What does the L.A. County Sheriff do?
The sheriff is one of the most powerful elected officials in L.A. County. The District Attorney and Assessor are the only other officials elected by the entire county.
The position of an elected county sheriff is enshrined in the California constitution, and it is a powerful position. Unlike appointed city police chiefs who answer to mayors, city councils and city managers, sheriffs are beholden only to the voters. The Board of Supervisors allocates their budget each year; that is the one way a Board can directly influence a sheriff.
The sheriff serves four-year terms and there are no term limits.
The person who holds this position oversees the country’s largest sheriff’s department. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has more than 9,000 sworn deputies and about 7,000 civilian employees, ranging from crime lab technicians to cooks who prepare meals for people in jail.
The Sheriff’s Department patrols all unincorporated areas of the county. That includes communities such as East L.A., Willowbrook, La Crescenta-Montrose and Castaic.
LASD also provides policing services to 42 cities in the county, including Lancaster, Palmdale, Altadena, Compton and Malibu. (The L.A. Police Department is responsible for law enforcement inside L.A. city limits.)
The department also patrols parts of the MTA subway, light rail and bus system and provides security for a wide variety of public buildings, including courthouses, public hospitals and community colleges.
The biggest difference between the Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD is that the sheriff operates the seven big jails in the county, including Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers in downtown L.A., and the sprawling Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.
Under state law, the sheriff has jurisdiction throughout the entire county — even in areas patrolled by the LAPD and smaller police departments. The current sheriff has used that jurisdiction to enter areas patrolled by the LAPD or other city police departments and enforce anti-camping laws. (More on that below)
Issues facing the Sheriff's Department
The next sheriff will have to decide how deputies will interact with unhoused people and whether the department will coordinate any response with social service workers and nonprofit organizations.
Incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who is running for reelection, has accused both of coddling people on the streets. He took the unusual step of sending his deputies to the Venice Boardwalk, which is LAPD territory, to enforce the city of L.A.’s “anti-camping law” and clear dozens of tents. (The anti-camping law, Ordinance 41.18, bans people who are unhoused from camping on public property close to locations such as schools, parks, libraries, and underpasses within the city of L.A.)
The next sheriff will have to decide the extent to which deputies will be involved in anti-camping enforcement, including in areas that are under the jurisdiction of other law enforcement agencies. Another question they’ll have to answer: Should unhoused people be cited or arrested for trespassing, urinating in public or other quality of life offenses when they are unlikely to be able to afford the fine or show up in court, which can result in a warrant for their arrest?
Deputy subgroups or gangs
Secretive subgroups of deputies, also referred to by some as gangs, have existed in the department for decades. Members have matching tattoos and some allegedly engage in violence against residents as part of their initiation. In 2019, eight deputies at the East L.A. Station accused a group of colleagues who call themselves the Banditos of harassing and attacking deputies who did not support them – and said the department did little to prevent such groups.
Sheriff Villanueva says the groups are benign. Reports from the Inspector General, The RAND Corporation and Loyola Law School say they are a major problem. The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission has launched an investigation. The next sheriff will have to address how to rid the department of these subgroups, which some believe is emblematic of a culture of impunity at the agency.
People with mental health problems
Law enforcement interactions with people experiencing a mental health crisis can spiral out of control; there have been a number of cases in which deputies ended up killing the person.
The next sheriff will have to decide whether to create more mental evaluation teams, which consist of one specially-trained deputy and one mental health clinician, to respond to such calls. Doing so will require additional funding, so they’ll also have to decide whether to lobby the Board of Supervisors for more money for such teams. Will he or she go further and support responding to calls involving people who appear to have mental health issues or are otherwise acting erratically — but who are not violent — with unarmed clinicians instead of deputies?
Former Sheriff Lee Baca and his undersheriff were convicted of obstruction of justice and sent to prison for trying to cover up deputy violence against jail inmates. In response, the county created the Office of Inspector General and Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to watchdog the department. Villanueva has resisted greater oversight and transparency. For example, a county ordinance and a state law gave the Office of the Inspector General and the Oversight Commission subpoena power, but Villanueva argues neither entity has the right to subpoena an elected sheriff and he has fought subpoenas in court. The next sheriff will have to decide whether to cooperate with requests for greater transparency.
