City Manager Evades Transparency in Police Chief Selection

Stephen Downing

Following Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna’s December retirement announcement, the Beachcomber published an opinion piece on Sept. 11 entitled “Seeding the Thistle Patch at City Hall” in which 14 “Asks” were made to City Manager Tom Modica, relative to his selection process for the new chief of police. The article can be read here:

On Sept. 9 the city director of human resources announced the selection process that the city manager would employ in his search for a new chief of police.

Following that announcement, the Beachcomber published an Oct. 8 article titled “Will the City Find the Best Police Chief Possible?”

The article contained the full text of the announcement and outlined 10 questions made to the city manager to clarify his process, all of which Modica refused to answer.

That article can be read here:

On Oct. 26 the Beachcomber published an article entitled, “Selection of New Police Chief” that reported upon and linked an Oct. 22 announcement from the city offering a community survey designed to ask for opinions related to qualifications the community would like to see in the new chief of police.

This writer provided an opinion regarding the value of the survey and offered 14 qualification requirements believed to be essential for the new chief of police.

That article can be read here:

Invitation-Only Meeting

On Nov. 4 the Beachcomber learned that Modica attended an invitation-only Nov. 1 meeting with a faith leaders organization known as the Minister’s Alliance.

The meeting was arranged by Gregory Sanders, pastor of The ROCK Christian Fellowship, by means of an email sent to members of the Minister’s Alliance in which he wrote:

“We would prefer this critical leadership role be filled by someone currently in the department or ideally by the Assistant Chief, Wally Hebeish.

REASONING: The City of Long Beach is at a sensitive inflection point with our LBPD Community Trust, Transparency, Oversight, Policy Revisions, Community Safety and Relational [Community Influencers] Equity.

This is NOT the time to bring in a novice leader (who) has no established relationship with Long Beach leaders, neighborhood groups, faith-based leaders, community logistics or even current police staff.

 In essence, we don’t have the bandwidth to introduce, educate, mentor a new police chief on the personalities, partnerships and nuances of our city’s reconciliation efforts currently in progress.”

Opinions Solicited

The Beachcomber was unable to learn what other organizations or invitation only appearances the city manager attended or whether Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish is a predetermined selection, as advocated by Pastor Sanders.

Thus, this newspaper solicited the opinion of a variety of leader/influencers in the city in an email that stated:

The Beachcomber recently conducted a poll asking if the next chief of police should come from inside or outside the department. Responses were divided with 41% saying inside, 37% saying outside and the remainder open to both inside and outside.”

We are writing to solicit your comment and rationale to the question so that it may be published along with other community leaders/influencers we are soliciting who may not be offered the opportunity to provide input directly to City Manager Tom Modica.

Your contribution will be informative to our readers so that they too may better judge Modica’s selection process.”

The Beachcomber received 8 responses from 15 email requests sent.

George Moyer – A public defender living in Long Beach

The city should cast a wide net and go through a public and robust hiring process to choose the next police chief.

Internal and external candidates should be considered. With a projected budget of $285 million, we need the best, forward-thinking leadership for this department. The hiring process should not be a branding exercise. We should hear candidates’ vision for the department, concrete improvements they have planned and how they would objectively measure the success or failure of those plans.

Alex J. Norman, DSW, Professor Emeritus. UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

In my mind, the answer to the question of whether to replace a chief of a police department depends upon whether the desire is to create a change in the policing strategy or if the desire is to maintain the status quo.

In 1992, after the uprising over the acquittal of the officers in the Rodney King trial, the Los Angeles Police Commission selected an outside candidate, Chief Willie Williams. The mission: Change the department from a traditional command and control policing strategy to community-oriented policing, the idea being to develop partnerships between the police and the community in solving crime problems. That set the course for the succeeding chiefs, Bernard Parks and William Bratton, to improve upon the success of the initial results of the change.

In 2002 Anthony Batts was promoted to chief from inside the Long Beach Police Department, and instituted a community-oriented public safety strategy to replace the traditional policing strategy. For the next seven years the department flourished. The similarity between the two chiefs was that they were “principled,” guided by the nine principles of Sir Robert Peel. So, I would be guided by whether the next candidate is principled or not.

Thomas Beck – The Beck Law Firm

My response to these developments is that if they draw from within, the negative culture that permeates the department at every level is going to remain the same.

LBPD is resistant to change as the IACP report noted and there is a lot to change to bring this large department up to current law enforcement standards the public has the right to expect and pays for.

We had a taste of what outside leadership does with Jim McDonnell but even he could not make the sea changes that have long been in order. Modica’s reasoning is shallow and weak.

Carlos Ovalle – 7th District Council candidate

The new chief must be from outside of Long Beach and be as far removed from the area as possible.

