Nearly 300 Long Beach, Calif., police officers, uniformed and masked, gathered close together for a group picture on Nov. 5 at the city’s convention center to commemorate the end of a weeks-long tactical training.
But an informal image from that same day captured a different story — the officers are seen standing side-by-side and barefaced, the Long Beach Post first reported earlier this month.
Now, as the department battles dozens of infections in its ranks, two Long Beach community groups are demanding an investigation and accusing the police chief of “knowingly and willfully ordering a super spreader event,” according to a complaint to the city’s Citizen Police Complaint Commission obtained by The Washington Post.
“Not only was the assembly a violation of Health Department mandates but also a direct contradiction and demonstration of impunity that countered Mayor Robert Garcia’s pleas . . . for all persons, including city employees to practice social distancing and wear masks,” said the complaint from the People of Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition, which was filed on Monday.
While the chief has apologized for not enforcing masks at the event, the department insists that none of its current COVID-19 cases have been traced to the training.
“As of today, our contact tracing investigations have not linked any positive COVID-19 cases to this gathering that occurred during the post-election public safety operation,” the Long Beach Police Department said in a statement.
The complaint comes as California has emerged as the new epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus crisis. Over the past week, the state has reported record high cases almost daily. So far, there have been more than 1.67 million cases and more than 21,400 deaths in California, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. Los Angeles County, which includes Long Beach, is responsible for about a third of the state’s cases. A dashboard on the city’s website says that as of Tuesday, Long Beach, a city of more than 460,000, has had more 23,000 cases.
The event on Nov. 5 was the final gathering of Long Beach police and top department officials after weeks of trainings to prepare for possible civil unrest after the presidential election, police said.
Since then, the department has seen a recent surge in cases in its ranks, local news outlets have reported. According to KNBC, the police department has reported 49 positive COVID cases among uniformed officers since Nov. 1. And the complaint filed by the People of Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition cited a Long Beach Post article reporting an outbreak in mid-November and an additional six cases weeks later.
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna acknowledged that the number of cases in his the department “are high” in an interview with the Long Beach Post last week.
“I’m very uncomfortable with where they’re at,” he said.
Until Nov. 19, Long Beach Police Department employees were not required to wear masks, according to the police’s statement. Since then, employees who fail to wear the face covering will be subject to disciplinary action, police said.
The complaint from the Long Beach community groups requests that the commission investigate other police training sessions “to determine if COVID-19 health standards were knowingly violated” and asks group to issue subpoenas for documents and hold public hearings under oath “to prevent the LBPD or the city administration from covering up yet another wholesale violation of the public trust.”
Police said they would cooperate with the CPCC investigation.
Luna, who spoke at last month’s event, said he now wishes he had enforced public health guidelines.
“When I reflect back on that day, I recognize the potential health and safety concerns and should have been more diligent in ensuring that our employees were wearing face coverings at all times and physically distancing,” Luna said in a statement. “I regret the way that we handled this and if I had it to do over again I would do it differently.”