As Long Beach gets closer to hiring its first-ever director of police oversight, city officials are still gathering feedback from the public on the kinds of qualities people want to see in the new hire, which the City Council could make as soon as next month.
The City Council’s Public Safety Committee held a satellite meeting in Bixby Knolls on Tuesday afternoon, where community members were able to tell council members directly what they thought was important to consider.
“I think they’ve got to totally support the Police Department,” said Brian McGinnis, a resident of Long Beach for 23 years. “They’re currently understaffed, and it’s my personal feeling that part of that is because we’re not supporting our police as much as we should.”
Others said that they wanted someone who was a good communicator, to both the public and the department it will be overseeing, with the ability to address issues before they become larger problems. Community members said someone who has management experience would be preferred, as well as someone who could make independent decisions.
“Independence is the most important, and I think that’s going to be key,” said Dana Buchanan, the former chair of the Citizens Police Complaint Commission, which is being replaced by the new Police Oversight Commission.
“Without that, why even have one?” Buchanan said.
Long Beach voters approved an overhaul of the city’s CPCC in 2022 after decades of the commission failing to deliver on the promise of true police oversight. The new model, which is headed by the new police oversight director, has also been criticized for its lack of resident involvement, and it’s doing away with independent investigations that were carried out parallel to internal police investigations.
The new director will answer to a commission of residents appointed by the mayor and City Council, but unlike the CPCC’s model, commissioners will no longer examine evidence collected by its own investigators before issuing recommendations in cases of alleged police misconduct.
Commissioners will now serve an advisory role to the director and make recommendations for things that should be audited and included in annual reports the director must file. They will also serve a public outreach role and be a type of liaison between the community and the director.
The position is appointed by the City Council, which was another point of contention for critics of the new commission structure, who said it would erode the independence of the position.
Councilmember Al Austin, who chairs the committee, said after the meeting that he agreed with some of the comments provided by the public, specifically that he wants to see a person who “understands the dynamics of our city” and is “independent of the politics.”
While the recruitment period has ended, the City Council is expected to conduct a series of interviews in late August and could select the new director by Aug. 22, according to city management.
It would still take some time to fill out the staff for the new director, as well as negotiate with city unions for the changes in job duties. New commissioners would also have to be appointed by the mayor and City Council. City management expects that the new commission could be up and running by the end of 2023, or early 2024 at the latest.
An online survey where residents can share their thoughts on what qualities the new hire should possess is open until Friday, July 28, at 5 p.m.