By Nick Diamantides
Imagine getting a text message or an email from the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) to inform you that the helicopter buzzing over your neighborhood is part of a search for an armed-robbery suspect hiding somewhere on your street. One day in the not-too-distant future, such communications will be commonplace, according to Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell.
The chief and some of his key administrative staff conducted a media briefing with about 10 reporters last Thursday, Nov. 11 in a conference room at the downtown police headquarters. During the meeting, McDonnell, who was sworn in as chief eight months ago, stressed that the LBPD is hoping to improve its communications with the news media and with the general public.
“We look to be able to build on already very good relations with the community around the city and to be able to get the community more engaged,” he said.
The chief noted that there is a widespread misconception among many people who do not live in the city that all of Long Beach is riddled with a high crime rate. “It’s unfortunate that in our poorer neighborhoods where the gang issues are most prevalent that we have a continuation of repeat crimes, and we are working hard to make all of our neighborhoods in the community safer,” he said. McDonnell stressed, however, that the chances of being a victim of crime in most neighborhoods, tourist areas, and shopping districts are very minimal.
The two-hour discussion with reporters focused on various issues, including the need for the media and the general public to get timely, accurate information on police activities. McDonnell explained that, as part of the LBPD’s effort to reach that goal, the department recently adopted the Nixle system. “It’s a software that is available primarily for public safety focus,” he said. “It will be free to us to use. It’s a subscription service. People can sign up to be notified of significant incidents that occur.”
According to McDonnell, when residents and business owners sign up for Nixle messages, they can request to be informed of police activities in the immediate vicinity of their street address, their neighborhood, their entire ZIP code area or the entire city.
He noted that the LBPD’s Nixle system is not fully developed yet, but, when it is, the LBPD will be able to send out messages to those who sign up, much like reverse 9-1-1, that will inform them of significant police activity, crimes, and dangerous situations in the area of their interest. “With reverse 9-1-1, we can send messages out to home phones,” he said. “With Nixle, we can send text messages to cell phones, email messages, or whatever media they sign up for. We can tell them, ‘Okay, we have a search for a robbery suspect in a certain area, and we have a perimeter set up, and the helicopter is above. If you see anything or hear anything in your yard, call us to let us know.’”
McDonnell said that when people are able to find out quickly why a helicopter is overhead or why a section of a particular street has been cordoned off, the police and the general public will be able to work together better. “That changes the whole dynamic of being inconvenienced (by helicopter noise) to being part of the solution,” he explained, adding that Nixle also covers the activities of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
He noted that the LBPD is working on its Nixle transmissions to make them as timely as possible, but it needs more work. “We are trying to (develop) a real-time crime center that will operate under our Emergency Communications and Command Center (on Redondo Avenue),” he said, adding that he hopes that at some point in the near future all public and private surveillance cameras in the city will be connected to the Emergency Communications Center through the Internet. He explained that such connections would greatly enhance the LBPD’s ability to apprehend criminals. “It’s in its infancy now,” he said. “It’s not being done this way anywhere else in the country to my knowledge, but the capability, I believe, is there, and it will only get better over time.”
McDonnell added that once the real-time crime center is up and running, its staff will have access to police activity throughout the city and will have the time and ability to be able to transmit Nixle messages quickly and to respond to media inquiries about what is going on.
McDonnell noted that the LBPD is now working with private security firms throughout the city to come up with a database as to what businesses have cameras. “It’s up to them to cooperate or not, but I think it is in their interests to do so,” he said. “What we would require would be a modem on the camera so that we, through an IP address, could tap into that without running cables to the Command Center.”
In addition to outlining the high-tech communications and surveillance advancements, McDonnell told the reporters that he wants open and honest communication between the media and the LBPD in an atmosphere of cooperation. “For us to be adversarial is counter to the interests of what the people of Long Beach need,” he said. “That’s why it is so important for us to continue to talk and be honest with each other.”
The chief invited reporters to come up with ideas on how the LBPD and other city officials and could make information more readily available to the news media. He noted, however, that some information pertaining to police investigations, witnesses and other protected information cannot be shared with the media.