By Nick Diamantides
Josef Levy, the new commander of the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) West Division, has been loved and respected by many people in that section of the city for many years. As police lieutenant, he not only enforced the law, but he attended many community meetings and events and volunteered much of his time to improving the quality of life in the area’s various neighborhoods.
Levy spoke to an audience of about 30 people who attended the monthly meeting of the Wrigley Association last Monday evening at the community center of Veterans Park. He outlined his background and briefly described his philosophy and the goals he has set for the West Division.
He noted that in his 25 years with the LBPD, he has worked as a patrol officer and on special details focusing on gang and drug investigations. Working his way up through the ranks, he was promoted to sergeant and later lieutenant where he spent several years working with the West Division. During the last two years, Levy worked as chief of staff for Deputy Chief Robert Luna.
Although Levy has excelled in his career with the LBPD, his responsibilities to his wife and four children and his duties as a police officer did not afford him much time to complete his college education. He took classes whenever he could. “I just graduated with my bachelor’s degree after 30 years,” he said with a laugh. “I graduated from Cal State Long Beach and 20 minutes after (the commencement ceremonies), Chief of Police McDonnell phoned me to say he was promoting me to the commander of the West Division. I was on cloud nine.”
Going further back, Levy explained that when he was a baby, his parents moved from Israel to Chicago. Six years later they moved to Long Beach where he attended public schools.
He noted that during the six years that his family lived in Chicago, they were very poor and from that situation he acquired an understanding of the struggles faced by impoverished people. “I also learned the value of work,” he said. “My parents instilled a very strong work ethic in me, and I saw firsthand how, by hard work and perseverance, a family can climb out of poverty and have a better life.”
Levy also spoke about a recent, very significant event in his personal life. “On June 18, 2007, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer,” he said. “That cancer diagnosis basically rocked my world. I was off work for five months dealing with it.” He admitted that while the physical aspects of his struggle were difficult, the emotional and psychological aspects were even harder, but now that it’s over, he feels that he has been given a second chance at life. “I am glad that I am here and that I have the opportunity to serve all of you,” he said.
After his cancer diagnosis, Levy teamed up with two other cops who are cancer survivors to create the National Law Enforcement Cancer Support Foundation. “Our mission is to provide free emotional guidance, support, resources, education and advocacy for those in the law-enforcement family who are facing a cancer diagnosis,” he said.
Then, Levy outlined his philosophy and briefly explained how he plans to manage the West Division, which has 130 LBPD employees and an annual budget of about $17 million. He told the audience that soon after being appointed commander, he made the rounds during all three West Division shifts to meet all officers and civilian employees. “The message I have been giving to them is, first and foremost, treat people with respect,” he said. “I want [all West Division employees] to recognize that respect is a tool that can make their job easier.”
Levy added that he also expects West Division employees to work hard. “The work ethic is very near and dear to my heart,” he said.
The third tenet of Levy’s philosophy is integrity, which he described as “doing the right thing when no one is around.” He stressed that law enforcement is a very noble profession and police officers have worked very hard for the privilege of wearing a badge. “We cannot have unethical behavior,” he said, explaining that he wants to make sure none of his officers or civilian staff makes foolish choices that will ruin their careers and besmirch the reputation of the LBPD.
Levy also said that he reminds his employees to take care of each other. He explained that by that he means more than protecting each other in the line of duty. He means correcting a fellow officer who may be engaging in dangerous or inappropriate behavior.
The fifth tenet of Levy’s philosophy is to have fun. He wants the West Division employees to enjoy their jobs. “I tell my employees that when they come to work, I want them to think about how they can add value to the Long Beach community, and have fun while you are doing it,” he said.
The new commander also noted that he has expectations of the public he serves. He commended the members of the Wrigley Association for their volunteerism and community activism and said he wishes more people would emulate them.
Levy said he tries to inspire people to participate in IRS, but he is not referring to the federal taxation agency. “IRS is inclusive, respectful and safe,” he said, explaining that people need to work together and include those with whom they disagree in all their efforts to improve their communities. “Everyone has to be included and respected if we want to build a safe community,” he said. “Work hard [to make that happen.]”
Levy also commended his predecessor, Commander Bob Lumen, who now serves as commander of the LBPD Field Support Division. “I inherited good numbers from Commander Lumen in terms of crime statistics,” Levy said, explaining that out of nine categories of violent crimes committed in the West Division, only two have shown a slight increase in the past few months: robbery and rape. He explained that most of the increase in robbery is due to an increase in young men snatching necklaces and purses from middle-aged to elderly women. All of the rapes in the West Division this year involved a victim and suspect who knew each other. “And in about half of those cases, alcohol and drugs are involved,” he noted. Following a question-and-answer period, Levy said he looked forward to working with the community to achieve more reductions in crime and improve the quality of life for all residents.