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Long Beach City manager steps into police feud

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Long Beach City Manager Donna Gayden this week stepped into the roiling fray between the city’s new police commissioner and the Police Benevolent Association, a feud that erupted into the open last week over policing polices and what the union sees as the new chief’s micro-management.

Gayden met separately with Commissioner Ron Walsh and PBA President Brian Wells to discuss the issues that have divided them almost from the moment Walsh took over in February, after serving with the Nassau County Police Department for decades and leaving as chief of support.

Walsh and Wells had sharp exchanges via news releases in recent weeks. But at a City Council meeting on April 20, Wells appeared at the council’s good and welfare session to announce that the PBA would hold a “no confidence” vote on Walsh, which is said to be unprecedented in Long Beach Police Department history. Two days later, the PBA held the vote, and according to Wells, the majority of the department voted no confidence.

In an announcement Monday, Gayden said she had asked Wells “to provide me with a specific and documented set of PBA issues [with] the leadership of Commissioner Walsh.

“Once received, I can formally investigate these in short order,” Gayden’s statement read, “with an eye toward immediate resolution to maintain an effective working relationship between Commissioner Walsh and our PBA.”

Meanwhile, Wells and Walsh continued to support their claims. In a statement Monday night, Wells again criticized Walsh’s pilot “geographic policing plan,” which officially began at 8 a.m. Tuesday. It calls for assigning officers to posts on a longer-term basis and seeing to it that they spend more time in the neighborhoods they patrol.

“Walsh’s new geographic policing map clearly shows that the majority of the city is having its police coverage cut,” Wells said. Walsh has adamantly denied that.

Wells argued that “a quick read of Commissioner Walsh’s orders and directives will show a swift departure and distinct differences from the city’s official police reform plan and the governor’s executive order.”

“My members are being told to police aggressively and the public is being told the police are focusing on outreach and education,” Wells said.

He charged that in Gayden’s recently released proposed budget, “it appears the LBPD narcotics task force has been defunded by eliminating the two detective positions that previously staffed this unit.” Walsh said that any such action took place before he arrived on the job. He said he has appointed two new detectives to the force.

“In a community where the opioid crisis has likely touched every family in one way or another,” Wells wrote, “I think the public and the stakeholders would have appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback on such a drastic cut to the police department.”

In an interview Monday, Walsh declined to discuss details of his talk with Gayden. He said only that she was “very attentive.”

Walsh also said that last weekend, he walked the streets of the largely Black North Park section of Long Beach with James Hodge, chairman of the Martin Luther King Center. “It was just to meet the community and let them meet me,” Walsh said. “You always learn when you do that. The people there want to have good relations with the Police Department. They don’t think they do now.”

Regarding detectives, Walsh said that when he arrived, there were only four, and one detective lieutenant. Two more were hired, at his recommendation. In the new budget cycle, he said, he has recommended the hiring of another detective. The Narcotics Division, he said, used to have two detectives, but its cases are now assigned to the detective who is “catching cases” because of city budget limitations.

The feud between Walsh and the PBA has taken some Long Beach residents by surprise. “The vote of no confidence is unprecedented,” said James Moriarty, a Republican leader in the city. He said he was hopeful that Gayden could resolve the situation, and if not, the City Council should. “This can’t go on,” Moriarty said.

Late last week, Walsh defended himself and his plans for the department after Wells issued a blistering attack against him. “I want to ensure that the men and women of the LBPD are paid fairly and received equitable treatment in all matters that affect their responsibilities as it pertains to their duties to protect and service,” Walsh wrote in a statement to the Herald after Wells delivered his sharp criticism at the virtual City Council meeting.

“However, the PBA and I [diverge] when it comes to the way I believe the department can maximize the efficiency and productivity of the department.”

Walsh added, “The geographic policing model that Union President Wells has issues with was formulated through careful deliberation with every member of the executive staff, as well as input being sought from every sergeant and officer within the department.

“Almost every sergeant has discussed the plan with me and the administration, and while not every officer has availed themselves of the offer to voice their opinion, many have engaged in meaningful feedback,” Walsh continued. “The idea of holding officers responsible for, and moreover to address the conditions on their post by developing a plan of action, and then implementing that plan, was brought here by me.”

Walsh said the pilot plan that was devised came out of those discussions. “None of this was done in a vacuum,” he wrote. “To the contrary, the pilot program was developed through participative management and the consensus-building process, and while the pilot will continue to be adjusted, it is supported by the input and opinions of seasoned LBPD supervisors and officers.”

Wells has maintained that PBA members see Walsh as a micro-manager.

Wash said his plan would make police officers, including himself, more accountable to the public. “How? By supervisors and officers reviewing and discussing actions taken and their results, thereby determining if adjustments need to be made to enable us, together with the community, to alleviate issues and concerns in our neighborhoods,” he wrote. “From any point of view, and especially from my seat, that is a great thing for this city, our neighborhoods and the tax-paying public.”

Walsh also criticized Wells. “It is unfortunate that the message being sent by Mr. Wells is one of contention and strife, as nothing could be further from the truth,” Walsh wrote, adding, “The true difference between the union president’s position and mine is that his job is to look out for his membership, my role is much larger than only that.”

Walsh quoted former President Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, who once said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t want to go but ought to be.”