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Criminal Justice

Personal Experiences With Immigration And Violent Crime Shape Sergeant’s Campaign For LA Sheriff

Family portrait, four kids, mother and father, with a background of trees.
Sheriff's Sgt. Karla Carranza, third from right, is one of eight people challenging Sheriff Alex Villanueva in the June primary. She is pictured here with her husband and four of her children.
(Courtesy Carranza family)
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One of the eight challengers seeking to oust Sheriff Alex Villanueva says her experience growing up as an immigrant in L.A. and losing a brother to gun violence makes her uniquely qualified to run the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Karla Carranza recalls leaving the arms of her grandmother in Tijuana, climbing into a car and crossing the border to meet her waiting mother in 1985. She was 6 years old.

Her family had fled the war in El Salvador and won political asylum in the U.S.

“As a sheriff’s deputy, I am able to identify with our community — not just with Latinos but anybody that migrates from any other country,” Carranza told LAist. “My mom is half Syrian-Lebanese.”

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“We know what the struggle is,” she said, referring to herself and her family.

A Tragic Loss

Carranza, 42, joined the department in 2005. She’s seen the effects of gang violence up close while on patrol in South L.A. Then the violence came home.

In 2009, her youngest brother was fatally shot by rival gang members — even though her mother had moved from Lynwood to the San Fernando Valley to try to protect him, Carranza said. He was 19 years old.

“Even though he had two sisters in law enforcement, that didn’t deter him,” she said. Her sister is also a sheriff’s deputy.

Carranza wants the Sheriff’s Department to do more to help at-risk youth and young adults like her brother. She said that as sheriff, she would expand the agency’s Youth Activities League and VIDA LA, where she once worked. VIDA LA is a partnership between the department and community groups to provide a 16-week program for kids in danger of falling into trouble.

“It has been a role for the sheriff’s department,” she said. “It hasn’t been in the spotlight. It hasn’t been emphasized. But it’s been successful.”

I understand we are not going to be able to save everybody. It’s going to work for some, but not for all.
— LASD Sgt. Karla Carranza, candidate for Sheriff

“I understand we are not going to be able to save everybody,” she said. “It’s going to work for some, but not for all.”

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'Zero Tolerance'

She said she would have “zero tolerance” for deputy subgroups, or gangs, inside the department but added it’s a “small percentage of guys” who “want to make themselves above everybody else.”

A Loyola Law School report found 18 gangs have operated at the agency, with seven still operating. A RAND survey of deputies concluded “[a]t their worst, subgroups encourage violence, undermine the chain of command, and gravely harm relationships with the communities that LASD is dedicated to serve.”

Villanueva has said the behavior of the groups amounts to “hazing run amok.”

If elected sheriff, Carranza said she would provide more training and education to deputies on how to interact with unhoused people and work more closely with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to help people get off the streets. She added that there is also a law enforcement role.

“We are here to enforce the rules. We’re here to enforce the civility of our community,” she said.

Carranza criticized Villanueva for going into areas patrolled by the LAPD like Venice to clear homeless encampments. “We should focus on our own areas.”

Working With The Board Of Supervisors

Asked about how she would interact with the Board of Supervisors, she said she would work more collaboratively than Villanueva, who repeatedly has clashed with the board.

Carranza is currently assigned to Twin Towers jail in downtown L.A. She said she is prepared to lead the department’s 16,000 sworn deputies and civilian employees, even though she is only a sergeant.

“Leadership shouldn’t be based on ranking,” she said. “Leadership should be based on this person’s life experience and what you have done to serve the community and this department.”

Another priority: increasing the number of women in the department. “We never go over 18% of women in law enforcement.”

Carranza knows she is a longshot candidate. She hasn’t raised any money for her campaign. She says she is risking a lot by running.

“Let’s say I don’t win. Whoever is the next sheriff can retaliate against me,” she said. But it’s worth it to her.

“Change has to happen now,” Carranza said. “I have been waiting for 17 years for somebody to step it up.”

Now she’s decided to do it.

Other candidates vying for Villanueva's job:

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Corrected April 16, 2022 at 4:45 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year when Sergeant Carranza's brother was killed. It was 2009, not 2013.