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LA Times Court Case


On December 12, 2010, the Long Beach Police responded to a report of a man with a gun loitering in the backyard of a residence.  As the first officers arrived, two separate citizens (the resident and a neighbor) both verified that the person in the backyard was not known to them and he appeared to be armed with a gun.  The officers conducted a series of standard police tactics to evacuate innocent citizens, keep an eye on the suspect, and form a plan to safely address the situation.  As the first assisting officers arrived on scene, the suspect made a deliberate furtive movement with what appeared to be a gun.  The officers were left with no other alternative then to fire in self defense.  

As we have all heard by now, the suspect's gun turned out to be a pistol looking metal water nozzle.  As soon as this information became public, numerous Monday morning quarterbacks sprang from the sidelines to explain how they could have done things better.  Several went as far as to call the involved officers criminals.  Mind you, none of the critics had any of the detailed information or facts from the scene, yet they were certain the officers were "rogue" or "gun crazed cowboys".  The media-induced frenzy around the event was clearly intended to villanize the officers.

A legal battle subsequently ensued between the media (led by the LA Times) and the police (led by the LBPOA and eventually joined by the City of Long Beach).  It was obviously the media's intention to ride the wave of hysteria in order to sell newspapers and make money.  The press knew that if they could get the shooting officers' names, they could plaster their photos on the front page and essentially try them in the court of public opinion.  Their motive had very little to do with ensuring a transparent government, and it had everything to do with sensationalizing a story to feed the curiousity of the masses.  The City subsequently withheld making the officers' names public in order to protect the officers and their families.

The solution to this problem seemed clear from the beginning.  Allow the press access to the information as the investigation concluded and let them print their opinion however they choose.  We only asked that the officers' specific names be removed from the published news article in order to allow the officers and their families a opportunity to be safe from that segment of society looking for revenge.  Remember, the officers did not committed any criminal act, and no one really cares if their name is "Smith" or "Jones".  They only want to know if the officers are reasonable or reckless.  That can be done without pubishing a personal name.  The only reason to for the media to print the officers' names was to inflame a mob mentality.

No one is trying to deny the press a chance to serve as an independant reporter of fact.  Every American takes great pride in knowing that a free press is a cornerstone of our democratic government.  The POA has no issue with allowing the press access to information.  We want the LBPD to be transparent.  However, it is also abundantly clear that in today's Internet age, the ability to take unique personal information (such as an officer's name) and use if for devious purposes is pervasive.  The practice of "doxing" is intended solely to harass and threaten public officials by spreading thier personal information through public social media sites in the hopes that some deranged or emotionally unstable person will use the information to do harm.  It is a cowards way of throwing out bait in the hopes that someone will attack on their behalf.

On February 7, 2012, the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that the public's right to know the officers' name outweighed any officer safety concern.  While attorneys on both sides are pouring through the court's decision to understand the details, it appears clear that the justices believed a specific threat was needed to a specific officer in order to justify a redaction of a name.  The general belief that public employees are somehow entitled to less protection than the general public seems odd, especially when the motive of the press seems so clear.  The First Ammendment is a powerful tool for good, but never forget, it can also be a very destructive force when wielded friviolously.  

The LBPOA will continue to look at other legal avenues to resolve this problem.  It is irresponsible and unreasonable to believe that the our founding fathers intended for the freedom of the press to deliberately put innocent people at risk.  Unfortuately, it appears that the courts are willing to wait for disaster to strike before they realize the serious implications of thier decision.

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On April 19, 2102, the California Supreme Court decided to review the ruling of the Court of Appeals.  This essentially means that the higher court wishes to review and give an opinion on the matter.  Over the next several weeks, the City of Long Beach and the LBPOA will prepare their case for the high court to review.  

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