CPCC Holds Second Investigation Review on Super Spreader Event

By: 
Stephen Downing

Question Raised: Is Positive Change to Civilian Oversight and Transparency Possible?

On the morning of Dec. 14, 2020 a letter alleging misconduct by Chief of Police Robert Luna was filed via email with the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) by a coalition of community organizations.

The complaint, based upon a story published by the Long Beach Post, alleged that on Nov. 5, Luna, along with members of his senior command staff, ordered an indoor gathering of police officers at the Long Beach Convention Center that allowed a COVID-19 super-spreader event to take place.

Carlos Ovalle, executive director of People of Long Beach, and Ian Patton, executive director, Long Beach Reform Coalition, filed the personnel complaint jointly.

The full story and background of the incident orchestrated by the chief published by the Beachcomber on Dec. 17 can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/lbpd-event-called-assault-healthsafety-community.

On April 12 the Beachcomber published a follow-up story reporting upon actions taken by CPCC commissioners on April 8 as a result of receiving the investigation conducted by CPCC investigators.

In that article the Beachcomber reported, “According to a spokesperson for the Long Beach City Clerk the CPCC commissioners gave consideration to two charges involving conduct unbecoming a Long Beach police officer against the chief of police,’ and that, “The Beachcomber was unable to learn the specifics or differences alleged in each of the two charges but did learn that the commissioners voted 10/0 to sustain charge #1 and 7/3 to sustain charge #2.”

On April 15, following the Beachcomber’s publication of the CPCC vote reported by the City Clerk’s Office, City Manager Tom Modica published an official statement indicating “There was a misinterpretation of the information relayed to the Beachcomber reporter from the Office of the City Clerk.”

Modica’s statement did not deny the sustained findings by the CPCC commissioners as reported by the Beachcomber but rather stated that “Information on vote tallies for each case is publicly available, but not finding recommendations of the CPCC made in closed session meetings” and that “The city clerk does not participate in the CPCC closed session meeting or have knowledge of the commissioner’s finding recommendations.”

The Beachcomber subsequently issued a statement that the newspaper stood by the story as reported. 

Attempts to Get Facts

Days later the Beachcomber obtained the written CPCC minutes related to the April 8 meeting of the CPCC in which the two allegations were voted upon by the commissioners. They read as follows: “[1] Case 20-139 Commissioners voted 10-0 on Allegation No. 1 - Unbecoming Conduct and 7-3 on Allegation No. 2 - Unbecoming Conduct for Officer accused;”

Contrary to what was written in those minutes, a source within the community with ties to members of the CPCC commission later informed the Beachcomber that the CPCC commissioners did not in fact fully resolve the allegations against Luna and his top command staff and that part of the vote reported on April 12 was to order additional investigation into the case, as opposed to making a recommendation to the city manager.

The Beachcomber was unable to confirm that information, but weeks later the newspaper was notified that a meeting of the CPCC commissioners had been scheduled to review the case a second time, on Aug. 12.

That information was further confirmed in an interview with CPCC manager Patrick Weithers and later by its publication on the city website.

On Aug 18 the minutes of the Aug. 12 CPCC commissioners meeting were posted on the Long Beach City website and the entry related to the super spreader event misconduct allegations against Luna and his command staff, filed under CPCC case number 20-139, reported the following:

“[1] Case 20-139 Commissioners voted 5-3 on Allegation No. 1 -

Unbecoming Conduct for First Officer accused and 8-0 on Allegation No. 2 - Unbecoming Conduct for Second Officer accused;”

CPCC Report and Vote Tally Meaningless to Public

Based upon the City Manager’s response following the CPCC’s April 8 findings, the Beachcomber is unable to report exactly what the minutes mean, what the commissioners recommended in terms of adjudication or what the civilian oversight board members think about the dangerous behavior of the Long Beach chief of police and his command staff or if the reported vote tally related to unbecoming conduct for first and second officer accused – similar to the April 8 reporting, means that a recommendation has in fact been made or if there is to be another follow-up investigation.

The Beachcomber was also unable to determine why the original allegation of endangering the public health made by Ovalle and Patton was redefined as unbecoming conduct.

City Charter Does Not Prohibit Transparency of Civilian Oversight

A review of City Charter authority provided to CPCC commissioners states that after review of their investigative reports the commissioners – a body intended to provide independent civilian oversight – is “to thereafter make recommendations concerning allegations of misconduct to the city manager, who shall have final disciplinary authority.”

Beachcomber research reveals that there is nothing in the Long Beach City Charter that prohibits the CPCC from publicly reporting the commissioner’s vote and recommended adjudication, so long as the name of the accused is not publicly reported, as is the practice by multiple civilian police oversight commissions across California, including the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners.

In an interview with CPCC Manager Patrick Weithers, it was learned that the anti-transparency practices imposed upon the Long Beach citizen commissioners – as well as prohibited practices surrounding CPCC investigator’s ability to interview complained of or witness police officers is – to his knowledge – not prohibited by a written legal opinion or by any policy decision made by the commissioners themselves.

Beachcomber research thus far indicates that all of the anti-transparency policies practiced by the CPCC have as their source verbal representations made to the commissioners by the city attorney and city manager, with nothing in writing.

That research is continuing.

The Beachcomber was also unable to determine if the Police Officer’s Association (LBPOA) imposed any influence upon the anti-transparency policies practiced since the Charter amendment was introduced in 1990.

The LBPOA has not provided a response to any Beachcomber question for the past three years.

Is Change to Civilian Oversight and Transparency Possible?

According to a document obtained by the Beachcomber through the Public Records Act (PRA) the City Council provided “policy direction and funding to conduct an external evaluation of the CPCC to ensure optimal alignment with community needs and expectations,” based upon an initial report from the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative.

