LBPD Stonewalls, Mayor Hopeful

By: 
Stephen Downing

A Dec. 14 letter of complaint addressed to the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) filed by two community groups alleging that Chief of Police Robert Luna endangered the community by ordering 300 police officers to gather inside the Convention Center on Nov. 5., thus creating a “COVID-19 super spreader event,” resulted in Luna initiating a conference call with all on-duty LBPD employees at 7: 30 a.m. on Dec. 16.

In that call Luna went to great lengths to explain to his employees all the hard work and dedication that he and his command staff had undertaken to protect the LBPD workforce – and the community – from COVID-19 exposure including the fact that the LBPD had, “opened a LBPD Operations Center about three weeks ago.”

Luna said, “The reason for doing that is to make sure we were tracking all the (COVID) cases, making sure that we can continue with continuity of operations with our workforce, scheduling and ... for a lot of places in the police department we’re very concerned about where we have significant density of employees.”

The chief also addressed the subject of “enforcement of the health order, because questions keep on coming up,” he said.

Luna told his employees that his management team was making sure that “we were not (getting) in the middle of enforcement,” explaining that: “I'm not telling anybody that we will not enforce…” but (rather) that we have an education-based approach.”

The chief described the LBPD role as reinforcing the orders from the Health Department by “trying to get voluntary compliance.” He said, “Enforcement will only come in as an absolute last resort.”

Luna did not define the details of his policy, what would constitute education, a warning as opposed to a citation or if the, “last resort” policy applied to other misdemeanor crimes that endanger the public, such as driving under the influence.

He then segued into the Convention Center super spreader incident, saying that, “One photo came out without people wearing face coverings and again, I wish I could do a do-over … we should never be gathered without face coverings.”

“But unfortunately, the media is claiming that individual employees that work for us have gone to them and made claims that simply are not true,” the chief said.

Luna did not specify what had been reported that he believed was not true, or how he knew that, but continued his defense of the event saying, “It’s difficult to listen to that because a mistake is a mistake. I made it, but people are adding more information to it that’s untrue… But as we go forward, I have to make sure that we’re all safe and that we’re all healthy and we’re following all the rules that we can.”

He then added “Some people felt that it was a (quote unquote) super-spreader event. It was not.” “Not one case has been attributed to that event.”

Luna alleged he knew this to be a fact because, “Our contact tracers – who are our own employees – have not found a single case related to the event. So, please, if you hear that, don't pass that on. It's false.”

Luna did not explain why he believed the congregation of 300 officers did not constitute a super spreader potential or why the gathering did not violate the Health Department orders his department had been obligated to enforce since the city’s announcement of increased enforcement on April 10.

When the chief opened the conference call to questions two major issues were put on the table by LBPD employees.

One related to a cut in the staffing of medical personnel in the city jail that had a direct effect upon officer exposure to COVID-19 infection and the other involved questions related to whether the COVID vaccine would be mandatory for all members of the LBPD work force.

Jail Staffing

One of the LBPD officers on the call addressed the chief saying, “As you know the jail nurse isn’t in from 3 to 11 a.m. – is there going to be a more streamlined process because it seems like anybody (arrestees) who has the sniffles is being sent to the hospital to get checked (before booking) and I think that’s sending employees out into harm’s way. They have to stand at a hospital with 20 or 30 people who are there to get tested for COVID.”

The question took the chief by surprise. “I did not know that,” he responded.

Luna’s jail administrator was on the line and explained that the LBPD had changed vendors and “Due to budget concerns there is now an eight-hour window where we are without nurses.”

The administrator continued, “We’re looking at changing that and adjusting as we move on so, we’d appreciate everyone’s patience.”

Luna told the jail administrator to, “Stay on that because if we can avoid our officers hanging around hospitals I would really like to see that. Let’s figure something out, even if we have to hire some part-time people.”

Research & Follow Up

Following research into the change of medical vendors in the city jail, reviewing Title 15 jail administration requirements, obtaining public records on the change in vendors and interviewing inside sources, the Beachcomber sent this email to Chief Luna’s spokesperson on Dec. 28.

