LBPD Appoints 1st Black Female Sergeant

By: 
Stephen Downing

The LBPD was founded 134 years ago. Today it is the second largest municipal police agency in Los Angeles County and the 7th largest in California.

On September 8 the Beachcomber learned through social media that Officer Nikki Wells-Alexander – the first Black female to be elevated above the entry rank of police officer in LBPD history – had been quietly promoted to the rank of sergeant last May 21 and scheduled to be part of a LBPD promotion ceremony on Sept. 20.

The Beachcomber was unable to locate any press announcement from the LBPD or City Hall related to this extraordinary occasion, but the overflow crowd in council chambers at the September 20 promotion ceremony – with African Americans representing at least 60 percent of those attending – including 50 of Alexander’s Delta Sigma Theta Inc. sorority sisters all dressed in red – evidenced the power of social media within the Black community to focus attention on this historic occasion.

Many of the attendees expressed disappointment that Chief of Police Wally Hebeish made no mention of this historic first for the LBPD when presenting Wells-Alexander with her badge or when he stood with her for the official LBPD photograph.

Several observers familiar with the Beachcomber article published in March 2021 entitled “LBPD Does Not Promote Black Women,” speculated that those currently running for political office who have been in positions of authority over the past 7 to 8 years – all of whom promised to correct the historical racial inequities within the LBPD – would prefer that the electorate was not reminded of their collective failure to establish any affirmative, long range policies to advance the Police Department toward becoming representative of the 12% Black population in Long Beach or improve upon the dismal representation of all women in the rank and file (13%), which today includes only four Black women, including Sgt. Alexander.

At the time the March 25, 2021 Beachcomber article was published, Black women within the department numbered five. Since that time, one resigned.

Those politicians identified as currently running for higher office who could have made a difference over their past eight years in office include: Mayor Robert Garcia, currently running for Congress, Mayoral Candidate Suzie Price, chair of the Public Safety Committee for seven of the past eight years, Mayoral Candidate Rex Richardson, architect of the “Framework for Reconciliation” plan following the George Floyd protests and candidate for Los Angeles County Sheriff, Robert Luna, who retired this past January after serving 35 years with the LBPD, the last seven years as chief of police.

Homicide detective Mark McGuire, who retired in 2015 and remains the longest serving African American homicide detective in LBPD history – and the historical expert on Black women in the LBPD (his data was the basis for the 2021 article)  – was asked what he thought the significance of the Wells-Alexander promotion signaled in terms of LBPD reforms.

“My view of what has changed is [that] zero has changed,” McGuire said.

The former homicide detective explained his statement, saying: “The disbelief of LBPD not ever having an African American female promoted in the history of the department puts a spot light on a police department that has been racially discriminating against African American employees for years and especially the females, which is evident by the lack of numbers due to not recruiting them, hiring them, training them and treating them fairly as equals.”

Political Window Dressing?

Following the March 2021 Beachcomber article detailing the failure of the LBPD to promote Black women, a Sergeant of Police examination was conducted by the Long Beach Civil Service Department.

On August 4, 2021 the eligible list was published following an examination process that – according to Civil Service rule Section 13 – required a score of 70 or better to pass each of the three parts of the examination process.

A Beachcomber investigation prompted by complaints from LBPD rank and file officers at that time – revealed that Rule Section 13 requiring a score of 70 on each component of the examination process was violated.

The details of the Beachcomber investigation were published in an article entitled “Was the LBPD Sergeant Exam Fixed?” it was established that the Civil Service Department arbitrarily adjusted the written component of the examination in a manner that allowed all candidates to pass and proceed to the other components of the exam process – a flagrant violation of the Civil Service Commission Rule 13 and a first in the history of the police sergeant examination process.

The inequity of the complained of “fix” reported was that candidates who failed the written by as many as 10 points were allowed to advance to the subjective parts of the exam and become certified while others who scored in the 90s on the written component failed to be certified because they missed achieving a score of 70 by as little as one-half point on the subjective components.

This reporter filed a complaint with the Civil Service Commission on behalf of officers who asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.

On Dec. 4, 2021 the Beachcomber published this reporter’s efforts to bring the matter to the attention of the Civil Service Commission in an article titled – Civil Service Commissioners to Look at LBPD Sergeant Exam Rule Violations.

The elements of dishonesty described in that article resulted in the Civil Service Commission assigning two of its members, Susana Gonzalez Edmond and Yvonne Wheeler, serving as the commissions’ Recruitment and Selection Committee, to investigate the allegation, which follows here:

Allegation: That Article III of Civil Service Rule Section 13 – Grading of Examinations – as adopted by the Civil Service Commission was violated in the administration and certification of the 2021 police sergeant examination by allowing candidates scoring less than 70 correct answers on the 100-word, multiple-choice examination to proceed to the next step in the examination process, a violation of Civil Service Commission Rule Section 13.

