now is, will Jim Foster do better? Now is the time for him to prove that he can. He can talk to his members and dig out all the dirty politics that went down that night – as well as the next day when the rookie was called in from home to re-write all the reports so all of the politically driven decision making could be excised, cleaned up and covered up and then he can take it public – go to bat for the troops and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – rather than function as one more mouthpiece for city hall.

The final sentence in the POA announcement made to the troops reads, “Please feel free to contact us at any time if you should have any questions.” 

If I were on the job, I’d take them up on it.

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.




Certainly the truth spoken here. After 35 years in LB I can tell you that if you aren't connected and corrupt you won't get special treatment from city departments. Instead each department is given full reign to hammer on the citizens to the full extent of our our archaic, fractured municipal code and with the full support of the crony-filled ($$$) courthouse.

How's that two-week-old investigation about the councilperson involved with drunk driving, domestic violence and special treatment by cops going?

Mr. Norman - Steve James did come up through the ranks. Mr. Downing's statement that Steve James was promoted twice while in the position is incorrect. Steve was a Sergeant, and had been so for several years, prior to being elected to the position of president by the membership. In fact he had not only spent his time as a patrol sergeant, he was then selected for the position of motor sergeant. When the opportunity to process for the position of lieutenant, through the civil service testing process, Steve took that opportunity. The testing process is very regulated and again facilitated by Civil Service. Steve came out #1 on the list and was promoted in place. There was no favoritism and he did rise through the ranks.

I'm not a cop, but Long Beach has the best policemen and police women. Its just so sad that the city council make them wear the handcuffs while doing their job.

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