Six years ago, the Sheriff’s Department signed an agreement with the federal government to improve conditions for people in jail. But a recent monitor’s report found inmates with serious mental illnesses continue to suffer in isolation and with little treatment. The monitor also said cells were overflowing with garbage, and filth was spread on the walls, with a pile of razors abandoned in one hallway. The next sheriff will have to figure out how to improve conditions for people in jail.
LAist sent all candidates for sheriff a questionnaire. If they returned a questionnaire, you will find it linked below.
If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the June primary, they will win the office outright. Otherwise, the two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the November runoff.
L.A. County Sheriff’s Sergeant
Carranza has been on the force since 2005. She’s currently assigned to Twin Towers jail. Carranza says growing up as an immigrant in L.A. and losing a brother to gun violence makes her uniquely qualified to be sheriff.
She would expand the department’s programs that work with at-risk youth. Carranza says she would have “zero tolerance” for deputy subgroups or gangs, although she says the problem is limited to a “small percentage of guys.” She would step up training for deputies on how to interact with unhoused people and she would work more closely with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to help get people off the streets. Carranza said she would work more collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors than Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who regularly clashes with the board. She wants to increase the number of women in the department.
Website: No website
Campaign finance: No filings with L.A. County Registar-Recorder
Endorsements: None listed
- Personal Experiences With Immigration And Violent Crime Shape Sergeant’s Campaign For LA Sheriff (LAist profile)
April Saucedo Hood
L.A. County parole agent
Noting that the department’s relations with the Board of Supervisors, the Inspector General and the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission have “deteriorated,” Hood vows on her website to “restore these collaborative relationships.”
She promises an “outside review” of the Internal Affairs Bureau and Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau “to ensure they meet the highest standards and are utilizing the best processes and practices.” She also promises audits of body camera use to ensure “adherence to department policy.”
Hood says if she’s elected, the department “will embrace transparency instead of resist it.”
Long Beach police chief
Luna’s career in Long Beach law enforcement spans 36 years. He began as a reserve officer in 1985, according to his campaign website. Luna’s biography states that he was promoted through every rank in the department before being sworn in as chief in Nov. 2014. He retired at the end of 2021.
Casting himself as a reformer, Luna says Villanueva “has failed to root out misconduct, rejected oversight, and destroyed public trust." On his website, Luna argues that “[r]estoring public trust requires an outsider with leadership experience and a proven commitment to transparency and accountability.” He describes himself as the sole “outsider” in the race because he’s the only candidate who hasn’t worked at the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.
Luna says deputy subgroups or gangs are a problem and that he would “change the culture” at the department to get rid of them. He says he would work with government leaders, comply with subpoenas, and enforce the county’s vaccination mandate.
Fundraising: From March 10-May 17, 2022, Luna’s campaign reported receiving $67,682 in large donations.
- The independent group LA Neighbors for an Ethical Sheriff in Support of Luna for Sheriff 2022 reported raising $501,000 from May 11-18, 2022. (The total includes a $500,000 contribution from the Katzenberg Family Trust.)
- Long Beach Police Chief Luna Jumps Into Crowded Race For LA Sheriff (LAist profile)
- Read more about Luna’s policy priorities and experience on Voter’s Edge
LAX police chief
Rhambo’s website says he’s worked in law enforcement for more than three decades, starting at the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. He worked a variety of jobs, moving up the ranks to be a lieutenant in Internal Affairs. He then headed up the Asian Crime Task Force, and in 2000 was assigned to be captain for the department’s Compton contract. Rhambo launched the Community Oriented Policing Bureau, and later went on to serve as assistant city manager of Carson and as city manager of Compton.
Calling Sheriff Villanueva “the Donald Trump of L.A. County,” Rhambo says he’s running “to clean up the Sheriff’s Department. This time for good.” He says Villanueva has “eroded public trust” and “used fear to consolidate power.”
Rhambo promises to bring “a new vision” and take the department “in a new direction,” one that involves collaborating with oversight bodies and community groups “to make sure reforms are being implemented, transparency is enhanced, [and] the corruption stops.” He supports the firing and decertification of officers who join “a deputy gang.”
Fundraising: From March 11-May 17, 2022, Rhambo’s campaign reported receiving $35,250 in large donations.
