“Continued Means of Transitory Immediate and Secure Communication”; LBPD Addresses Long Beach City Council Concerning TigerText Debacle

LBPD 1.JPG

LBPD Investigations Bureau Deputy Chief Robert Conant and Patrol Bureau Deputy Chief Wally Hebeish discuss the use of TigerText  in a Public Safety Committee meeting on 10/9/18. Photo by: Madison D’Ornellas / FORTHE media. (Long Beach City Hall)

Author: Joe Brizzolara / October 14, 2018

Long Beach Police Department delivers overview concerning TigerText debacle to L.B. City Council Public Safety Committee. Deputy Chief Richard Conant presented a report (Chief Robert Luna did not speak) to Cmmt. Chair Suzie Price (CD 1), Vice Chair Daryl Supernaw, and Councilmember Al Austin (CD6) on Tuesday afternoon.

A full report on use of the encrypted messaging app, which auto deletes texts and leaves them unrecoverable, should be completed on December 1st by the Department. An investigation is underway by the independently commissioned law firm Best Best & Krieger. Activists have said that this not an independent investigation because of a long-standing relationship between the firm and city officials. The A.C.L.U., after the story broke in an expose published by Al Jazeera, called on the city to end use of the app and warned that this revelation could upend many criminal cases. The District Attorney’s office has opened a review.

Police reform advocates believe this app may have been used to destroy exculpatory evidence in officer-involved shootings. An unnamed Long Beach Police Officer told Al Jazeera he had seen the app being used during the investigation into the shooting of Jason Conoscenti in the Alamitos Beach in 2014.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting:

  1. The LBPD is denying reports that TigerText was used in “an inappropriate manner”.

Conant said the “primary purpose” of TigerText was to allow for “continued means of transitory immediate and secure communication regarding operational and personnel matters” meaning quick, secure chat. The “personnel matters” may be an attempt to establish legal protection for the secreted nature of the messaging. Conant did not claim the messages were “notes” (as was stated by Councilmember Price) which are private and can be legally destroyed by officers. The LBPD used TigerText as a “direct messaging application,” not a “data storage system” (meaning there was no assumption these messages needed to or would be saved). Officers “have a duty to report misconduct at any level” Conant assured the Councilmembers.

An order was sent on September 18th to “immediately” stop using the app. LBPD Administration “acknowledged the optics surrounding” TigerText, and felt ending use “was warranted” to maintain public “confidence”. Documents from both the Police and Financial Departments are being pulled for the review. Subscription to TigerText cost the city $9,8880 in 2017.

  1. City official does not want to call this a “scandal”

Al Austin claims he didn’t know TigerText existed until “recent press reports” but he guesses there stock is up as a result of the media exposure.

“They’re the only winners in this scandal so to speak,” blurted Austin before quickly backpedaling, “I don’t know if I even want to call it a scandal but some have made it that.”

Austin doesn’t believe there was “intent” to withhold information from the public, but he also doesn’t believe “there’s a lot transparency within law enforcement anyway,” with self-acknowledged frankness. “To the extent we can be transparent I think we should be transparent.”

Austin asked Conant “What are the legal requirements for communication transparency for law enforcement in the state of California?” Conant responded the the question was “extremely broad” and he was “not prepared to expand on” it. He reiterated that this app was “not used for note taking.” Austin asked if TigerText is “equivalent” to police radio? Deputy Chief Conant said that it “could be compared to that,” which is “captured data on a recorded line,” but that it could also be likened to a “phone call” which is not recorded.

Price, pulling from her background as a prosecutor, commented that “note destruction” by police officers is completely legal, and that messages sent using TigerText were “digital notes basically” that were “being shared in a group format.”

  1. Councilmember Price really supports body cams

Councilmember Price did not feel comfortable “opining” about whether TigerText use was right or wrong this early in the discovery process. She does believes however, that there are examples of technology (with accompanying protocol) that do need to be implemented in order to make law enforcement more efficient.

