Unpublished report on LBPD describes department with a cultural disconnect

Despite an emphatic commitment from Long Beach’s chief of police, the idea that officers are supposed to work together with residents to stop crime and solve problems isn’t a principal that’s saturated the ranks, according to a draft of a long-delayed report about the LBPD written by an influential law enforcement organization.

That’s just one observation in the wide-ranging report, which was drafted in 2018 but kept out of public view until now because of a contract dispute. The 124-page document, which was prepared but never finalized by the nonprofit International Association of Chiefs of Police, covers everything from the LBPD’s internal culture and hiring practices to the condition of its fleet of vehicles.

The report often praises the department, saying residents increasingly rely on officers and generally respect their local police force. But it also flagged a list of areas that need improvement.

On that list, the report says, is an administration that has struggled to explain its decisions internally and hasn’t been able to impress on the rank-and-file its priorities about community partnerships.

“The chief repeatedly and passionately expressed that community policing is a formal and well-communicated priority to LBPD and that building and maintaining community relationships and working with community members to solve problems is a core departmental value. Conversations with staff revealed a different perspective,” according to the report. “At the operational level, traditional police practices are perceived as the guiding model, instead of the community focused approach stated in the agency’s mission and vision.”

Communications from the brass were a recurring theme in the report, which said LBPD employees generally hold the bosses in high regard and believe they have good intentions, but, “Employees observed that the way decisions are communicated often undermines these feelings and beliefs of support from top leadership. Internal communications mostly occurred in electronic format and were directive and transactional, with little in the way of explanation.”

The report also paints a picture of a department that could be more efficient by using newer technology and better organizational systems.

Problems included:

  • A records system that makes it difficult for supervisors and investigators to easily prioritize workloads or suspend investigation, leaving many detectives with a backlog of 100 to 200 or more open cases
  • A decentralized crime analysis system mostly run off of “self-developed excel programs” that make it difficult to share and quickly analyze information
  • A report-filing procedure where sergeants don’t read what officers write “so they have little direct knowledge of how calls are handled and the completeness of an officer’s investigation”
  • A workload on patrol officers that limits the amount of free time they have to engage with the public
  • An understaffed internal affairs division that has had to use overtime to avoid missing deadlines to complete cases

“IACP made many positive observations regarding LBPD throughout the analysis process,” the report says, “but as the recommendations within this report suggest, there are opportunities for improvement.”

It’s unclear how many of these problems the LBPD has already fixed. Despite being released publicly for the first time Friday, the report is almost two years old.

Police officials did not comment, but a statement from the city cautioned that “some of the information contained in the report is incomplete, some proposed recommendations have already been implemented, and the report was never finalized.”

The release of the draft marks the end of years of speculation about its contents. The review, which was originally heralded as a way for residents to tell the department how it could improve, turned into a flashpoint of suspicion last year when the city canceled its contract with the IACP before the report was finished.

Long Beach originally contracted with the IACP in May 2017 with the expectation that the organization would spend six months assessing the department.

“The main purpose is to identify deficiencies in the department,” Lt. Joe Ghattas said at a public meeting at the time, according to the Press-Telegram. “That is why input from citizens is so important. The public knows where the perceived deficiencies are.”

But the report’s deadline came and went with no finished product, prompting local newspaper columnist Stephen Downing to repeatedly press the police department about what happened. Downing is a retired LAPD deputy chief who lives in Long Beach and frequently criticizes the LBPD.

In February 2019, Long Beach police said they’d canceled their contract with the IACP because “unforeseen delays during the data collection process” meant the report had “lost its applicability.” Police officials reached that conclusion in late 2018 and withheld a final $48,000 payment for the report after being briefed by the IACP about their findings, according to public records obtained by Forthe.org.

But in an era of renewed scrutiny amid widespread protests against police killings, some of the report’s observations still ring true, according to critics of the LBPD.

“They haven’t made any changes. In fact, they didn’t even care to get this completed draft,” said attorney Narine Mkrtchyan, who is representing a man in an excessive force lawsuit against the LBPD.

Mkrtchyan helped bring about the report’s release in an effort to bolster her case, which takes aim at some of the department’s policies. In particular, Mkrtchyan pointed to the report’s recommendations that the LBPD needs to hire two more internal affairs investigators and implement a true early warning system to alert supervisors about problem officers racking up complaints.

She called the report evidence of “institutionalized ignorance, neglect.”

After learning about the report from Downing, Mkrtchyan said, she obtained it by issuing a subpoena to the IACP. The nonprofit provided it to her but sought to block it from wider release, saying it was still a draft that wasn’t intended for public distribution, according to court documents. A federal judge granted the request and issued a protective order on the report.

After Mkrtchyan’s subpoena, however, the IACP gave a copy of the draft to Long Beach. When the city refused to provide a copy to Downing, who filed a public records request, he lambasted the city, accusing officials of trying to cover up the reports’ findings.

The city argued its hands were tied by the judge’s protective order, but asked for the order to be lifted “in response to recent events and its ongoing commitment to be fully transparent.”

Last week, the judge dissolved the order. Soon after, Downing posted the document online.

The IACP has previously declined to answer questions about the report and did not respond to messages Monday.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news 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. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.