Long Beach Police Department is the wrong fit for airport security

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Richard Suarez, the Grand Lodge representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

(Editor’s note: The Long Beach City Council is considering a proposal tonight to reorganize Long Beach Airport’s security personnel under the direction of the Police Department.)

I break today from my regularly scheduled work representing the machinist workers across the 947 District in support of Long Beach’s Special Services Officers because though it is a local issue, it is one with national implications.

When legislating, we must seek to give voice to the voiceless. It is important to create equitable laws, but it is just as important to implement and enforce those laws justly. Our nation has made a culture of favoring harsh enforcement despite its obvious flaws and detriment to our society. We have made a culture of militarized policing. This is the culture that is making its way into the Long Beach Airport. I want to be abundantly clear: I believe that our special service officers are the best officers available to protect our airport, and I believe that any change in status or training for these officers would leave our airport vulnerable.

But there is another issue that many don’t like to discuss. And that is the systems and culture of policing in our country. Our brothers and sisters in blue serving their communities are to be revered for their bravery and sacrifice. They put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe, and we thank them for that. But to say that our Special Services Officers are more of a liability than our police department is simply false.

And I would like to further point out that there is a pattern that has led the city to be liable in several lawsuits against the Long Beach Police Department, and recently, they were involved in the tragic loss of a young woman and five neighborhood dogs she walked for a living. Her name was Jessica Bingaman. Many members of the community are asking legitimate questions. Why were they aggressively pursuing a suspect in a neighborhood? Where was the helicopter? And was this stolen van worth the life of a beautiful young soul?

While I know that these officers were doing their level best to keep our community safe, they fell victim to a national culture and trend of overly aggressive tactics. I know that the police department will take a look at this situation and make necessary changes. But in the meantime, let’s not give this department, which already has enough on its plate, the keys to our airport.

This brings me to my main point. Long Beach has a unique opportunity. They can be a part of the solution. They can push back against that national culture and trend, and I urge them in no uncertain terms to do so. This issue is one of social justice as much as anything, and can be broken down into two categories: labor, and social equity. Our brothers and sisters serving as special services officers deserve to be protected. They have kept our airport safe for almost 20 years. In that time, the Long Beach Airport has developed a reputation for being one of the nicest airport experiences in the country. Their labor has been fruitful to Long Beach and its booming tourism/convention economies. It would be unjust, and unwise, to take what they built and hand it off to an unproven source.

Further, it is important to remember that mobility is an equity priority. There are many groups that are uncomfortable around police, but they still want to feel safe. Our SSO’s are the perfect solution. They can keep our airport safe while not triggering our black and brown neighbors. Having police department take over will militarize the airport, and it will disproportionately impact those parts of our community. Once again, I am thankful for the service of our Long Beach police officers, but in this instance, they are wrong for the job.

I am confident that the Long Beach City Council will stand by and stand up for their special services officers and for their constituents. They possess the courage to dig into this issue and protect one of the city’s greatest assets, its airport.

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