Straight Talk: LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell
From Issue: Volume XX - Number 24
Art Levine’s guest on Straight Talk was the Chief of Police of the Long Beach Police Department, Jim McDonnell.
Art: Give us an update on the crime statistics this year. I know we’ve had some challenges.
Jim: We’ve seen an uptick in gang crime and homicide in particular. Property crime has been up fairly dramatically. Whenever I look at that, I see property crime particularly as something that we can impact as a community by working together, by being more vigilant as to what we leave visible, how easy we leave our homes and our vehicles to access by people who shouldn’t have access. Little things make the big difference, and we constantly reach out to the community to try and ask them to help us do the job of keeping all of us safe.
Art: Yes. Crime fighting, and we’ll talk about this later, is really a community effort, not just the police department.
Jim: It’s a team sport.
Art: And I know that for many years now the crime figures each year have been very good, reductions in crime year after year after year, but starting the beginning of this year it spiked up, which is something that you actually publicly expressed concern about with what you call the perfect storm, re-alignment, a bad economy and the cutbacks in the officers.
Jim: It’s predictable when you look at the trends over time. We finished up the year 2010 with 40-year lows across the board in both violent and property crime. We were very proud of that, but we could see what was coming down the road with continued budget cuts. We’re down from our high of 1,020 officers budgeted to an actual number today of 809, so that’s a significant 20% decrease. We’ve had to change our crime fighting strategies to be able to accommodate that loss in officers. I can’t overstate the importance of the reach out to the community to be able to help us keep everybody safe.
Art: And 2010, 2011 were good crime figures, going down.
Jim: They were. We started to see in some categories we went down in ‘11 as well, but we started to see that uptick, and we started to see the trending change. So I think to put it into perspective, we’re very concerned about the direction the crime is going. But when you look at where we are number-wise, coming up from 2010 with 40-year lows, over a period of 10 years or 20 years to say comparatively how are we, we’re still a very safe city.
Art: But you accept the principle, and I know there’s been dialogue in public on this with the budget restrictions that the city has faced, that more police officers does mean more safety without question.
Jim: There’s an argument to be made that just more officers out there does not have a significant impact. If those officers are well-supervised, well-led, well-trained and well-resourced, that makes all the difference in the world. I know that if we were able to go back to the number we had three years ago, we could turn that trend around again.
Art: I know one of the things that you have creatively employed, particularly in the face of these budget cutbacks, is technology [such as] LBCOP. Tell us about it.
Jim:. We took an area that’s directly adjacent to our police dispatch, and turned it into this Long Beach Common Operating Picture, where we get camera feeds from all over the city into a wall of monitors. And as a call comes in, a dispatcher will have the ability to reach out to Long Beach COP staff which would be an officer, an analyst and a dispatcher, once we’re fully deployed, and to able then to start doing a drill down. First of all to pull up the camera that’s closest to the call in question, and start to see in real time what’s going on. To relay that to the officers during their response to that call, but then also to be able to use some analytics to dig down into what do we have when we get there?
What’s happened previously at that address, that property, the area surrounding that? If we have a vehicle license, tell us about who owns the vehicle, what’s the history on that? And then if we can dig further into it, on the registered owner and what do we know about them? That gives us a tremendous amount of information to be able to provide the officers in the field. So they would likely know if the vehicle leaves the scene, what’s the direction of travel, where are they likely headed back to? Probably their home address. So all of these are additional tools that it makes the officers in the field more efficient, more effective and provides a greater level of officer safety as well.
Art: But now in addition, private businesses that have their own internal security cameras can make and join this, tell us about that.
Jim: Yes, the beauty of this, I mean in the economic times we’re in, we don’t have the ability to be able to hard line cameras from around the city into a command post. What we do have, with the benefit of the Internet, is to be able to capture the IP address for businesses or residences out there. So that they join this partnership we have so that we have access to their cameras. If they have Pantel zoom cameras, we have the ability then with their permission, to be able to go into their system and remotely maneuver the camera to be able to see what it is we need to see on their property. It’s a tremendous tool for us, but it’s a tremendous benefit to the individual, because they’re getting value beyond what they would normally get from just being able to view it themselves.
Art: So if you’re a private business owner and you have internal security cameras, call up the Long Beach Police Department. And at no cost to you, you can join your cameras and make them part of this technology. So if there’s an incident at your address, the police can perhaps see who the culprit is, and gain a quicker response.