- Another Challenger For Sheriff Villanueva: LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo (LAist profile)
- Read more about Rhambo’s policy priorities and experience on Voter’s Edge
Retired L.A. Sheriff’s captain
Rodriguez’ website cites a 32-year law enforcement career, including 25 years with the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. Rodriguez rose to the rank of captain and became head of the Sheriff’s Transit Bureau, overseeing the policing of MTA rail and bus routes under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department. He retired in 2013. After retiring, Rodriguez served as interim chief of police in Santa Paula, deputy director of transit security for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, and security manager of the Metrolink Commuter Rail system.
Rodriguez says he’ll be tougher than the incumbent on deputy subgroups or gangs, accusing Sheriff Villanueva of “looking the other way.” He vows to “discourage and attempt to ban subgroups.” He envisions a “new model” of law enforcement at the department, “one which takes us from ‘Gladiators to Guardians’ in the community.”
Rodriguez says change is needed in the criminal justice system, arguing that it “should include proven evidence based programs with a track record of success. Reform requires a surgical approach to change, widespread community understanding and concurrence. As opposed to the ham handed, failed reform of our current leadership.”
From March 10-May 6, 2022, Rodriguez’ campaign reported receiving $36,500 in large donations, which includes a $5,000 loan Rodriguez made to the campaign on April 27.
- New Candidate For LA Sheriff Says He Was Once Asked To Join A Deputy Subgroup, Or ‘Gang' (LAist profile)
Retired L.A. Sheriff’s captain
Steinbrenner recently retired as a captain after a 35-year career in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. Her last post was as head of the County Services Bureau, where she oversaw 450 employees who provide building security and law enforcement services for six county hospitals, 85 libraries, and 320 county buildings, according to her website. During her career she worked in various parts of the department, including the Emergency Operations Bureau and the Homeland Security Division.
In her bid to become L.A.’s first female sheriff, Steinbrenner says the department is “still a good old boys club. That has to stop.” She argues that the department is headed in the wrong direction under Sheriff Villanueva, pointing to “the continuing conflict with the Board of Supervisors and CEO, embarrassing efforts to rehire past employees, lack of addressing the good old boy network and deputy gangs.”
Steinbrenner says on her website that one of her top priorities as sheriff will be “to eliminate deputy gangs … The current Sheriff refuses to act on this, and I, as Sheriff will.” She says Villanueva has “broken” the department’s relationship with the Board of Supervisors. “The unending name calling by the current Sheriff is childish and unprofessional. The lack of respect he shows to the Board is an embarrassment to watch.” Steinbrenner promises to create “a professional working relationship” with the board.
On May 9, 2022, Steinbrenner’s campaign reported receiving a $1,400 donation.
L.A. Sheriff’s lieutenant
Strong has been in law enforcement for nearly 30 years. He joined the Compton Police Department in 1993, where he was a member of the SWAT team. He became a sheriff’s deputy when the department absorbed the Compton force, and rose to become a lieutenant. He’s a founding board member of Police Against Racism, “which strives to dismantle systemic racism in policing,” according to his website.
Strong said that growing up, he was “racially profiled” and “roughed up by police,” adding, “I’ve been stopped and pulled over when I know unequivocally that I had not committed any violation.” In addition, he says a cousin was killed by law enforcement and another was murdered. “It’s these experiences that motivate me,” he said.
Ridding the department of deputy gangs would be a top priority, he said. Strong says he would change use of force policies and tactics around the use of lethal weapons “to ensure police are using force when they must, not simply because they can.” He promises to build “a positive working relationship” with the Board of Supervisors, the Inspector General, and the Civilian Oversight Commission.
Fundraising: From March 14-May 5, Strong’s campaign reported receiving $13,500 in large donations.
- New Challenger To Sheriff Villanueva Promises To Root Out 'Deputy Gangs' (LAist profile)
- Read more about Strong’s policy priorities and experience on Voter’s Edge
L.A. Sheriff’s commander
Vera served at the Sheriff’s Department for 33 years. He rose through the ranks until he was promoted to commander in 2018, when he took over as acting chief for the Central Patrol Division, which includes six of the busiest patrol stations. In 2019, Vera was promoted to division chief. In January 2021, he was assigned to run the Technology & Support Division. In Aug. 2021, Sheriff Villanueva demoted Vera to commander, and moved him to the Court Services Division.
