By Nick Diamantides
Jim McDonnell has been chief of the Long Beach Police Department for about six months. In spite of ongoing budget cuts that have significantly reduced the number of patrol officers and detectives, McDonnell exudes optimism and insists that the department will continue to effectively carry out its mission to protect the city’s residents and businesses.
McDonnell spoke to the residents who attended 8th District Long Beach City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich’s “Community Coffee” at the Mirage Coffeehouse last Saturday (Sept. 11.) “Looking at the crime picture here, we’ve had tremendous success in this city in the last two years with double-digit crime reduction,” he said. McDonnell noted that the department needs to do a better job of publicizing its crime-reduction success, but, unfortunately, TV news media concentrate primarily on violent crimes and tragedies. “We want to be able to draw them down for the good stories, to give the full picture,” he said. “Too often people that don’t live in Long Beach hear about gangs, murders and horrendous traffic accidents.”
McDonnell said more people should know how the LBPD compares with other local law-enforcement agencies. “The LA Sheriff’s Department has a 7.2-minute average response time for emergency calls for service. The LAPD (recently) went from 6.2 minutes to 5.7 minutes on average, and they celebrated that,” he said. “The response time right now in Long Beach is 3.8 minutes. We want to be able to maintain that. It’s important to me that when you call 9-1-1, we get there as quickly as we possibly can.”
McDonnell acknowledged, however, that maintaining that rapid response time will be a challenge with the city’s continually shrinking budget, which has forced the layoffs of more than 100 sworn police officers so far.
“We had 1,020 (sworn officers) a little over a year ago. We are now down to 901, and for the next budget year we are looking in the ballpark of 867 or so,” he said. “This means that some of the things we have been able to do, we won’t be able to do as much of. My goal is to continue to keep us as a full-service police department.”
McDonnell said the LBPD will continue to make arrests and conduct investigations for all crimes committed in the city. “The reality of it is that it may take a little bit longer, but we are not going to let anything fall by the wayside,” he said.
Reflecting on the terrorist attacks that happened on September 11, 2001, McDonnell said it would be naïve to think something like that would not happen again. He explained that, in addition to terrorist attacks, law-enforcement agencies are bracing for the possibility that the kind of mass killings now taking place in Mexico will begin happening in the United States. “When you look at the level of violence that is happening with the drug cartels on the other side of the border, that is not going to stay south of the border,” he said. “The cartels are selling their dope here through the gangs, which are their drug-distribution network.” He noted that Latino gangs in this area pay taxes to the Mexican mafia in order to participate in that organization’s multi-level marketing of illegal drugs. He explained that all local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies are trying to prevent the violence from spreading north of the border by sharing information with each other and beefing up their intelligence efforts.
The chief also explained that one of his goals is to get more advanced technology as part of the LBPD’s arsenal for law enforcement and crime prevention. “We are trying to get cameras in strategic places, particularly for the violent crime issues,” he said, explaining that cameras eliminate the need for eyewitnesses for crime prosecution. He added that cameras also eliminate the need for hundreds of hours of surveillance time. “The technology costs up front, and in tough budget times, that is an issue,” he said. “But the benefit in the long term far outweighs the cost.”
Other high-tech equipment the chief hopes to obtain for the LBPD includes automated license plate readers which can almost instantly determine if a certain car is reported as stolen or implicated in a crime, and shot-spotter technology, which can pinpoint the exact address where a gun was fired.
McDonnell also talked about how Homeland Security measures being taken by local law-enforcement agencies in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area are serving as a model for law-enforcement agencies throughout the United States. “We know our counterparts in the other agencies,” he said. “We work with them on a regular basis,” he said. “We opened up the Emergency Operations Center (at the Port of Long Beach). Everybody has a role, and everybody knows their role, and we know what the other people’s roles are.”
After his comments, McDonnell fielded questions from the audience. Most of the questions pertained to how police staffing levels would be impacted by budget cutbacks.
In closing, McDonnell said that citizens getting involved in their communities is one of the strongest deterrents to crime. He urged all residents to take an active interest in what is happening in their neighborhoods.