Members of the Long Beach Police Department's Command Staff take questions at a town hall meeting in January. Photos by Jason Ruiz
Six months ago, newly promoted Police Chief Robert Luna decided the time had come to address concerns about police transparency and the public's lack of trust in the department's officers during an unprecedented town hall style meeting with citizens of Long Beach. The move came at the behest of the Long Beach Ministers Alliance in an effort to develop an understanding of police protocol and to give the community an opportunity to let the department know how it was performing.
Thursday, June 11, marks the second quarterly “town hall” discussion. Church One in North Long Beach will host command staff and department heads from the Long Beach Police Department, fielding questions from the community yet again. But this time, the community will have access to an open microphone, something that was absent at the January event, leading many attendees questioning if the event was a dialogue or a lecture.
Pastor Gregory Sanders, senior pastor at The ROCK Christian Fellowship and president of the alliance, said the second Police and Community Town Hall underwent a makeover to alleviate some of the concerns regarding questions from the public not being addressed on purpose. At Thursday’s event, all speakers will have a 45 second window to share their thoughts, complaints or praise for the police department, an idea agreed on mutually by the alliance and the LBPD to put to rest any suspicion of censorship.
“We realize there may be those [who] say ‘hey guys, we appreciate what you’re doing, thanks for a great job but maybe think about this,’” Sanders said. “And there will be those [who] say ‘I’m so frustrated with what you’re doing, why are we not doing this?’ I think we’ll have both sides of the coin but I think the productivity will come from allowing people to frame it as they feel it.”
The inability to do so at the January town hall meeting led to pockets of cynicism in the crowd, which eventually overflowed, turning into chants from an advocacy group in attendance and the mother of a man killed by LBPD gunfire taking the stage and confronting Chief Luna over the microphone.
Administration Bureau Chief Braden Phillips said that one of the main concerns for the department is to get as many questions addressed as possible, as they learned at the January event that accommodating over 500 attendees was nearly impossible. However, the change of format to an open mic has him more concerned over someone trying to monopolize the platform and exceed their allotted time. Negative remarks, he said, is an important part of the process.
“In any kind of a forum where you’re going to receive questions from the public there’s always going to be the potential for whoever’s getting those questions to be somewhat uncomfortable with them,” Phillips said. “They’re going to be pointed, they’re going to focus on challenging issues but that’s part of what we’re there for. We’ll hear what those issues are, we’ll give our best answers on what we think about that particular issue and how we’re trying to deal with that issue.”
Sanders agreed with Phillips, stating the forum needs to include criticism of the department as a means to continue the healing process of the city, tapping the voice of Long Beach as a whole. But like the first meeting, this one won’t be a resolution, nor is it designed to be. Thursday night stands as a continuance of a community dialogue to build a healthier relationship between citizens and those who police them.
“The only way we can do that is by creating for people to begin to engage our police at whatever their level of hostility or anxiety is,” Sanders said. “We understand that the possibility exists that people will show up and there will be some hostility, but you’ve got to have that as well, because what people can’t express inside they will demonstrate outside and we want to balance that out.”
Some hostility could stem from recent officer-involved shootings that have left two unarmed teenagers dead, entering the city into the much broader national conversation of use of force and whether or not its being abused by patrol officers. The precarious timing of the town hall will certainly yield questions from the community about officer conduct, as did the January meeting.
Phillips said the department has been working toward making their policies and practices publicly available and accessible through its website. He noted the department contacts about a million people per year and averages about 500 use of force incidents, which could amount to merely pulling a person’s arm behind their back to handcuff them. However, he conceded that with the wave of national coverage involving cases of officer misconduct has worked to misrepresent law enforcement as a whole, and that’s something the department strives to correct through events like Thursday’s.
LONG BEACH POLICE/COMMUNITY TOWN HALL II
LONG BEACH POLICE AND COMMUNITY TOWN HALL IIOn Thursday night, June 11, 2015, The Long Beach Ministers Alliance will present the second Police and Community Town Hall meeting.This second Town Hall will be hosted by: Church One located at 700 E. 70th Street, Long Beach, Ca. 90805 with Bishop W.T. Ervin. The event will begin at 7:00 P.M.Posted by Long Beach Ministers Alliance on Saturday, June 6, 2015
“We frankly have not done a very good job on what it means when we say there is a thorough internal investigation,” Phillips said. “We know what that means but that may not be as well understood in the community. So I think we need to do a better job of explaining what kind of review goes into that internal investigation and what the outcomes of that investigation can be and in a generic sense, what has happened in the past when it’s been found that our employees are acting in a way that’s inconsistent with our policies.”
Sanders said a variety of other topics will be visited, including crime updates from each division and discussions on overall community safety, police complaint processes, hiring and firing practices and gang violence suppression efforts. He added that in keeping with the agreement from the last meeting, all of the police department answers to questions that were turned in to the moderator in January, but not addressed publicly, will be included in a packet that will be distributed Thursday.
It is important to both sides that a level of mutual understanding and respect be reached through these events. Sanders said that difficult times call for the difficult questions the police department is sure to face Thursday night, and he’s hopeful that it can lead to a healthy transformation for the city. Phillips acknowledged that sentiment, stating that the department needs the partnership of the community to address problems, as they can’t “arrest our way to public safety.”
To both men, the collaboration and dialogue coming out of Thursday evening and two other scheduled town halls later in the year will be integral in addressing public safety, for both officers and residents.
“This is not an us versus them,” Phillips said. “It’s us versus the challenges that some parts of our society create for public safety.
Church One is located at 700 East 70th Street, Long Beach, CA 90805. The Town Hall event is scheduled to begin at 7:00PM.