Jim: In addition to the ability to be able to have a picture of what’s happening to the responding officers, it also gives us the ability, after the fact, to be able to pull it up for identification of the suspects, vehicle licenses, vehicle descriptions, but also to use that then, not only for apprehension but for prosecution. By having a video of the crime, the prosecution costs are cut dramatically. In all likelihood you’ll get a copout rather than having to go through a lengthy and expensive trial process.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to space limitations the next segment on the Sheriff’s Department and County Jail were omitted]
Art: We talked earlier about how crime fighting is not just the responsibility of the Police Department but a community effort.
Jim: When you look at the job of policing in Long Beach, we try and be as proactive as we possibly can. To be out there, to be visible, to be able to focus on those that we know are committing the crimes, to be able to prevent crimes from happening by using information that we obtain from the community. And to be able to prevent crimes before they happen. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and we end up responding to crimes after the fact. In those cases, it’s critical that we get as much cooperation as we possibly can from the community as far as identifying who committed the crime, and any information we can use then for follow-up investigation. Because as I mentioned earlier, with diminished resources, it’s critical that information obtained at the crime scene or directly after be obtained so that we can do the investigation in an as abbreviated amount of time as possible, because one crime comes down the road after another after another, and you get backlogged.
Art: In a recent crime, an alert neighbor called 911 when she saw something suspicious, and that resulted in apprehension.
Jim: That happens all the time, and we’re very, very thankful to the people who decide, you know what? I’ve had it. I’m not going to watch a crime happen and not do anything about it. I’m going to call. And I’m going to be a good witness. And we’re not looking for people to get involved and put themselves in jeopardy. But a good witness who gets the license plate, who gets a description of the person or has information about somebody who’s a repeat offender within their own community, that’s critical to us. And I’ve often said that nobody knows a community better than the people who live there.
Art: Well, let me put a plug in for the Long Beach Police Foundation. I’m involved in that organization. Its purpose in life is to help the Long Beach Police Department do its job through giving assistance in training and technology and also community outreach including importantly, youth programs. And this is an opportunity for you as a citizen of Long Beach or a neighboring community to help the police department do their job. We’re offering now charter memberships in the Long Beach Police Department - you get one of these beautiful laminated membership cards. It’s a hundred dollars a year and it’s tax-deductible.
Jim: Thank you for your leadership with the foundation. This is a critical partnership that we have where members of the community can get involved in whatever manner they feel appropriate to be able to help promote what it is we’d like to be able to do beyond the core mission. So many of our opportunities and our abilities to be able to work with youth in the community that are so critical to providing mentoring and helping kids stay on the right path have been diminished now due to budget in the last several years. So to be able to use revenue raised thorough the foundation, to be able to help further some of those programs. Not for the police to actually be the ones out there doing it, but to be a partner and be able to be involved, come in and spend some time, speak with the youth in the city, and then to be able to still be available for calls and go where they need to go to. But to give others who do this full time, Park and Recs and so many private sector organizations and non-profits who do youth programs, to be able to work with them to enhance what’s available to kids.
Art: Some of the wonderful programs supported by the Long Beach Police Foundation include Shop with a Cop, where kids go shopping at Target, they get a hundred dollar gift card and they go literally shopping with a police officer, where there’s a positive interaction. The Youth Explorers that are young men and women, who, some of them will go on to apply for the Police Academy. And boxing programs, so a whole array of wonderful programs. One year we sent a police officer to Israel for anti-terrorist training that the city budget did not permit. So these things are really, really good, and you can be part of it by joining the Police Foundation.
Art: And I know you had experience up in LA for many years as the number two guy up there. And the foundation in Los Angeles is very robust.
Jim: It is, the police department has a great foundation in Los Angeles, and more recently the fire department up there has also started their own foundation. And people want to be actively involved as best they can in helping promote public safety. This is I think a great opportunity to be able to do that, to have access, to know what’s going on in the department, have access to the people within the department and to be able to just see, what are we doing and potentially how do we do it better.
Art: I think we’re very fortunate to have a chief in this city of the quality of Jim McDonnell. He’s part of this community, he’s everywhere, and he embraces technology and invites the community to join his police department, our police department, in a common effort against crime and the bad guys. Chief, I’ll give you a few seconds to say whatever you want.
Jim: Just a thank you to all of those in the city. This is a great city as far as supporting public safety. Thank you to those who’ve gotten involved in the past and to those who maybe could step up more. We welcome the help. We need the help of all of our residents in this city to be able to help us realize what a city we can be. A little work goes an awful long way. The public really is the eyes and ears of the police department, so if there’s something that you feel would be helpful to us and help making our community safer, we would very much appreciate that.
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