“I’ve been saying for years now, we need body cameras” said Councilmember Price. She added that this is not meant to imply there is malfeasance currently going undocumented without body camera footage, but that body cams will inspire more public confidence and is good policy. The Department’s body cam program is currently not active as they search for a new brand after having tried two that didn’t work out. The department reported in January that officers with body cams are less likely to use force and have seen a drop in complaints.

For his part, Councilmember Supernaw was “very brief,” staying “within the scope of this agenda item.” He asked Conant if there are encrypted text messaging options for iPhones that don’t auto delete messages. Conant said that he assumes there are and that the review will vet them thoroughly.  

Also in attendance (audience): Councilmembers Lena Gonzalez (CD1), Jeannine Pearce (CD 2), Roberto Uranga (CD 7), Rex Richardson (CD 9).

“Deleting evidence with TigerText, what will Chief Luna think of next?”; Community groups call for termination of City Manager and LBPD Chief

20181002_163627

Press Conference Demanding Firing of LBPD Chief and City Manager Outside of City Hall (Downtown Long Beach)

Author: Joe Brizzolara / October 2, 2018

Black Lives Matter LBC  and the Democratic Socialists of America – Long Beach, as well as other community groups and residents affected by police violence, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside of city hall shortly before the weekly city council meeting. They demanded the termination of City Manager Pat West and Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna due to the use of the self-deleting messaging app TigerText by police officers.

“Delete Chief Luna, Delete Pat West. Cut P.D.’s budget, reinvest,” organizers chanted.

Al Jazeera reported two weeks ago that officers had been using the app since 2014, and that department administrators had advised the use of TigerText for conversations between officers—making those conversations undiscoverable during litigation. TigerText, now rebranded TigerConnect, is an encrypted messaging application and has a feature that can automatically delete texts after a set time period.

The LBPD has halted use of the app “pending further review of whether the use is consistent with the city’s record retention policy and administrative regulations for the use of mobile devices,” the department said in a statement.

“From a standard and policy perspective there was no malice here, there was no intent to do anything wrong,” Luna told the Los Angeles Times.

However, coalition organizers on Tuesday said they believe the use of the app represents an intentional effort on the part of the police to destroy public records that could have had a bearing on investigations and prosecutions.

“This is the type of communication that would be used in cases where [Long Beach Police Officers] have shot people, where they have killed people. [People] like Donte Jordan, likeTyler Woods, like Lionel Gibson,” said Dawn Modkins of BLM Long Beach, listing individuals shot by officers.

The coalition demanded a reopening of all cases since 2014, with an emphasis on those involving officer-inflicted injuries and for the LBPD to pay all associated costs. Other demands included that the Long Beach Unified School District end its program of stationing officers on campus for security; they want to create community-based mental health teams to respond to crisis situations involving those with mental health issues, rather than having law enforcement be the first response; and they are also demanding an independent investigation of the LBPD’s usage of the app.

City Attorney Charles Parkin and City Manager Patrick West, have announced that they will be commissioning an investigation to be conducted by the law firm Best Best & Krieger, headed by former public-corruption prosecutor, Gary W. Schons. The law firm most recently represented the city in their legal challenges to two ballot opposition arguments against mayor-backed charter amendments that will be voted on in November.

James Suazo of DSA – Long Beach believes this law firm is too closely connected with city leadership to run an independent investigation.

“There’s been numerous cases where they’ve defended the city in legal cases. As long as the city manager, who is obviously complicit, is overseeing this, it’s not a truly independent investigation. What we’re calling for is [an investigation] that the community oversees,” said Suazo.

The coalition, which also included Standing Up for Racial Justice Long Beach and Stop LAPD Spying, holds Luna and West responsible for the debacle because they represent the direct chain of command overseeing departmental affairs.

“The police chief doesn’t report to the mayor or city council, he reports to the city manager. So it’s the city manager’s responsibility to ensure that all of his subordinates are following the law,” said Suazo.

Preceding the press conference, the city council discussed an evaluation of West’s job performance in a closed session.

Coalition members also pointed to the tens of millions the city has had to payout in lawsuits stemming from officer-involved shootings as proof that the department is not upholding the motto displayed on their police vehicles: “to protect and serve.”

“The trust is gone,” said Modkins, speaking about the police department. “It’s been gone for a lot of us.”