The content of the email is as follows:

“It is our understanding that the jail medical services contract between American Correctional Solutions, Inc. (ACSI) and the city expired at the end of October.

“However, because the contract had not been finalized with the new vendor, Vital Medical Services, ACSI’s contract was extended until the end of November.

“It was at that time that Vital Medical Services assumed contract responsibility for providing – among other medical services to jail operations – nurse staffing.

“For the five years of the ACSI contract nurse staffing for the jail was provided 24/7.

“Under the new contract with the low bidder, Vital Medical Services – which began on Dec. 1 – nurse staffing was cut from 24/7 to 16/7 with staffing eliminated between the hours of 3 a.m. and 11 a.m.

“We are informed that Chief Luna knew nothing of this change in staffing and one immediate result of the change is that since Dec. 1 officers are being required to transport prisoners with minor medical problems – previously handled by an on-duty nurse at intake – to a local hospital for medical approval prior to booking, thus exposing LBPD employees to the potential harm of COVID infection from waiting with prisoners in the long lines and crowded rooms full of patients at local hospitals, in addition to creating a significant impact upon deployable hours in the patrol force.”

The Beachcomber concluded the email request, by asking five questions related to jail staffing:

1. Why was the chief unaware of this significant change in nursing deployment?

2. We note that the LBPD medical policy document (required under Title 15) has not been modified since 2/21/17. Was there a transition plan made for handoff of services between vendors that will occasion a change to the policy especially in the area of nurse staffing? If so, may we have a copy?

3. In that this change in vendor’s occurred in the middle of the pandemic, what considerations for modification to the RFP were made by the city, if any?

4. Was the LBPD administration consulted by the city manager prior to, during or when finalizing the contract? If so, at what command level in the LBPD was the reduction in nursing staff agreed to?

5. Is the city or the LBPD able to modify the staffing contract and is there any plan to do so, or is the LBPD satisfied that the staffing of nurses as implemented on Dec. 1 is acceptable to continuing jail and patrol administration needs?

Chief Luna’s spokesperson replied several hours later, “We are reviewing your request.”

Two days later, (Dec. 30) Luna’s spokesperson replied: The department declines to provide comment on this inquiry.”

That same day, the Beachcomber appealed the chief’s decision in a reply copied to the mayor, the city manager’s office and the three members of the council’s public safety committee: Suzie Price, Daryl Supernaw and Al Austin.

The content of the Beachcomber appeal was:

“We respectfully request that you reconsider your decision not to respond to our request for comment or to provide answers to our very reasonable questions.

This is a matter of great interest to the public safety and welfare.”

Chief Luna stonewalled the appeal.

The Beachcomber received no response from any of the governmental officials copied in the email.

Should Vaccine Be Mandated?

During the question and answer phase of Chief Luna’s Dec. 14 conference call with on-duty LBPD employees one employee asked: “I have a question about vaccinations and as they become more available. Is the city or the department looking to make the vaccination mandatory or may we opt out like we have with the annual flu?”

Luna said that the department was looking into the issue with the city attorney’s office and human resources as well as comparing notes with other jurisdictions.

He then said, “If you ask the Health Department, they’re going to say no, that we can’t make it mandatory. But the law says something different so we’re trying to figure all that out. There’s a lot of issues tied to it and if somebody chooses not to get a vaccine what does that mean in regard to coming to work and potentially infecting other people? So, there’s a lot of unanswered questions and my goal is to make sure that all those questions get answered.”

Beachcomber research confirmed Chief Luna’s statement that the law in fact does permit employers to mandate the vaccine – with conditions.

According to the EEOC an employer policy that mandates the COVID vaccine must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other workplace laws.

Title VII requires “an employer to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance, unless it could cause an undue hardship on the business.”

The four primary factors the EEOC outlines that employers should include in determining whether a direct threat exists include:

  • The duration of the risk
  • The nature and severity of the potential harm
  • The likelihood that the potential harm will occur
  • The imminence of the potential harm.

