Open Letter to POA President Steve James
From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 16
By Stephen Downing
Dear Lt. James:
In reading though the most recent publication of Rap Sheet, the magazine published by the Long Beach Police Union, I was struck by the severe scolding you gave City Hall in your column, “The Whole Truth,“ and was especially surprised by the article’s conclusion where you said: “As law enforcement officers, we are required to testify in court on various matters. We are sworn to tell the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth. Clearly, some in government prefer to avoid telling the WHOLE truth.”
How soon you forget the recent election when you lied to the electorate in your now infamous letter about Charlie Parkin’s non-existent crime fighting experience, followed by the blatant impunity demonstrated by your board members thumbing their collective noses at laws that prohibit campaigning in uniform and misappropriating city equipment.
All of that was then topped with a string of false and misleading slate mailers designed to dupe the people of Long Beach that ultimately plunged you into denial mode and produced your all too transparent, “it was an error” declaration when confronted with questions about the election law violations committed in those same mailers. I recall my response to everything you had to say was a disgusted “Pfttt!”
I then scrolled further down the pages of Rap Sheet and saw your carefully skewed rant entitled “Media Manipulation,” where you dressed-down the Press Telegram and the Orange County Register for what you called “ridiculous” reporting designed to “manufacture controversy” aimed at “selling newspapers” rather than “airing the facts.”
Chutzpah does not begin to describe your rant, especially when it came to the part where you slammed the reporter for daring to use my quote to support your decree that his article, “Long Beach Police Cost City Millions,” was deceitful and biased.
Your reporting on the Orange County Register’s use of my quote went like this: “What the author says: Downing is a former LAPD Deputy Chief and a Long Beach resident. He is quoted as saying, “I believe we are on the verge of seeing LBPD placed under a consent decree … Long Beach has a history of brutality.”
The actual quote used by the reporter is quite different: “Retired Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Stephen Downing, who lives in Long Beach, said the police payouts indicate a reluctance by city administrators to weed out bad officers, leading to a feeling of impunity among the rank-and-file. Rather than reform, the department is bent on defending its image; giving officers the feeling they can do no wrong," said Downing.
This is more than dollars and cents. The settlements should be a red flag,” he said. “I frankly believe we are on the verge of seeing the Long Beach Police Department placed under a consent decree. Long Beach has a history of brutality.”
So much for biased reporting, Lt. James. And even then you went on to attack the credibility of everyone who was quoted by the reporters.
First you picked on the on-scene witnesses, “Chippy” and the woman standing next to him by demeaning their credibility and coloring them as being less than worthy to express their opinions and observations surrounding the November 16 shooting of a mentally ill
woman following a two hour standoff on 3rd between Elm and Long Beach Blvd.
Then you lumped me into your attack on the Orange County Register reporter by pointing out what you saw as his failure to raise questions about my credibility. So, you did it for him: “What the author does not say: Mr. Downing retired 34 years ago (1980) to work in Hollywood as a writer/producer. He is a leading voice in the fight to legalize drugs, especially marijuana. He uses his former police title to give himself credibility; however, he has absolutely no direct knowledge of any police incident in our city.”
Did you ever think, Lt. James, that there is a very good chance that the reporter may have concluded that none of that has anything to do with the credibility of the quote he used? Does the fact that I chose to retire after 20 years of honorable service and take up a second career make me any less of an expert in those areas of police work, administration and command in which I specialized while moving up though the ranks?
Does the fact that as the LAPD Commander who implemented the LAPD’s drug enforcement program when President Nixon declared the war on drugs and then came to see first hand that our national policy of drug prohibition was more harmful to society than the drugs themselves make me some kind of reprobate unworthy of being quoted by our local newspapers?
The fact is, Lt. James, I came to an honest – evidence based – decision that under a different policy of strict regulation and control our communities would heal, the mass incarceration of people of color would shrink, more fathers would be around for their kids, fewer children would be sent to foster homes or end up in the prostitution/human slavery marketplace and that education would replace arrest, treatment would supplant prison, the arms race between the police, gangs and cartels would abate and profiling by our police officers would be stopped and replaced by probable cause based upon reasonable suspicion – a Constitutional principle of American policing that is all too often ignored by the LBPD.
Perhaps the reporter knew all of that and you didn’t, Lt. James. And when you say that I use my title as a retired deputy chief of the LAPD to give myself credibility, you are absolutely correct. I do it because I want the people to know that I know what I am talking about in order to overcome the fear engendering hyperbole you and your ilk continue to feed the community.
And when you say that I have “absolutely no direct knowledge of any police incident in our city, “ you are dead wrong. Of the many incidents of excessive force and bad shootings I have studied I probably have as much or more knowledge about those incidents than you or the command staff in your department.
I am intimately familiar with the police killing of Douglas Zerby because I read all of the transcripts and testimony from the court trial. My conclusions, based upon years of experience serving as the chair of the LAPD’s use of force board are in line with the jury decision. Bad tactics, bad communication, bad attitude, poor supervision and the absence of command and control were pervasive in the Zerby incident.
I also concluded that there was a very high probability that the pronouncement of the Zerby shooting as self-defense was the result of creative after-action reporting by the officers and their enablers in order to cover up an unintended killing that began as an accidental discharge and turned into contagious fire.
Your quote calling the Zerby jury’s decision, “a disaster for law enforcement” backed by your pawn in the city attorney’s office who said, "Sometimes these juries just get it wrong and when that happens usually the family of the deceased are looking to cash-in on their mistake," was characteristic of a pitiless institutional culture with little respect for our community, our system of justice or the Peelian principles of ethical policing by the peoples consent.
If you’re looking for the “whole truth and nothing but the truth, Lt. James look inward. Revisit the beatings of Carlo Gonzales and Santos Lopez. Take another look at the Dorian Brook’s tape showing intentional brutality and destruction of property and compare it to the chief’s statement against that of the city attorney who formally proclaimed, “the city and the officers deny excessive force was used.”
Take another look at the attitudes and tactics employed by police officers who can’t leave their egos in the locker room by reviewing the Debra Stefano and Perry Grays cases that cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Take a much harder look at the “self defense” proclaimed police killing of 36-year-old Jason Conoscenti as he ran down the long flight of steps at the beach with both hands on the stair railings.
Ask yourself why the drug unit officer involved in the controversial, yet to be resolved, killing of John Del Real was still working the street three weeks later when he joined five other officers and opened up with an unrelenting volley of uncontrolled gunfire upon that mentally ill woman at the conclusion of a two hour standoff that made the Keystone Cops look like professionals.
Ask yourself why there was no designated shooter at the scene when video footage made it clear that a sniper rifle was deployed. Ask the brass to explain why the LBPD’s armored car at the scene was not used as cover in order to deliver less-than-lethal pepper spray though its armored gun ports when negotiation by mental health workers failed.
Ask why the highly trained and extensively equipped members of LBPD SWAT team were not on scene that day. Find out why they were not in the city. Ask where they were when their highly developed tactics and expertise were needed to avoid the use of deadly force.
And, when you get to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Lt. James, share it with the community you are sworn to protect and serve, in spite of the fact that you’ve been unfittingly promoted from officer to sergeant and then again to lieutenant while sitting in union headquarters for the past 14 years.
Stephen Downing is a Long Beach resident of the Third District and Deputy Chief, LAPD (ret.)
Editor's Note: Click here to read the referenced RAP SHEET.