Vera says Sheriff Villanueva “has continued to inflame tensions with outlandish remarks and actions.” He claims the sheriff “has made exhaustive efforts to resist external oversight and through his relentless obstruction has destroyed the public trust.” Vera vows to “clean up the culture at the sheriff’s department and root out any waste, fraud and abuse.” And, he says, “unlike the current Sheriff, I will work with the Civilian Oversight Commission to bring accountability and transparency.”
Fundraising: From March 9-May 18, 2022, Vera’s campaign reported receiving $29,000 in large donations.
L.A. County Sheriff
Villanueva joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1986. In his early years he pushed for a ban on deputies smoking in the jails, which he says led former Sheriff Sherman Block to impose a ban in 1991. In 1999, he became angry with how the deputies union was conducting its business, so he formed a competing union, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Professional Association. Villanueva rose to lieutenant, but was passed over for promotion to captain. He claimed it was because he spoke out about corruption under former Sheriff Lee Baca and his undersheriff, Paul Tanaka. Villanueva retired after serving for 32 years before launching his successful campaign for sheriff in 2018. This is his first reelection effort.
On his campaign website, Villanueva touts what he calls “real reform” that he has implemented since taking office in Dec. 2018. He said the department now recruits 100% of its deputies from the communities it patrols, and has increased the proportion of women deputies to 19%. “As part of our mission of moving from warrior to a guardian culture,” the sheriff claims he’s raised the standards for prospective deputies: “All applicants … must have an Associates or AA degree.”
Villanueva claims he’s the “first major sheriff in America to ban ICE transfers.” He stopped allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to station agents inside the jails, and dramatically reduced the number of people turned over to ICE after their release from jail.
The sheriff claims on his campaign site that his department is “leading the nation in transparency and accountability,” citing the fact that all patrol deputies are now equipped with body-worn cameras. However, Villanueva has clashed repeatedly with the county inspector general, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, and the County Board of Supervisors over transparency and accountability. He claims they are using those issues as a means of attacking him politically; the IG, the COC and members of the Board of Supervisors say the sheriff is resisting lawful oversight. The COC even called on the sheriff to resign in Oct. 2020.
The oversight battle led County Counsel Rod Castro-Silva to accuse Villanueva in Dec. 2021 of “intimidating, politically motivated investigations” of his critics, including the inspector general, a member of the Civilian Oversight Commission, and the former Los Angeles County CEO. Castro-Silva asked California Attorney General Rob Bonta to “assume control” of the inquiries. The attorney general’s office has agreed to review two of the sheriff’s investigations.
Villanueva has also been criticized for rehiring deputies who had been fired by his predecessor for misbehavior. The most prominent case involved Carl Mandoyan, fired by the former sheriff for domestic violence and dishonesty. Villanueva rehired Mandoyan — who was Villanueva’s personal driver during his campaign — shortly after taking office, a move the Board of Supervisors challenged successfully in court.
Although he said he got vaccinated against COVID-19 and he urged his deputies to get vaccinated, Villanueva refused to enforce the county’s vaccine mandate. Then last fall, Villanueva said LASD would no longer use the county’s COVID-19 testing and registration program run by Fulgent Genetics, claiming the FBI warned him and top county officials at a Nov. 26 meeting that genetic data “will likely be shared with the Republic of China” by the company. Fulgent said that wasn’t true and announced that it would sue Villanueva over his remarks.
In June 2021, the sheriff sent his deputies to the Venice Beach boardwalk, even though it’s patrolled by the LAPD, to clear it of an encampment of unhoused people. Villanueva said he acted because the city’s then-moratorium on removing unhoused people’s tents during the day had “handcuffed” the LAPD.
Fundraising: From March 10-May 17, 2022, Villanueva’s campaign reported receiving $301,301 in large donations.
- The independent group Amigos del Sheriff Supporting Villanueva 2022 reported a $10,000 donation on March 15.
- The independent group Residents for a Safe LA County - In support of Alex Villanueva for Sheriff 2022 reported a $5,000 donation on April 4.
- Alex Villanueva Is The New Sheriff Of LA County. Here's Why He's Known As A Maverick (2018 LAist profile)
- Read more about Villanueva’s policy priorities and experience on Voter’s Edge