Public Safety Committee Non-Existent

“… In the biggest mass public safety issue in the past 100 years, the Public Safety Committee didn’t meet or discuss the pandemic’s public safety issues through March and April even once.” – Bill Pearl

The sign is positioned in the middle of the entry to the Babette Bakery on Atlantic, just north of Anaheim St. It reads: “For the well-being of you and our employees, we are sorry, but if you are not wearing a face covering, you may not enter the store and we will not be able to serve you. Thanks [sic] you for your understanding.”

On Sunday, April 24 we received an email from a Long Beach resident who frequents the bakery regularly. He explained the content of a video attached to the email:

I went to Babette Bakery on Atlantic just north of Anaheim and as I was leaving two LBPD went into the bakery. Everyone in line was wearing a mask, as were the clerks, except these two (uniformed) officers.”

“They were talking, smiling and didn’t give the outward appearance they were worried in any way. That last part is my opinion of course but I really find it worrisome that they were not wearing masks. If the rest of us are, why not them? Shouldn’t they be leading by example?”

Good question, especially considering the fact that one of the police officers wore the single chevron on his shirtsleeve that identified him as a training officer.

Some History

On March 28 the LBPD announced, “Officers have been issued personal protective equipment and are practicing social distancing while conducting briefings.”

In early April we began to learn that wasn’t necessarily true.

The Beachcomber received multiple complaints from LBPD insiders that officers were not provided with adequate PPE gear, felt pressure from the brass not to call in sick or self-isolate because of perceived COVID-19 symptoms and that no form of alternative housing had been provided for those who feared contaminating their families when going off duty.

Then, on April 9, Officer Mary Katherine Covarubias went public on Fox News with many of the same complaints, with a focus upon the failure of LBPD brass to provide adequate numbers of face coverings.

Officer Covarubias followed that up with a 634-word essay on Facebook that exposed in stark detail the administration’s failures to protect its police officers, all of which was published in the last issue of the Beachcomber.

Two days later, on April 11, Chief of Police Robert Luna acknowledged the problem in a “Watch Memo” to the troops in which he reiterated, “Face coverings should be used when physical distancing is not possible or there is no other method for providing separation.”

The memo went on to credit the “collaborative efforts” of the Human Resources Department, the Health Department and the Long Beach Police Officers Association for efforts that “led to the receipt and issuance of this additional piece of safety equipment.”

Four days later (April 15) Officer Covarubias followed up with another Facebook post and indicated that the LBPD brass had responded to the public pressure and… “Regarding the masks – it’s been taken care of.”

In that post, which was also published in the last issue of the Beachcomber, Covarubias exposed the fact that “Officer Parcells was not allowed to be tested after a COVID-19 exposure of a felony suspect it becomes really upsetting. Then to learn that he was denied being quarantined in one of the many empty allotted trailers that we spent a lot of money on – there’s no excuse. Whoever thought that was the right decision I don’t know how you sleep at night. You basically sent the message that he’s on his own and to pay for (which he did) his own self-quarantine. And his story is one of many. Many.”

Exposures Demand Public Safety Policy Be Reviewed

Because of the cumulative exposure of continuing problems with officer safety, the lack of transparency from both the Joint Information Center set up by the city manager to coordinate the governmental response to the pandemic and the non-response from the LBPD, we sent an email to Councilmember Suzie Price, chair of the Public Safety Committee with copies to Al Austin and Daryl Supernaw, the two councilmembers assigned to her committee.

The April 17 email provided a cut and paste of all Officer Covarubias’ Facebook posts and the details of the two published Beachcomber news articles. We wrote: “If anything deserves a full inquiry by your committee this is it.”

Councilmember Price wrote back the following day: “Thank you for sharing this with me. I had not seen it. I will talk to the city manager about this first.

“The priority for me would be to ensure that officers are getting the support they need and we don’t need a public safety committee inquiry to effectuate meaningful changes in the police department.

“Accomplishing the goal of safety and protection of our employees is the goal and if we can accomplish that, regardless of the venue, then we have served them well. I will connect with the city manager now.”

Two days later, (April 18) we received a follow-up email from Price: “I have talked to the city manager and feel satisfied that the situation is resolved and there should be no reasonable basis for concern given the city’s actions to remedy the concerns.”

That same day we responded, writing:

It would be appreciated if you could be more specific.

1. Did you learn what happened to the housing trailers initially deployed at the police academy?

2. Have provisions been made to house officers for self-isolation? If so, what?

3. How many officers have self-isolated or called in sick?

4. Have provisions been made for our officers to wear soft (fatigue) uniforms?

5. Have sanitation posts been arranged for the officers to don and doff with sanitary clothes pre- and post-duty?

6. Have sanitization stations been established for police vehicles and other exposed equipment?

7. Have temperature posts been established at all police facilities to test officers and civilians for fever before entering or going on duty?

8. Has family counseling and psychiatric resources been established for communication and response?

9. Have the officers been issued all the PPE protection and change out PPE reserves as needed?

10. What policy has been enacted when officers perceive a need to be tested based upon suspicious viral contact in field situations?

On April 22 Price responded in an email stating, “Mr. Downing, I am copying our city manager on this email so that he can better address your questions. When I spoke with him, he was able to address my concerns to a satisfactory level.”

To date, we have received no response from the city manager.

Response to the Non-Response

It was our opinion that Price’s response was a non-response and typically the kind of stonewall that has always been received from City Hall when the tough questions are asked.