On Dec. 30 the Beachcomber asked the media representative at the city’s Joint Information Center (JIC) if the city had taken a position on how those employees who refuse the vaccine will be managed.

The response was; “The city will not force anyone to take the vaccine, but strongly encourages people to take it.”

Based upon that response the Beachcomber sent a follow-up inquiry to the JIC. Jennifer Rice Epstein, the JIC media relations lead, replied:

Question: Is there a document, written policy or notice to city employees that establish the (no vaccine mandate) policy and any backup documents that serve as foundation for the decision?

Response: The city’s Health Department has established a vaccine rollout plan based on state guidance. An employee communication regarding vaccinations is forthcoming.

Question: What written policy, if any, has the city implemented to mitigate exposure to the public by those who refuse the vaccine, especially first responders and those who serve at public desks?

Response: Employees are required to follow the current health order to mitigate exposure, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not.

Question: Does the city have any estimate as to how many first responders in the police and fire departments will decline the vaccine?

Response: The city does not have an estimate regarding potential declines of the vaccine at this time.

Question: Will the city track and evaluate the assignments of those who decline to take the vaccine?

Response: Currently, vaccinations are voluntary, and assignments will not be impacted at this time based on an employee’s vaccination status – to ensure safe operation they will continue to be required to follow the current health order.

Garcia’s Press Conference

Prior to receiving the Jan. 8 JIC response the Beachcomber had submitted a question to Mayor Robert Garcia’s highly controlled “one-question-only” press conference held two days earlier. We asked:

“What mitigation has the city mandated for those employees who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine who are in public-facing jobs, like first responders?

Mayor Garcia reported that firefighters just started getting the vaccine and that the city has “not yet seen folks not wanting to get vaccinated in a way that I think is bothersome to the health department. Right now our goal is to encourage vaccination and we hope that they will all get vaccinated.”

Garcia said that he did not know if it was an issue at the present time but “If we get to a place where we have large groups of employees choosing not to, I think that’s a conversation we need to have, but I’m hopeful that we are not going to get there.”

The mayor made no mention of recent reports that indicate one in five front line nurses and doctors have declined the vaccine and “roughly 20% to 40% of Los Angeles County frontline workers who were offered the vaccine refused, “ as reported in the L.A. Times just a few days prior to the news conference.

In that same press conference Kelly Colopy, the city Health and Human Services Director, verified that vaccinations for fire fighters began the day before (Jan. 5) and were continuing.

She said, “We are not seeing a high level of declination currently among our emergency services providers.”

The director did not provide the number of declinations, an assessment of what threat, if any, the refusals meant to other firefighters or the community, nor did she speculate as to what the unstated numbers may become as measured against the Los Angeles County declination experience.

Recent Experience

On Dec. 4 the LBPD reported a COVID-19 outbreak in the city Jail involving three jail staff members who worked overlapping shifts. The LBPD either cited out all prisoners or transferred them to the L.A. County jail, according to a LBPD spokesperson that said that the “transfers helped alleviate pressure on the reduced jail staffing due to staff members being on quarantine.”

On Jan. 4, the city reported a COVID-19 outbreak at the Colorado Lagoon Fire Station that infected 10 fire department employees.

On Jan 7 the city reported 597 new COVID-19 cases citywide, which included 13 police officers assigned to various geographical divisions, with one in the hospital and 12 quarantined at home.

It was also reported that COVID-19 infections within the LBPD surged in November and December but updated totals were not provided.

Total LBPD employees testing positive since the beginning of the pandemic was most recently reported to be 85.

 

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

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

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Comments

As the complaint states Luna's "statement is false. The training session at the Convention Center took place days
earlier and the November 5 super spreader assembly was solely for the purpose of the “official photograph.” The city of LB has a unethical person leading the police department and he still has his job, WHY!! why should we expect the rank and file to be honest when their leader is not. I will say it again LBPD is a criminal origination lead by an unethical person who appoints and promotes other unethical people. An investigation must be open by the new DA and the DOJ. The city of LB is the only city i know of that allows such behavior other than the Trump origination and we all know how that is working out. SMH

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