- Greggory Moore
Whether or not everything is really bigger in Texas, sometimes it seems that everything is smaller in Long Beach. Certainly that has been the case with public protests. Consider the Occupy movement of a couple of years ago, which in Long Beach topped out on its first night at about 300, then rarely included more than 20 active participants until Occupy Long Beach closed up shop at its Lincoln Park location a few months later.
So it was predictable that the Long Beach iteration of the nationwide protest that sprung up in July after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in the shooting death of unarmed Trayvon Martin would be small. And although no-one could be sure ahead of time that the July 19 “Justice Rally for Trayvon Martin” in Long Beach would be as small or as low-key as it turned out to be, the fact that it was scheduled to take place on the steps of the Long Beach County Courthouse—a building regularly staffed by a small army of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies and that is situated only one block away from the Long Beach Police Department’s West Division headquarters—meant that there would be more than enough law enforcement nearby to handle anything that realistically might have transpired.
Nonetheless, the LBPD chose not only to dispatch a helicopter to the area, but to have it circle the gathering for somewhere between 45 to 60 minutes, even after it became readily apparent that the event attracted fewer than 50 protestors, none of whom were engaged in remotely criminal or threatening activity.
Trying to quantify the total resource expenditure of this operation is an inexact science. That said, according to the results of a Public Records Act Request (PRAR), the “overhead situational awareness of the event” involved a pilot and a “Trained Flight Observer,” with the operating expense of the helicopter estimated to be $1,745.15 per hour.
To be fair, the PRAR reply notes that the flight time involved was part of the “normal patrol operations that day,” which means it would have been flying the skies of Long Beach anyway. But a question that might be worth asking is whether such an expenditure is necessary during periods when the police have no more exigent need for the airship than to continually circle a small, peaceful demonstration occurring on the exact spot where there is the highest concentration of law enforcement in the entire 51.44 square miles of Long Beach.
The LBPD failed to respond to numerous inquiries by Random Lengths News concerning generalities of its airship’s “normal patrol operations,” as well as the specific reasons why the airship circled the July 19 protest for at least 45 minutes.