This, coupled with the fact that Price’s Public Safety Committee met on only three occasions in 2019 and not once so far in 2020 coupled with the fact that our city is in the midst of the biggest mass public safety issue in the past 100 years, we wrote the following email to Councilmember Price with copies to her committee members, Councilmembers Al Austin and Daryl Supernaw.

 Dear Council member Price,

Thank you for your response.

At the start of this communication I recommended that this entire subject was ripe for an investigation by the Public Safety Committee.

I still do.

In fact there should be an after-action analysis and report to the community on the city’s handling of this major crisis – even if perfect – to identify problems, examine solutions and put in place plans for response to the next one so that the community can be assured of its governments’  preparation and readiness.

You may also like to share this thought with the city manager.

On a related note, I viewed the LBPost Facebook interview with Chief Luna today. The following is my takeaway should it be of interest to you, your committee members and the city manager:

“On April 22 LBPD Chief of Police Robert Luna appeared in a Facebook interview with the LB Post. The majority of his answers to questions posed were general in nature. He contended that the LBPD has done an excellent job of responding to the viral crisis and was effusive in his appreciation of the cooperation from the public as well as honoring the great sacrifices and performance of his officers and civilian employees, calling them heroes.”

Luna answered none of the questions the Beachcomber posed over the past weeks that were also not answered via written responses from City Hall’s JIC but did say that last week the LBPD obtained – via generous donations – more PPE gear for his officers; the focus and absence of which was a part of the Beachcomber reporting.

Luna did not address the subject of self-isolation by officers or the departments failure to offer housing for such purposes, including the subject of the FEMA trailers mobilized at the police academy to be used for this purpose or their mystery disappearance the day following exposure of this issue in the Beachcomber.

An explanation of which will hopefully be provided via the PRA filed, per the city’s direction in lieu of answering related questions posed by the Beachcomber.

Chief Luna did say that the department has arranged for dry cleaning services to ensure sanitization of his officer’s class A uniforms, an issue with the rank and file reported by the Beachcomber as lacking.

As to the rank and file’s call for “soft uniforms” that can help mitigate spread of the virus by the nature of its material as well as the simplicity of overnight laundering as opposed to dry cleaning, Luna acknowledged that many police departments deploy their officers in fatigue-style uniforms and that the LBPD has had their use under considerations for a long time, but he said he has not yet approved adoption of the soft-cloth uniform in spite of acknowledging that deployment of the uniform would have been – and still would be – effective for this crisis.

The chief did not indicate that there is any immediate effort being undertaken by the department to authorize officers to obtain the fatigue uniform for wear during the remainder of the crisis.

Chief Luna attributed many of the morale problems – as reported in the Beachcomber articles in the past several weeks – to an on-going breakdown in communication from HQ to the field and said that his command officers are dealing with these problems “more and more as each day passes.”

The general tone and nature of Luna’s answers left this listener with the distinct impression that the LBPD’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been one of putting out day to day fires rather than operating from a foundation of detailed pre-planning initiated at the time the threat first began to emerge.”

Problems Continue,
Answers are the Same

Councilmember Price, her committee members, Mayor Garcia, the JIC and the LBPD have all been made aware of the April 24 video featuring the officers endangering the public and the bakery employees by ignoring the sign prohibiting entry to the Babette Bakery without a face covering as well as our multiple attempts to obtain a response from either the JIC or the LBPD to the question: Have the officer(s) in fact been issued PPE and are in violation of policy or are they without masks because the distribution was not accomplished as advertised?”

On May 1, Chief of Police Robert Luna responded to the question through his media spokesperson, writing: “Thank you for sharing the video. As everyone continues to adjust, we are continuing to educate all of our employees including those depicted in the video.”

We visited the Babette Bakery on May 3, spoke with the cashier and showed her the video.

When asked if she was afraid to refuse service to the unmasked officers, she sheepishly looked away and then looked back and shrugged self-consciously.

It was clear that she was afraid to answer the question.

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

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

EDITORS NOTE: Following the May 5 deadline for this column it was noted on the city calendar that the Public Safety Committee has scheduled a teleconference meeting for May 8 at 4:30 p.m. Postings identified two agenda items related to receiving reports on anticipated local impacts of early release and zero bail policies and one agenda item related to emergency communications on 9-1-1 calls and numbers requiring police or fire responses during COVID-19.  None of the three agenda items were accompanied by any supporting documents. 

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Comments

LBPD officers don't have to follow the rules regarding face masks but they will sure give someone a ticket or bring it to their attentions that they need a mask. How many people did these officers contaminate/kill by not wearing a face mask? Can you please post the video you have so we can stay clear of these lawbreaking and rogue corrupt cops?

On March 26 I was leaving Home Depot when I encountered a small group of police officers apprehending two men. As I stood next to my car rubbing sanitizer and getting ready to pull out my keys I noticed one of the police officers scratching his face while wearing gloves. A second police officer was leaning against a pickup truck cradling his face with both his gloved hands. None of the six to eight officers present were wearing masks, keeping a social distance, or behaving in a way consistent with their safety or the safety of others.

Around this time social distancing was not new, and many, if not most of us, were wearing masks. I was already making masks and had offered them gratis to the Long Beach Health Department and Mayor Garcia. The city's actions show a blatant disregard for the safety of essential personnel and the public.

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