The Long Beach Police Department got caught using a service that permanently deletes text messages, and its apology was nowhere near sufficient.
Al Jazeera published an article Sept. 18, revealing that, since at least 2014, the LBPD used Tiger Text – an application which deletes messages shortly after they are seen. Multiple unnamed police officers who spoke with the news organization claim that the department used the app “to share sensitive and potentially incriminating information that they wouldn’t want to be disclosed to a court.”
The article states that Tiger Text deletes messages after a short amount of time, and unlike social media apps such as Snapchat, these are not recoverable. Thus any information about a case or departmental affairs that officers share through the app will be gone after the recipient views it. Multiple officers who spoke with Al Jazeera claimed that they were instructed to use Tiger Text.
If the LBPD truly had nothing to hide, then I see no reason for using this service.
In a possible sign of bad communication, LBPD contradicted a statement they released about police departments using Tiger Text. On Tuesday, it claimed to be the only department using the application, but officials stated a day later that they knew of other police departments using the messaging system, but chose to not share which ones those were.
While it is possible that Long Beach police learned about other departments using Tiger Text within the two days, what is not disputable is that the organization has chosen to protect those who may be doing something illegal by using the app.
“If you see something, say something,” is the call any public transit user will hear Chief Luna say. It’s clear that he and most of his department are failing to do so.
The LBPD denies the anonymous officers’ claims that the app was used for hiding evidence which could be useful in court. Regardless of whether or not they were hiding anything, the fact that it is possible to do so should be concerning. Police told the Long Beach Post that the system had “a side-effect of deleting messages,” which clearly shows that they knew the app did this.
The use of Tiger Text has been exposed, there is no returning from that. According to Police Chief Robert Luna, the department has stopped using the app. It has also begun a review of its own communication and records retainment protocols and agreed to cooperate in a review of LBPD’s use of the app, conducted by a firm which the city hired.
Luna told the Long Beach Post that the department is taking these actions to eliminate the idea that they are trying to hide information. But there is more that needs to be done if Luna really wants people to believe that his officers never intended to do hide evidence.
It’s obvious that the LBPD has communication issues. They say they do not know who suggested or approved the decision to use Tiger Text on over 100 phones issued by the department, and officers told the Long Beach Post that the department lacked specific guidelines for using the app.
In an attempt to explain the use of Tiger Text, Luna said facts that pertain to a case would be included in a report. Anything not relevant to the case becomes “discarded.” Luna referred to this as a common practice, but I don’t think it should be.
Leaving what is deemed worthy of being evidence up to an individual can lead to important facts going unreported.
Law enforcement should strive for complete transparency, and this means not being selective with what information is shared with the public.
If Luna and the LBPD do not want people to think that they are hiding something, they need to be honest about what they know and turn over information which could help any court cases, even if it means that one of their own is going to be punished.
“Actions have consequences” should apply to everyone, not just those who don’t have a badge.