App that deleted police messages was not approved by legal team, city attorney says

Long Beach’s legal team had no idea its police department was using a messaging app that automatically deleted communications, according to City Attorney Charles Parkin, who said he never would have approved use of the app called Tiger Text.

Tiger Text has been in use by dozens of officers—including department brass—since at least 2014 and could have widespread legal implications because police are required to turn over evidence and other relevant information in criminal cases and civil lawsuits. The department may have run afoul of those requirements by using the app, according to legal experts.

Parkin was the city attorney in 2014, but he said he only learned about Tiger Text this week because of an Al Jazeera story outlining the department’s use of the app. The city is now scrambling to learn more about it.

App that allows Long Beach police messages to disappear sparks legal furor

Parkin said he would never recommend the use of a system that automatically deletes records. “It just didn’t make sense to me,” he said in a brief interview Wednesday morning.

The city is trying to find out if there’s any way to recover the messages that were deleted, but Parkin said, those records may be gone forever.

“That’s my understanding that there is nothing for us to go get or retrieve,” he said.

In its story, Al Jazeera quotes officers saying supervisors directed them to use the app to conceal information that they didn’t want to come out in court. In a statement, Long Beach said its officers use more formal communication, such as police reports, to document any information that may need to be turned over to opposing attorneys.

In a statement, Long Beach said police decided to use the app when the department transitioned to iPhones and needed a secure messaging system.

A source within the LBPD who had access to Tiger Text said there was no specific instruction or policies on how or when to use it. Officers still frequently used the iPhone’s default messaging system unless they wanted to make sure the messages disappeared, according to the source.

“That was the selling point,” according to the source, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from the department.

On Tuesday, LBPD Chief Robert Luna ordered anyone with access to the app to stop using it. A copy of the departmental communication obtained by the Long Beach Post says the order will remain in effect “until a specific manual section has been approved.”

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Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram.
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