A diligent review of the City Charter, the job bulletin, past practice and an acknowledgment that lawful governance prohibits internal department policy from overruling a Charter Approved Civil Service Rule will provide sufficient facts and precedence for your committee to recommend to the Board of Civil Service Commissioners that the allegation be sustained.

The following are facts and precedence related to the examination process is manifest:

  • The Job Bulletin for the examination stated: “Candidates must achieve a minimum score of 70 in each component of the examination process to be placed on the eligible list and that “candidates with the 60 highest raw scores on the Multiple-Choice Examination will be invited to the Assessment Center.”
  • The Job Bulletin does not permit an exception for the written component of the examination.
  • A historical review of past sergeant examinations will reveal that Rule 13 has never before been compromised or obfuscated by application of an independently created department “formula policy.”
  • A historical review of past sergeant examinations will reveal that no Candidate with a score that is less than 70 on any component of the examination has ever won a position on the eligible list.
  • A historical review of past sergeant examinations will reveal that 100% of candidates passing the written examination has never occurred.
  • 100% of the candidates who took the 2021 written examination were “invited to the Assessment Center” including candidates with scores less than 70.
  • Candidates with scores less than 70 on the written examination were certified while candidates with scores of 70 or better were not certified.

Civil Service Commission Rule 13 requiring a score of 70 or better on all components of the 2021 examination process was rigorously applied to all components of the examination except the written.

Candidates who scored in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s on the written examination failed to attain a score of 70 on other parts of the examination (by miniscule fractions in many cases), were not provided any adjustment in any other part of the scoring process and thus, were not certified.

There is no evidence that the Commission has ever approved a “cut off formula” that the department alleges it used to justify use of the term “Rating” as opposed to the term “Score” as required in the Civil Service Commission Rule.

There is no evidence that the city accommodated the meet and confer requirements of the Meyer, Milias Brown Act before changing “working conditions” with respect to the historical practice of applying Rule 13 to the examination process nor is there any evidence that the Civil Service Department sought and obtained approval from the Civil Service Commission to tamper with Rule 13 during the 2021 certification process.

It is unknown to this complainant why the Police Officer’s Association (Police Union) did not register a compliant with the Civil Service Commission on behalf of those in their membership who suffered the unjust and unequal results of the examination.

The facts and precedent outlined above support a sustained finding of the allegation.

The remedy to this historically isolated violation of Civil Service Rule 13 can take many forms. It is recommended that your Committee recommend to the Civil Service Commission that:

1. All candidates who scored 70 or better on the interview component of the examination have their scores from the Assessment Center calculated according to the established weighted values without regard to achievement of a score of 70 or better in the Assessment Center, recalculate the overall scores and publish a new certification list.

2. Those on the current certification list who have already been promoted remain in their position and allow those on the re-calculated list who scored higher than those already promoted to remain on the eligibility list until promoted, without regard to the 2 year expiration period.

3. The Commission formally acknowledge that systemic change is superior to short lived transitory “fixes” by requiring the Civil Service and Police Departments to re-examine recruitment, assignment and mentoring processes (referencing the LBPD’s 30 X 30 Advancing Women in Policing Pledge) as the best method to achieve durable and lasting diversity in the police department’s supervisory and command ranks as opposed to manipulating the examination process to achieve results that satiate the immediate needs of political window dressing.

Nine months have passed since the Civil Service Commission assigned the committee investigation. Two meetings have been scheduled and cancelled. The complaint, facts, precedent and recommendations remain in the committee file for when the next meeting is scheduled.

LBPD Makes 30 X 30 Pledge

Following publication of the two Beachcomber articles in August and October 2021 and the appointment of the first seven sergeants on the newly certified civil service list – the LBPD issued a press release announcing, “The Long Beach Police Department Pledges to Advance Women in Policing.”

The 30X30 pledge program – implemented as a national initiative in 2018 by Chief Ivonne Roman (ret.) of the Newark Police Department and Maureen McGough of the National Institute of Justice – provides the tools and resources to assist police departments across the nation in a pledge to advance the number of women in policing 30% by 2030.

On Dec. 17, 2021 the LBPD joined over 200 police departments across the nation that have made the pledge.

Two of the many resources provided through the pledge program’s “What Works” materials include: “Recruiting & Retaining Women: A self-Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement” and “Eliminating Barriers to Promotion.”

It is unknown what programming or progress the LBPD has made toward using and implementing the 30 X 30 program tools since the department made the pledge eight months ago.

LBPD insiders asked about implementation of 30 X 30 initiatives within the department told the Beachcomber they have not yet seen evidence of any changes made that are related to the 30 X 30 Pledge.

What Does Alexander’s Promotion Mean?

On Sept. 8 the Beachcomber asked LBPD media relations for the “opportunity to interview Sgt. Wells-Alexander on this historic occasion.”

