The Post’s month-long investigation into the Long Beach Police Department’s policy for investigating shootings by its own personnel revealed that officers are almost never interviewed about what happened.
Rather, officers write reports that supervisors review before suggesting changes, personnel inside the department say.
Here’s three key takeaways from the story:
Long Beach is the only city in Los Angeles County that conducts investigations this way.
Most departments, including the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department and Los Angeles Police Department, attempt to interview officers who shoot people—and it’s also the policy of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, which decides whether to pursue any criminal charges against the officer.
The Post contacted or reviewed recent officer-involved shooting documents for the 47 separate law enforcement agencies responsible for policing every city in Los Angeles County. None except the LBPD conduct investigations this way.
Long Beach also goes so far as to request that outside agencies not interview its officers in the event they shot someone outside the city limits.
Are the written reports reliable and accurate?
Because there is no recorded interview of the officer, and because earlier versions of written reports are not retained, it is impossible to know how the reports may have changed.
Critics of the policy say supervisors coach officers on how to fit in details that conform to the department’s shooting policy—though no one inside or outside the department had ever seen a case in which facts were directly altered.
Department leaders deny that any coaching occurs: “All of my homicide personnel were directed to never tell anyone what to put in a report or how to write a report,” Deputy Chief Richard Conant said.
Why does this matter?
The LBPD’s practice is rare and outside the mainstream best practices for law enforcement, according to Matthew Barge, a police-oversight expert who has helped monitor departments under federal consent decrees in cities such as Cleveland and Seattle.
“It’s problematic and inefficient and introduces a lot of opportunity for inaccurate or glossed-up accounts of what happened to be developed,” Barge said, adding that interviews frequently yield more relevant information faster than a written statement.
This practice also raises red flags about the department’s credibility, some say.
“It can easily be perceived as a cover-up,” said Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California who has worked on police shooting lawsuits against the city.