The LBPD is ranked last among California police departments and 4th from last among all police departments in the nation. Any insider in a rank of responsibility has already failed miserably at best or is guilty by aiding and abetting.

Furthermore, any insider is necessarily a part of the symbiotic relationship that exists between elected officials and the LBPOA that frequently funds their campaigns

The LBPOA has for decades functioned as kingmakers, often they promote candidates and finance their favorites to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of this, every single one of the current elected representatives owes their office to the LBPD/LBPOA.

The new police chief must exercise their power to encourage the depoliticizing of the LBPOA, hence the department. The new police chief must have a clean record of performing their work in the utmost ethical manner and not having used their office or rank or status as law enforcement officer to influence the result of any election.

Franklin Sims – Long Beach dad

In a perfect world we’d hire a police chief who already knew his way around town. The current state of our local politics, however, is too toxic to hire a police chief from within.

Already, hardworking families in Long Beach aren’t getting the public safety outcomes we deserve. Those outcomes include: (1) enough officers patrolling local neighborhoods (not behind a desk) and (2) an independent police commission with teeth to weed out bad apple officers and curb million-dollar police abuse settlements at the expense of taxpayers. Obstructing both of these outcomes is our mayor and City Council.

We need a chief who doesn’t start with the deficit of already being conditioned to fall in line with council. We need a bold leader, willing to speak hard truths to council and city staff that are currently failing our families’ public safety.

We could all use a breath of fresh air. It’s time for change from the outside.

Ian Patton – Cal Heights Consultancy

The only way to end the corruption of LBPD – from compensation scams to the absence of community policing to police abuse issues generating wrongful death payouts in the tens of millions to the culture of cover up (everything from glaring LBPD leadership failures like during the rioting last year to special treatment for elected officials pulled over by the police to TigerText) – would be to select an outsider, with true police reform bona fides.

Greg Buhl – A Long Beach attorney/founder of the CheckLBPD police transparency project

The selection of a new police chief should not be made by an unelected, unaccountable city manager based on closed-door input received from faith leaders – no matter how well intentioned.

This process demands transparency, but the closest we got is a public poll that seems designed to generate the responses the city manager desires.

If Long Beach was the well-run, progressive city it claims to be, we would have an independent civilian-led police commission leading this process and evaluating the slate of candidates. The least the city could do is have its Public Safety Committee hold public hearings regarding the final candidates before a selection is made.

Long Beach is currently the worst-ranked police department in California on based on publicly available spending, misconduct, accountability and racial bias data. Promoting another TigerText user to chief of police, such as Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish who sent 16,761 secret messages in less than four years, is just asking for more of the same secrecy and unaccountability.

Robert Fox – Neighborhood organization leader and former City Council candidate

We paid $32,000,000 in settlements for excessive force, wrongful death and abuse of power due to our police. This happened despite the fact that our city attorney repeatedly appealed every verdict to wear out those asking for justice until they ran out of money or the will to fight.

The police were supposed to serve the people, but they have been corrupted. A chief culled from current management will continue the culture of cover-up, abuse, non-transparency, lies and corruption.

They have all been trained to “tow the line” and keep their mouths shut. If anyone from this department had one ounce of integrity, they would have called out the department time and again. During WWII we called such people “collaborators” and we dealt with them harshly after the people won.

We need an outside and independent chief. New blood is the only thing that can cure this department. I am sure they will be set upon by the vampires from the City Hall machine and the LBPD, let alone our completely corrupt Police Officers Association, the thinly-veiled Mafia that controls this city. We will not find justice, morality, fair play nor responsiveness if we promote anyone from our current management.

Jerlene Tatum – Community advocate

I think the chief should come from outside the department. The need for a fresh approach, new ideas and a re-envisioning of the department is essential to the future of our city.

LBPD did not sit down with the community during the 2020 Framework for Reconciliation. An outsider could make that happen. Of course, an outsider would have to demonstrate that he or she achieved these ideals in their camp.

We do not need or want the same soup in a warm bowl, a different face with the same behavior. We also need a chief that will be free of the political influences of our city.

Unfortunately, I believe a decision has already been made and the city’s effort to solicit input via their survey was just a public relations ploy.

It took over a year for the last chief to be selected and they still hired within. So, I do not foresee an outside person being selected for the position when the application process was only open for 30 days.

Recently, a group of clergy members associated with the Minister’s Alliance met in a closed meeting with the city manager to petition for Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish to be the next chief. That is not reflective of the community as whole.

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



Why do we expect any change from a criminal organization? City Manager Tom Modica will select the person that will keep the PD and city past criminality secret and will help cover-up future criminal activity. That can only be accomplished by an insider who is currently doing just that. The selection has already been made by all the corrupt city officials. SMH

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