Three Years as LB Police Chief
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 6
By Steve Propes
In early February 2010, it was announced that Jim McDonnell, who had served for most of the decade as one of former Chief William J. Bratton’s top assistants at the Los Angeles Police Department, was selected to replace Police Chief Anthony Batts, who was hired as police chief by Oakland, as the 25th Long Beach Police Chief.
Having served as chief for the past three years, McDonnell, 53, who has recently been rumored as a candidate for the office of Los Angeles County Sheriff to replace Lee Baca, answered some questions about his department.
According to best estimates, Long Beach currently has about 792 officers, though McDonnell himself cites that as a “ballpark” figure. Of that number, about 60 to 70 are assigned to Long Beach City College, the airport or the harbor. “When I look at that – people compartmentalize as if they’re tied down – to their particular assignment,” said McDonnell. “If there are problems in those areas, we would be responding anyway.” To have them working “in a specialized environment” means they could provide extra effectiveness in case of a problem that requires a police response.
McDonnell was born in Boston, “It seems like I hear it from people about the old stereotype of the Boston-Irish cop. My parents came from Ireland the year before I was born.”
Graduating from St. Anselmo College in Manchester, New Hampshire, McDonnell joined the LAPD in 1981 and worked his way up the ranks to assistant chief. Crime statistics for the year 2012 were recently issued with mixed results. Although some violent crimes are down, murder is up from 25 in 2011 to 30 in 2012, a rate that is still relatively low from past years.
“When you look at the numbers, the whole city is safe,” said McDonnell. “When you compare it to 40 years ago, it’s a good time for us to build relationships we don’t already have. Let‘s take advantage of that.”
“The violent crime is driven by gang activity. A big portion of our success in achieving our 30 year lows is working with gang and partner agencies, doing compliance checks, monitoring activity in those areas prone to violence and in areas where we can stop payback shootings.”
Many police departments and the L.A. County Sheriff in Compton have offered a gun buyback program with no questions asked. “Not so Long Beach,” as McDonnell made clear at a recent city council meeting.
Asked how Long Beach differs from these nearby agencies, McDonnell responded, “It’s a different strategy. The priority is to get more guns off the street, but I’d like to maintain our ability to follow up on crime guns. It’s about what we can do in Long Beach if investigative leads like this are checked out. The city council was looking for information as to how we best do this?”
Burglaries and garage and car break-ins are an ongoing problem on the Eastside. “It’s a relatively few number of people doing many of these crimes,” said McDonnell. “We’ve had arrests of burglars in the past two weeks, in the Eastside in particular.”
An area that is not included in these crime stats is that of the fairly frequent dispensary raids. “There’s no way to capture those as a separate statistical item,” said the chief. “It’s like an arrest involving any kind of narcotics.”
The fact that there is no prosecutorial follow-through on these raids is “frustrating for us and the community around it. We go in with business licensing and we cite them, but until the courts clarify the gray area regarding dispensaries, we’re in a state of limbo. When you pursue prosecution, it can’t be done because of the gray area.”
Asked if much in the way of federal or county manpower is used in these raids, McDonnell stated, “It’s primarily local. On occasion we’ve had our federal partners join us, like the DEA when they can work with us. We have federal agents in Long Beach like in many big cities, at the harbor and the airport and we’re happy to have them with us.”
In the past week, the city announced that Schroeder Hall at Grand and Willow would be made available for a new East Division police station. “We’re trying to get out of trailers. A Schroeder Hall site would be a great site. If we were to get that, I would like it to be as soon as possible. They’re working under tough conditions and the current location was meant to be a temporary location years ago.”
McDonnell described the issue of crime rates as “better in some parts of Long Beach and we’re working on that. We could have prevented crime had we been called.” The police are “dedicated people who have a strong work ethic who want to make Long Beach safe. We’re happy to come and check things out.”