A new contract that would require Long Beach to warn police officers whenever someone wants to see certain public records about them has drawn ire from local activists who are pushing the City Council to reject the idea.
Long Beach officials say this practice isn’t new. Since April, the city has allowed LBPD officers to preview certain public records about themselves that have to do with dishonesty, sexual misconduct and potentially deadly use-of-force. However, that wasn’t widely known until the procedure was set to be formalized in a new contract between the police union and the city.
Now, a coalition of groups led by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter has condemned the idea in an open letter to the City Council, which is set to consider the contract at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17.
“Approving the LBPD contract/MOU with this provision would show city of Long Beach communities that City Council members are in the business of valuing police privilege over legal transparency, protecting violent police officers, and overlooking the community’s safety,” the letter says in part. “This would be a dangerous mistake and unacceptable to the residents of this city.”
Under the provision, officers would be notified when someone requests records under a new state transparency law known as Senate Bill 1421. When possible, that notification would include the requestor’s name and a general description of what they’re asking for. Long Beach has been handing over the names of requesters to officers since April, a city spokesman confirmed. The new contract also formalizes the city’s practice of giving officers five days to review the records before they’re released.
Until SB 1421 went into effect in January, California had among the strictest police-privacy protections. Officers may not even be aware of all the information in files now being released to the public, Long Beach Police Officers Association President James Foster previously told the Post.
Foster said officers deserve a warning so they’re not blindsided by information when it’s made public. Advanced notice lets them warn loved-ones and prepare for any possible retaliation or backlash.
But activists argue giving officers a preview opens the door for intimidation.
SB 1421 mandates police departments disclose only certain categories of records: those documenting any time officers used potentially deadly force or any time they were found to be dishonest or sexually abused a member of the public.
“These aren’t your good guys,” said Black Lives Matter LBC organizer Dawn Modkins.
More than 20 groups have signed onto the open letter. They include the ACLU, local public defenders union, Council on American Islamic Relations, CSULB Black Student Union and Immigrants Rights Coalition.
Long Beach has pointed out that anyone can submit a request anonymously. And in a memo released Friday, City Manager Pat West said officers who get early access to the documents won’t be able to influence what records are released unless they go to court and win a legal injunction.
West also wrote Long Beach is not alone in letting officers preview records. He said sheriff’s departments in San Bernardino, Riverside, Sacramento and Los Angeles along with police departments in San Francisco and Riverside do the same—although the Long Beach Post hasn’t independently confirmed that.
Long Beach’s negotiating team and members of the Police Officers Association have already agreed to the new contract, but the City Council holds the final stamp of approval.
The police union is a powerful political force in Long Beach, frequently making campaign contributions and weighty endorsements, but at least one council member has expressed concern over the early warning provision.
“There’s no way I could support this,” Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce said in a Facebook post.
Mayor Robert Garcia did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Post.
Editor’s note: This article was updated with further information from a city spokesman.
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