Seeding the Thistle Patch at City Hall

Stephen Downing

[Editor's Note: See a video version of this commentary at the end.]

“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
– Abraham Lincoln

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson

Time to pluck and plant, the chief of police retires in December

The toxic culture of the LBPD did not mature in a vacuum.  It is in fact, enabled by the bureaucracy of City Hall.

The remedy is analogous to a patch of thistles waiting for a caring hand to pluck and replace it with seeds of change.  

If carefully selected the seedlings will produce a bountiful harvest of honorable and focused service to the community. Otherwise, the LBPD’s organizational culture will continue to yield crops that will continue to first feed and nurture the thorns of the thistle at the expense of community safety.

The community’s job is not the harvest, but rather to plant the seeds that will produce the best harvest.

Unfortunately, our City Charter precludes the community from participating either directly or indirectly in selecting the quality of seed (our chief of police) that has the best chance of producing a harvest that surpasses the status quo and nurtures positive change.

The City Charter bypasses the councilmembers we elected to legislate and establish policy and places the selection of the seed, tilling the soil and planting exclusively into the hands of a single, unelected individual – the city manager.

Unaccountable to local residents, City Manager Tom Modica will soon begin the process of selecting and installing a new chief of police – planting a new seed – inside the vacuum of City Hall and it is highly probable that the seed will be selected from the thistle patch, unless the community demands otherwise.

The problem is not that Modica will necessarily pick a bad seed. The problem is that the seed of the thistle always re-produces the thistle.

Modica’s opportunity to plant a new seed has arrived. The chief of police – as a 36-year replicate of the thistle patch – has announced his retirement and will step aside in December.

It is impossible to change the Charter in order to modify the hiring authority of the chief of police or to provide the civilian oversight necessary to monitor and nurture the seeds growth prior to December.

Thus, If the community is to be involved in selecting the seed then it must demand that involvement and ask that the city manager delegate his Charter power of seed selection to an open and transparent process that insures that the seed he ultimately plants will produce the harvest that best feeds the needs of the Long Beach community.

The Ask

So, to Mr. Modica, the planter, we ask and recommend the following:

  • Conduct an on-line survey asking the public to identify the skills, characteristics; background and top priorities they believe are most important for the next chief of police.
  • Make public the responses to the survey along with an announcement that the criteria will be made part of a study session with the City Council.
  • Conduct an open and transparent study session with the City Council to review the results of the survey and solicit from each council member their insight as to what skills, characteristics, background and top priorities each believe are most important for the next chief of police.
  • Request that – in addition to funding the position of chief of police – that the council also fund a minimum of two expert outside consultants – with pay equivalent to that of a deputy chief – for a minimum of two years to be selected by the new chief of police to assist in sowing the seeds of cultural change within the organization.
  • Establish the core selection criteria for the position, employ an executive recruiting firm that specializes in finding police chiefs and announce a national search for the position.
  • Select a diverse Blue Ribbon Search Committee (BRSC) that includes a highly qualified constitutional attorney, an experienced criminal justice academic, two (2) responsible members of the business community and five (5) representatives from Long Beach neighborhood associations that represent a geographical cross section of the city.
  • Require the BRSC to conduct a minimum of five (5) community listening sessions to gather community input in locations that best accommodate a geographical cross section of the city.
  • Provide staff support to the BRSC to facilitate applicant review, deliberations and the selection of applicants to be invited to an in-person interview with the BRSC.
  • Provide staff support to the BRSC in their conduct, evaluation and grading of the in-person applicant interviews.
  • Require the BRSC to provide a list in alphabetical order of the top seven candidates selected from the field of applicants interviewed.
  • Publish the list along with the finalists’ photograph and a two-paragraph summary of their background, qualifications, education, experience and accomplishments.
  • Conduct a study session with City Council members in executive session and narrow the finalist list to the top three candidates.
  • Publish the list of the top three finalists in alphabetical order, conduct follow-up interviews of the finalists if necessary and appoint one of the three finalists after accessing community input.
  • Plant the seed.

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


Click here to see a video version of this commentary:]



Brilliant conceptual and practical ideas. Mr. Modica will be judged by the citizens of Long Beach as to whether he sees the common sense and community responsibility of such a process. His lack thereof, similar to his overriding of the Citizen's Police Complaint Commission findings by such an astounding percentage will be his lasting legacy. If we are to guide our City from the utter abyss of corruption, mismanagement, unethical and illegal behavior, not only regarding our Police Department but in all areas of the City Management and Representation only a decisive break with the past will serve. Only then will we be able to restore faith and respect in the eyes of our people.

Excellent start by getting rid of one of the most incompetent and corrupt COP LB every have. Unfortunately this is not going to do any-good if we also allow Luna's brown nosing minions to stay in power or promote one of them to COP. We need to bring someone in from the outside. After that we need to remove the corrupt city attorney and city manager and mayor. We also need to have the Fed's come in and investigate LBPD due to its continued criminal behavior.

If the Chief of Police is a thistle, then City Manager Tom Modica is a GMO seed whose spineless genetic material has been politically manipulated to do whatever the Mayor demands. I’ve watched City Manager Modica’s career rise over the years, from his botched SEADIP presentation at the Yacht club to his overzealous destruction of marijuana businesses. Like most at City Hall, Mr. Modica has always done EXACTLY what he was told to do, no matter how political, no matter how unethical. That’s EXACTLY why Mr. Modica was put in the City Manager position and will hire whomever Mayor Garcia tells him to hire. It is naïve to think he will change at this point. That’s why the focus should be on Mayor Garcia and not City Manager Modica. However, that is beside the point.

I agree with all of Mr. Downing’s recommendations to plant the seed and also believe a hire from outside the department is indeed needed to lead LBPD in a new, community service oriented direction. That is the ONLY way to make lasting change. In-house Commanders, despite what they claim, lack the perspective to change LBPD’s culture, to lead their peers in a direction they have yet to experience their selves. I’ve been advocating for an outside hire since LBPD was lethally poisoned years ago by Chief Batts.

However, I even go a step further. I call it the Roundup thistle treatment. Rather than hire a new Police Chief, I recommend City Hall consider following what other cities have done and eliminate the entire department and replace it with the LA County Sheriff’s department, a department led by someone elected by the public rather than appointed by a politically corrupt mayor. That is something City Hall can do now without a Charter change.

Over time, LBPD evolved into a political organization that prostitutes its much desired endorsement to Mayor and Councilmember candidates who support the largest pay raises and perks for the police union. LBPD’ Union agrees to go door-to-door in uniform supporting their endorsement espousing the qualities of a certain candidate without ever mentioning that candidate will also seek to give them the fattest union contract paid for by taxpayer’s money. Replacing LBPD with LACSD eliminates much of the local politics.

If eliminating LBPD is too draconian for you, consider changing Long Beach’s Charter to make the Chief of Long Beach police an elected position similar to the City Prosecutor, City Attorney or City Auditor, all of which are elected positions ratified by Long Beach citizens, NOT corrupt elected officials.

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