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California police department held superspreader event, community groups say

Dozens of Long Beach officers were photographed shoulder-to-shoulder with no facial coverings, according to a complaint from two organizations.
Long Beach Police held an event with hundreds of officers on Nov. 5, 2020.
Long Beach Police held an event with hundreds of officers on Nov. 5, 2020.Long Beach Police Historical Society via Twitter

Two community groups filed complaints against a Southern California police agency after hundreds of its officers, many maskless, gathered under one roof and stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and other top department brass "knowingly and willfully" organized "a super spreader event," the People of Long Beach and Long Beach Reform Coalition said in a complaint to the city's Citizen Police Complaint Commission.

"Not only was the assembly a violation of Health Department mandates but also 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," according to the groups' complaint, filed on Monday.

The officers had been training for potential post-election civil unrest and the preparation drills culminated with a meeting inside the Long Beach Convention Center on Nov. 5.

About 300 officers gathered for at least one picture of themselves — with nearly all appearing to be wearing face coverings — but another image was snapped with many appearing to be maskless at the event attended by top department brass.

That maskless photo ended up in the local Long Beach Post news site, raising concerns the event would be a coronavirus superspreader event.

Top department supervisors believed it was important to "attend the training event to address our officers and recognize and thank them for their time, dedication, and sacrifice during this election period," Long Beach police spokeswoman Allison Gallagher said in a statement.

"At the conclusion, a photograph was taken with officers wearing facial coverings," Gallagher added. "However, other photographs were taken where officers are not wearing facial coverings."

The department stopped short of apologizing, but said "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," Gallagher said.

Since the photos surfaced, the police department has notified officers that they will be disciplined if caught mask-less, the Long Beach Post reported. 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.

Long Beach, which sits just south of south of Los Angeles, is home to more than 462,000 people and is California's seventh largest city.

As of 11:59 p.m. PT on Monday, there were 94 Long Beach residents hospitalized with Covid-19 and 302 city residents have died during this pandemic, according to the city's Department of Health and Human Services.