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.”