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

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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).

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