CPCC Gains Access to LBPD Compelled Statements

By: 
Stephen Downing

On Dec. 23 the Long Beach City Manager circulated a memo to members of the City Council announcing that the city has reversed its 30-year practice of forbidding the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) from examining “compelled statements” made by police officers to Internal Affairs investigators during administrative investigations involving alleged officer misconduct.

The statement established that “The CPCC will begin receiving compelled statements from sworn and non-sworn officers, effective Jan. 1, 2021, along with other police records customarily received through the investigative process.”

In his memo the city manager explained that “providing officer compelled statements to the CPCC was identified as an immediate to short-term action” taken in the Racial Equity and Reconciliation initiative approved by the council on Aug. 11, 2020.

The issue of the CPCC being denied officer-compelled statements over the past 30 years has been cited by City Hall as the reason hundreds of sustained findings of police misconduct by CPCC commissioners have been overturned by the city manager.

The consistent argument advanced over the years by City Hall to explain the vast difference in misconduct findings between the city manager and CPCC commissioners has been that the “commissioners did not have access to information available to the city manager.”

The Dec. 23 memo to council members said that a “request from the Police Department” caused the city attorney to conduct a legal review in which he subsequently “opined that officer-compelled statements should now be accessible to the CPCC to assist with carrying out its function of reviewing citizen complaints.”

The rational offered by the city manager for the policy change is that the city attorney was able to modify prior office opinion because of a Nov. 8, 2018 amendment to the law.

The former policy imposed upon the LBPD is unique to Long Beach as most police departments in the state with systems of civilian oversight have not prohibited civilian appointees from considering administratively compelled statements from sworn or civilian employees.

The Beachcomber has produced many articles over the past eight years in which it was reported that the usual excuse offered by Long Beach city officials to not provide compelled statements to CPCC commissioners was based upon restrictions found in the Police Bill Of Rights, which contains no language relative to restricting charter supported civilian oversight.

After reading the city manager’s memo, Thomas Beck, a highly regarded attorney who has won multiple civil rights lawsuits against the city – including the infamous Zerby killing by police officers – provided the following comment to the Beachcomber:

“The fact that the city attorney tied an arm behind CPCC investigators should have been understood to them as disabling or emasculating CPCC's ability to exercise oversight of complaint investigations.

“I would like to know what law the [state] invoked for the initial direction because I know of no civilian review board in California that was barred from reviewing this kind of important evidence.

“Compelled statements have but one legal limitation: [they] can’t be used in a prosecution against that officer (unless for impeachment).

“Think about it, the officers and interrogators in any complaint investigation fully knew they could say what they pleased to softball questioning and never be challenged unless someone like me filed suit and took them to task for their biased administrative investigations.”

This past June the Beachcomber submitted a list of ten questions for consideration by city staff when the first webinar for the “Framework for Reconciliation Community Town Hall was held. It was later reported that of the 10 questions, Councilman Rex Richardson announced that he would “track questions 2, 5 and 8” because they were relevant to policy.”

Questions 5 and 8 submitted to the reconciliation effort are relevant to the issue of compelled statements:

(5) Why is the LBPD allowed by the City Council to remain the only police jurisdiction in California that forbids Officer Involved Shooting (OIC) investigators to interview LBPD officers involved in shootings?

(8) Why has the City Council never questioned the fact that the CPCC has never held a hearing or exercised their power of subpoena, swearing of oaths and taking witness testimony in the 30 years of its existence?

Most recently (Dec. 4) the Beachcomber published an article entitled: “Will Gascon Eliminate the “No Interview Agreement?” in which it was once again reported that in officer involved shooting investigations the LBPD is the only police department in California that forbids its homicide investigators from interviewing (or audio/video recording) involved officers – and that D.A. Jackie Lacey has agreed to this practice.

The full article can be read HERE.

The issue of officer-compelled statements as now described as approved in the city manager’s memo raises several questions as to how far the change in policy will now extend.

On the early morning of Dec. 24, the Beachcomber sent an email to Christian Cooper, chair of the CPCC requesting comment and a response to three questions related to the city manager’s memo:

1. Were you involved in any of the discussions that led to this change and if so, we would appreciate comment on the origin and nature of the discussions.

2. Since there has been an acknowledgement by the city that commissioners can now have access to compelled statements do you expect that access to extend to your investigators now being allowed to interview complained of and witness officers and/or sit in and participate in IA interviews of officers – as provided in the Charter?

3. Do you as an attorney believe that the passage of SB 1421 had any mandate that made this change necessary?

Cooper did not reply prior to the Dec. 24 noon deadline as requested – most likely because of the holidays.

This is a developing story that will be updated as comment from the CPPC chair and other city officials is received relative to the extent the new policy will open access by CPCC investigators to interview officers and homicide investigators will be permitted interview authority in officer involved shootings – as practiced by all other police departments in the state.

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

Stephen.Beachcomber@Gmail.com

Joe Mello, publisher of the 4th District Blog LB4D contributed to this story.

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Comments

Merry Christmas. The far distant starlight of truth and justice is finally STARTING to glimmer in Long Beach's dark night sky. It is just the beginning of hopefully a full night sky of similar stars. Thank you Santa Downing.

Am not sure how getting the officer statement on a complaint can truly help, because am sure the officer will lie on what really happen or how the LBPD likes says "put their own spin on the truth". But this is better than nothing. I still believe that LBPD in a criminal organization and needs to be investigated by the DOJ, We LBC need to clean out the LBPD management and then maybe they will be some trust.

It helps because the officer's version of the story is forever changing. The sooner the better to caste the officer's story in concrete, especially if the officer's version of the story is different than what Police management told the media. A great example is the Zerby hose nozzle story. What Police Chief O'Donnell told the media and the public in multiple press releases turned out to be entirely untrue and didn't match officer's court testimony. The public needs to know the truth while the incident is fresh on their minds, not years later as desired by the Police Department when everyone has forgotten.

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