Six days later Chief Hebeish’s spokesperson replied, “Sgt. Alexander has declined the interview opportunity with your publication, thanks again.”

It is not known why Sgt. Wells-Alexander declined the interview or how well she scored on the police sergeant examination. She was the only one of the LBPD’s five Black females with the required years on the job to take the examination.

It is also unknown if any of the Black male officer’s taking the examination with passing written scores of 70 or better were disqualified in other componant parts of the examination.

Had the LBPD began its work to change its culture and ensure the implementation of policies that intentionally support the success of qualified women officers – as well as Black male officers – throughout their careers – these questions would not need to be raised – and the Civil Service Department would not be forced by upwardly mobile politicians to save face by “fixing” a promotional examination.

Retired LBPD homicide detective Mark McGuire, a researcher who completed an in-depth study of the experiences and absence of promotional opportunities for Black women in the LBPD, has no doubts about Alexander’s abilities.

He said: “Sgt Wells-Alexander will be an outstanding sergeant and role model for the LBPD, her subordinates and her peers. She will be professional and will not get involved with anything that will embarrass her or the department. Sergeant Wells-Alexander has the support of many, many organizations and individuals who were all stunned with disbelief that she is the first African American woman to be promoted in LBPD history.”

McGuire then offered much of what the 30 X 30 Pledge program began promoting four years ago. He said, “The LBPD must now give Sgt. Wells-Alexander the opportunity to succeed in making her the best sergeant she can be and make use of her talents as a recruiter, detective, and senior police officer to educate and mentor the few that are there as well as any future African American females applying to the Long Beach Police Department.”

The retired homicide detective then offered his congratulations to the newly promoted sergeant and advised her to be “Professional, honest, ethical, brave and do not put up with anyone who disrespects you as a person or your rank.”

 

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

Mark McGuire – a major contributor to this article is a retired LBPD homicide detective, a Long Beach resident and founding member of Police Against Racism.

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Comments

The LBPD is a racist, corrupt organization, that is lead by incompetent Staff. This PD will not change because it has the backing of a corrupt city government that helps it hide its corruption. The beachcomber has been exposing this corruption for years and nothing has changed. All this is just window dressing to divert attention from all the corruption that has been going on. This move is just to quiet all its critics. Now the most incompetent and corrupt Xemployee Luna is running for LAC Sheriff with the full backing of everyone in the LBC government. This support only show that this city government is not willing to change.. Support Alex Villanueva for Sheriff. Not the corrupt and incompetent Luna that this city protected for years.

Lets get some stuff straight here: Nikki was promoted because she took a test that she studied for and worked hard. The promotion was not handed to her and she could of taken the test 20 years ago. Second, there would of been two other female blacks that could of been promoted but they got fired!!! One was fired for providing information to gang members and the other for time card fraud. Mr. Mark Macguire was not well liked and it wasnt because he was black, but because he had the worst attitude. He walked around like he was god and people had to bow to him. I guess he had little man syndrome. His brother was the opposite and he promoted to commander. Fyi she is not appointed she was promoted after taking a test.

Mr. Facts, I didn't read anywhere that she did not study and didn't pass the test. But what I did read was that this test was given violating the city rules. If this test and the officers who took it where LBPD finest then why violate the rules to make them pass it, don't pass the smell test. I know how to fix this show the test scores! this info should be public record because am sure they got paid with tax dollars when they took the test. If we hide the scores then they hiding something. Given this info will also tell the LBC people that we have competent leaders, lol which I really doubt, just from the incompetent Luna and the corrupt staff that he left us with.

I agree ...I heard from sources that this last sergeant test was rigged to pass people.

Mr. Facts, (if that is your real name)

Since you clearly work or worked for LBPD, you should get YOUR facts straight.
Sgt. Alexander did not have enough time on to take the Sergeant's Exam twenty years ago. There were more than two female black officers who could have tested, not just the ones you mentioned.
The officer you claim was fired for time card fraud, in fact, received a service retirement...she was not fired.
Detective McGuire (note the correct spelling, readily available in the article itself) is a highly decorated detective, who had an impeccable reputation with those who mattered, namely the relatives of the victims he represented as he brought murderers to justice.
If you think his brother is the "opposite", you don't know either one of them as well as you think. They both will speak out against injustice and preferential treatment. They share values like that.
But you are correct in stating that Nikki was promoted and not "appointed".

Yes it’s correct that the sergeants exam was tampered with, however, Nikki was not one of the candidates benefiting from the tampering. The tampering occurred to secure a promotion for sergeants that did not pass. If they have not promoted an African American female in the history of the depart. they are not going to use cheating to help Niki. That had no choice but to promote her she passed without the cheating perks. Additionally, the LBPD and other city departments are being investigated for their racist practices that are ingrained in the city system. Chief Hebish showed he has no interest in Niki being the first African American sergeant. A racist department will definitely not cheat to advance an African American!

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