A California police department has come under fire after hundreds of maskless officers gathered shoulder-to-shoulder under one roof for an event that has since been accused of being a COVID superspreader.
Nearly 300 officers from the Long Beach Police Department gathered together for a group photo on November 5 at the city’s convention center to commemorate the end of a weeks-long tactical training.
In a staged photo – which the police department originally posted to Twitter but has since deleted – the cohort of cops are seen standing huddled closely together, wearing masks and looking up at the camera.
However, an informal image captured during the same event showed officers still stood closely together but this time with the vast majority not wearing face coverings.
The department has since reported 49 cases of COVID-19 among its uniformed officers.
An informal image captured during the Nov. 5 event showed a large number of the officers stood closely together without any face coverings
Nearly 300 officers from the Long Beach Police Department gathered together for the group photo on November 5. In the official image, almost all are wearing masks
It appears the officers depicted in the second image, where many are seen without masks, are unaware they’re being photographed
Two local community groups have filed a complaint, demanding an investigation and accusing Police Chief Robert Luna of ‘knowingly and willfully ordering a super spreader event.’
The department has, however, insisted that none of its reported coronavirus cases have been traced back to the event.
In the complaint filed Monday by Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition on Monday, the two groups said the assembly of officers was a ‘violation of Health Department mandates’.
The group also called the gathering 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.’
Chief Luna, who spoke at the event has apologized for not enforcing mask-wearing but said none of the department’s cases have been traced back to the event
The organizations are asking that the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) conduct a probe by issuing subpoenas for personnel lists and documents, administering sworn oaths for testimony from the rank and file, and to hold public hearings ‘so as to prevent the LBPD or the city administration from covering up yet another wholesale violation of the public trust.’
Chief Luna, who spoke at the event has apologized for not enforcing mask-wearing.
‘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,’ he told the Washington Post.
‘I regret the way that we handled this and if I had it to do over again I would do it differently.’
In the weeks following the training event, cases of coronavirus have been spiking in the department, as they have been across the state.
According to KNBC, the police department has reported 49 positive COVID cases among uniformed officers since November 1.
In their complaint, the People of Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition cited a Long Beach Post article reporting an outbreak among the department in mid-November and an additional six cases reported weeks later.
In a recent interview, Luna acknowledged the number of cases in his department are ‘high’, adding he’s ‘very uncomfortable with where they’re at.’
However, the department has insisted that none of its cases of COVID-19 have been traced back the the training event.
‘While we recognize the potential health and safety concerns that the photo raises regarding COVID-19. We have also verified no positive COVID-19 cases have been attributed to this specific training day,’ the department said in a written statement.
According to KNBC, the police department has reported 49 positive COVID cases among uniformed officers since November 1
The complaint against the department has emerged as California has become the new epicentre of the US coronavirus pandemic, now recording record high new case totals almost daily.
So far, there have been more than 1.67million positive cases of the deadly disease confirmed in the state since the pandemic began in March, and more than 21,400 deaths. Los Angeles County, which encompasses Long Beach, is responsible for around a third of those total cases.
Statistics shared to the city’s website show that Long Beach has, as of Thursday, has recorded 23,082 cases and 306 deaths alone.
The police event on November 5 was held as the final gathering of officers after a week of training to prepare the department for possible civil unrest after the presidential election, LBPD said.
‘To effectively train our officers on large-scale mobilization tactics, these trainings gradually grew in size and scope, culminating in the training event on November 5th, which was the largest day of training,’ a statement from the department read.
Police officials said the training was staged to avoid a repeat of the department’s widely criticized response on May 31, when officers struggled to contain widespread looting during racial injustice protests in Downtown Long Beach, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd.
‘On this day, the Department’s executive staff decided to attend the training event to address our officers and recognize and thank them for their time, dedication, and sacrifice during this election period,’ the statement continued.
‘At the conclusion, a photograph was taken with officers wearing facial coverings. However, other photographs were taken where officers are not wearing facial coverings.’
Statistics shared to the city’s website show that Long Beach has, as of Thursday, has recorded 23,082 cases and 306 deaths alone
In a recent interview, Luna acknowledged the number of cases in his department are ‘high’, adding he’s ‘very uncomfortable with where they’re at’
The police event on November 5 was held at the Long Beach Convention Center (above) as the final gathering of officers after a week of training to prepare the department for possible civil unrest after the presidential election
One officer who attended the gathering, speaking anonymously to the Long Beach Post, said some officers had been instructed to remove their masks earlier in the day because they had symbols on them.
The LBPD has barred officers from having any kind of insignia on their masks after some wore ones with the controversial ‘thin blue line’ flag during Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Until November 19 – two weeks after the photo was taken – Long Beach PD employees were not required to wear masks, the department said in its statement.
Since the photos surfaced, the police department has notified officers that they will be disciplined if caught mask-less. A first warning will be issued, followed by more punitive measures if an officer violates the guidelines again.
In a statement, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said ‘police officers and first responders should always be masked and following distancing protocols.’
‘I’m glad the police chief has addressed this with the department and put in place new rules and guidelines,’ he said.
In total, 72 officers of the LBPD have tested positive for COVID-19 this year, although none have become seriously ill, according to Chief Luna.