—by Steven T. Bramble
If even certain employees inside the Trump White House are now finding it within themselves to live up to the public’s outcries to show backbone and personal responsibility in the face of blatant corruption by the most powerful figures in government, then it should be well past time for our own Long Beach city officials to do the same.
For instance, where were the whistleblowers four months ago when City Manager Pat West negotiated, and approved, the city’s renewed contract with the LB Police Officers Association completely out of the view of, and without any input from, the public? Included in the contract was dubious language crafted to be a work-around of California state police transparency laws, a gambit which now allows officers about whom pertinent public information has been requested to be personally informed five days prior to the records being released so that they may have an opportunity, as Mr. West revealed to the Beachcomber, to “file a legal action in court to prevent disclosure.” And not only this. Section IX of the contract also gives officers the right to know the name and/or organization of the person requesting information about them.
Given the city council’s recent voting behavior, along with donations made by the POA to them and the mayor, I think I can safely go out on a limb and offer an answer to the above question: any potential whistleblowers were securely tucked away in the pockets of the Police Officers Association.
Have a look for yourself. Despite tremendous public backlash against the language of Section IX, the legislation was passed by a vote of 7-1. Who was the one dissenting vote? Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce—the sole member of city council who has not accepted donations from the POA to her organization. If that seems suspiciously obvious and dialed-in, that’s because it is.
Of course, it’s not like the council’s strictly follow-the-money vote mattered, anyway—remember that the city manager had already implemented the new contract four months before the vote even took place. So we might wonder, then, why have a vote at all? The most likely reason is that, back in 2017, when the city was negotiating its previous contract with POA, the document was kept secret until after the council had already voted to approve it. In the years leading up to Trump’s election, it’s worth it to recall, LBPD was under intense public scrutiny by anti-police brutality organizations like Black Lives Matter over its multiple killings of unarmed citizens, and there was a strong push to keep track of financial ties between the city and police. After the city intentionally kept the 2017 contract under wraps, it faced not only outrage from activist groups aiding the families of victims, but also well-deserved criticism from the press.
So this time around they came packing a PR strategy: negotiate and approve the contract in secret, then gaslight the public by holding a show-vote to—again in Mr. West’s words—“memorialize” the legislation.
This is sloppy work by any standard, and it shines a disarming spotlight on the level of contempt that Mayor Garcia and his city manager—not to mention the POA-funded council—have had for the democratic process when it comes to policing.
Center Left: City Manager Pat West. Center Right: Police Chief Robert Luna. Photo Credit: Getty Images.
And let’s keep in mind that these complaints against LBPD by activist groups have hardly fallen out of a clear blue sky. In fact, as recently as 2015, the department was ranked as the fifth most deadly in the entire nation. And out of the top five most deadly in the nation, three were California cities. Out of the top ten, six. Yes, California has a problem with police violence, even during an era where violent crime rates have dropped far below that of police killings.
So now that the city’s contract with POA has been implemented in secret and “memorialized” by council, all but destroying the oversight process meant to prevent officer misconduct, what have we found out? We’ve found out that Mayor Garcia’s administration is just as willing to conduct the types of shady, middle-finger-to-the-democratic-process deals we have all grown accustomed to condemning over the course of the Trump presidency, and yet we allow our elected officials to behave the same way in our own city.
I’m willing to bet the manner in which the city approved the contract was probably technically legal, but it was also so categorically unethical and anti-democratic that it’s tough not to feel almost personally insulted. Without doubt, there will be much dispassionate jabbering coming from the mayor and councilmembers over the following weeks and months, but what they’ve done this time stinks so obviously that the only thing that could possibly justify them not getting booted out of office is voter apathy.
And yet, what is most disgusting is not careerist politicians acting careerist, but the failure of all the people close to this deal who had knowledge of it to raise their voices and, I don’t know, serve the public? Where are Long Beach’s whistleblowers? Cowering in fear of the Police Officers Association, it looks like, scared stiff of doing the right thing.
City Manager Admits Secret Deal With POA.” Beachcomber. Stephen Downing. 09/16/2019. https://beachcomber.news/content/city-manager-admits-secret-deal-poa.