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Long Beach Police Department plan calls for more community engagement

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Long Beach’s new police commissioner made clear when he took office in February that changes would be coming to the city Police Department, and this week he released a pilot plan that calls for assigning officers to posts on a longer-term basis and seeing to it that they become more involved in the community they patrol.

Commissioner Ron Walsh, 55, former chief of support for the Nassau County Police Department, said that he had high regard for the 66-member Long Beach force, but wanted officers to engage more with merchants and residents by spending more time outside their patrol cars.

In the past, Walsh said, officers may have been assigned to long-term posts, but were not held responsible for developing relationships in the community.

His plan, however, has not found full favor with the department’s union, the Police Benevolent Association, whose top leader said he found little new in it. PBA President Brian Wells said in a statement that the union found parts of Walsh’s comments “insulting.”

Wells also said that the plan includes beefing up police patrols in the largely Black North Park section of the city, while “significantly reducing” patrols in areas such as the Canals, Ocean Beach Park and the boardwalk.

No section of the city would be underserved, Walsh said, adding that under his pilot program, which is subject to change, officers will be assigned to specific areas and neighborhoods on a more permanent basis.

Under this new “community geographic policing” model, he said, “Officers assigned to post cars will be expected to forge relationships with neighbors, business owners and the faith-based community.”

In an interview, Walsh was asked if Long Beach officers had previously taken on such duties. “I would say police officers were highly responsible to do what they were asked to do,” he said, “but were not made fully aware of other responsibilities. The focus was not on getting out of their cars. This should be a larger part of their day.”

He wants officers to be adept at solving problems in the community, he said, such as what to do about double-parked cars. “This definitely involves developing deeper relations with the community,” Walsh said.

His plan, he said, was inspired, at least in part, by the police killing in Minneapolis last May of George Floyd. The incident provoked protests in dozens of American and European cities, led by the Black Lives Matter movement, and Long Beach was among many communities in Nassau County where protests took place.

Walsh speculated that the Floyd tragedy might have been avoided with better community policing.

Police today, he said, “must do more than simply respond to a call for service — we must engage our communities so we can become part of the fabric of the city and truly partner with our residents to help solve problems, address community complaints and enhance their posts by reducing crime.

“We have excellent police officers and civilian members of this department,” Walsh continued, “who are longing for 21st-century police leadership to guide them through the enormous changes being put forth by our state and local governments.”

“We will build relationships, we will reduce crime, we will be the community partners that the public is looking for, and we will become the best we can be,” he said.

In his statement, Wells said there was nothing new about officers being assigned to regular posts in order to become more familiar with residents. “That practice has been in place since the city and the PBA agreed to adopt the Community Duty Policing Chart in 2001,” Wells wrote, noting that he has worked the same post for three years.

“We are already well versed with the conditions on our posts,” Wells continued. “Drastically realigning the well-established and traditional post boundaries is the most significant change to the way we police this city that I have ever seen in my career.”

In March, responding to an executive order issued last June by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directing every local government in the state to develop a policing reform plan, the LBPD released its plan, which aims to strengthen ties between the community and the department.

The PBA and the city are now locked in negotiations on a new contract. The PBA has worked without a contract for three years.