As a result of funding approved by the council, the city executed a $150,000 purchase agreement with Polis Solutions of Seattle, Wash. – a professional consulting firm – on May 20 to “Evaluate Services for Citizen Police Complaints.”

Documents obtained by the Beachcomber through the PRA indicate the city originally published a Request for Proposals (RFP # CM21-027) with an extensive description of what was expected in the study but later awarded the job to Polis by means of a simple purchase order (#22113667).

Beachcomber calls to the city purchasing agent in charge of the original RFP for an explanation as to why the job was not awarded under a detailed RFP contract rather than the purchase order were not returned.

The RFP, which according to the PRA coordinator in the city manager’s office, establishes the requirements of the purchase order, that states under the heading of “Scope of the Project” the number one (1) objective of the study is to “Optimize, to the fullest extent practicable, CPCC operations in accordance with current City Charter provisions and prevailing laws, ordinances and regulations,” a condition that precludes Polis from recommending a more independent and transparent model for adoption by the city .

However, this restriction is muddled by the number four direction that says, “Create an implementation roadmap that identifies the necessary actions, timelines and resources to realize recommended reforms, including amendments to the City Charter.”

In an attempt to obtain clarity of the two contradictory instructions the Beachcomber asked a Polis research consultant via email to clarify their understanding of the scope and objectives of the project.

On Aug. 19 the consultant replied to acknowledge receipt of the request for clarification and stated, “I want to acknowledge your email requesting clarification on the scope of the work for this project and let you know that I’ll respond once I confer with others on our team.”

On Aug. 20 the Polis research consultant replied, “in working to respond to your request, it became clear to me that your question should be directed to the City of Long Beach, which is handling all media related inquiries related to this project.”

A request to clarify was sent to the City Managers Office. The city manager’s spokesperson replied: “Polis is not prohibited by contract to recommend an oversight model that would require changes to the City Charter.”

 According to the Polis project schedule obtained by the Beachcomber through the PRA, a schedule for stakeholder (public) listening sessions conducted by the firm was to be developed in June and July with the sessions to begin sometime this month (August).

In that the city has not announced a schedule for public listening sessions the Beachcomber asked the Polis research consultant for an update on the scheduling plan.  She responded, “They were just recently pushed to late September due to a number of factors.”

The purchase order schedule also indicates the firm’s final report and recommendations are to be presented to the City Council in December.

In My Opinion

On July 15 this writer was interviewed by the Polis research consultant as part of the project. In the Beachcomber’s Aug. 18 email to Polis to obtain clarity on the issue of Charter change I concluded the email by repeating the following opinion:

As you may recall as a former police executive and reform advocate working for many years in the arena of criminal justice reform as a member of the board of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, it is my opinion that the current Long Beach model is totally ineffective, a massive waste of resources, provides no transparency and amounts to nothing more than a paper tiger whose function does nothing more than permit city management to point to CPCC “independence” and “completely separate investigations” as a public relations gimmick to legitimize the quality of citizen complaint investigations when the quality and the adjudication of the complaints do not meet professional standards and cheats the public from having a system of actual civilian oversight , thus presenting a dire need for the kind of change that requires nothing less than a major change to the City Charter.”

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

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

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Comments

it's obvious that the CCPC was deigned and established to help conceal misconduct by the police department giving the illusion that it was going to help stop the corruption. This same corruption still festers within the LBPD today. LBPD needs to be investigated by the fed's just like the city Torrance. It's just a matter of till LBPD get federally indicted, lets hope.

“Is Change to Civilian Oversight and Transparency Possible?”
While I’m cautiously optimistic that Polis Solutions will make some good recommendations vis-a-vis the CPCC, the fact remains that the basic foundation of the commission is flawed. How is the commission funded and staffed, who controls it, and what does the commission have oversight of? In the end all that will be done is a bit of reform, when what is needed —which became apparent during the George Floyd protests with testimony by then commissioner Porter Gilbert— is a brand new commission built from scratch that is truly independent from city hall. Suffice it to understand that just about every elected official is funded in part by the LBPOA, and as the saying goes, the dog don’t bite the hand that feeds it.

Polis is good but that doesn’t mean they’ll succeed in Long Beach.

I did an interview with Polis and found it to be highly professional and my interview to be serious, focused, and knowledgeable. But the Superspreader complaint is indicative of the hurdles Polis faces, if its goal is to achieve something in Long Beach.

First of all, it’s job is to write a report. If the report makes strong recommendations but is ignored in substance while being complemented on its surface, it will serve as just another fig leaf for corruption (as the CPCC itself has for decades).

Second, if the CPCC is reformed, you still need commissioners with the courage to push back against intimidation and take up the investigative tools they’ve been given on paper.

One of the CPCC’s biggest problems is not ever using even the insufficient tools it already possesses. The Superspreader tally shows that at least some commissioners remain cowed, even in the case of the most obvious complaint of misconduct conceivable.

Lastly, as I pointed out to Polis, one reason they were probably hired is that City Hall sees them as the less burdensome level of reform option out of their two options.

Real police reform would of course mean looking at the Police Dept. itself (duh).

Polis isn’t directly doing that. They are looking at the commission which looks at the Police Dept.

To do that alone is frankly kind of a joke, which isn’t Polis’s fault. But they could just as easily have been hired to do both but weren’t.

That means that even if they supply real CPCC reforms and even if they’re adopted and even if we have courageous commissioners, all we can expect is a very long path to any progress with the PD itself, if ever.

Under the circumstances of heightened scrutiny following George Floyd, that's exactly what the POA police union expects and would consider a hell of a deal. They basically don’t have anything to worry about as its business as usual in Long Beach for the foreseeable future for them.

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