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Law Enforcement Unions Spend Big In Key LA County Races

An exterior photo of a building in downtown LA. A large sign reading Los Angeles Police Department is atop a canopy above the main glass-doored entrance.
The Los Angeles Police Department's Metropolitan Detention Center is located in downtown L.A.
(Andrew Cullen for LAist)
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Unions representing LAPD officers and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies are seeking to influence key races to win back what some in law enforcement see as flagging support among certain elected officials in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

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The Association of L.A. Deputy Sheriffs and a separate political action committee it funds, called the Coalition for a Safer, L.A. have contributed more than $700,000 to back State Senator Bob Hertzberg, who is running for a seat on the powerful County Board of Supervisors. The deputy’s association has also given $100,000 to a committee known as the Alliance to End Homelessness in support of Hertzberg.

The county board determines the budget for the Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has complained that the board has “defunded” his agency. A statement from the county CEO’s office states he was asked to institute an 8% funding cut to all departments when revenues plummeted during the first year of the pandemic.

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But the CEO added that the total budget increased last fiscal year and there were no layoffs.

It was also the Board of Supervisors that imposed a vaccine mandate on all county workers, which was vehemently opposed by many sheriff’s deputies and which Villanueva refused to enforce.

Hertzberg is seeking to replace Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who is retiring after two terms. Kuehl has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Sheriff’s Department.

Hertzberg, a moderate and longtime fixture in L.A. Democratic politics, is competing against fellow State Senator Henry Stern and West Hollywood City Council Member Lindsay Horvath — also both Democrats — in the non-partisan race. They are seeking to represent a district that encompasses the San Fernando Valley and runs south to Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Three lesser-known candidates are also in the race — business owners Jeffi Girgenti, Roxanne Beckford Hoge and Craig Brill.

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The union that represents sheriff’s sergeants and lieutenants, and one that represents county probation officers, have chipped in another $150,000 to help elect Hertzberg.

The spending by law enforcement unions in favor of Hertzberg is more than all of the other independent expenditures on the rest of the field combined, according to Steve Barkan of the Stern campaign.

The sheriff’s deputies' association also has endorsed Villanueva for re-election, but has yet to spend any money on his campaign. Eighty-six percent of deputies who responded to a survey by the association said they want to see the sheriff serve another four-year term, according to a spokesperson for the group.

Police Union Commits Millions To Help Billionaire Rick Caruso

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, is seeking to increase its flagging influence at City Hall, where the mayor and City Council cut the department’s funding by $150 million after the Floyd murder and resulting widespread protests. That funding was eventually restored, but the city is considering a range of police reforms including reducing police involvement in traffic stops — something the union opposes.

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The league has committed $3.9 million to an independent committee aimed at helping to elect billionaire developer Rick Caruso as mayor. Caruso has promised to hire 1,500 more officers if elected — an appealing pledge for many voters since crime is on the rise.

Congressmember Karen Bass, who is running neck-and-neck with Caruso, has said the increase in officers would require drastic cuts elsewhere in city government. Seven others are in the race, including City Councilman Kevin de León.

The union’s independent expenditure committee is called Neighbors for a Safer and Cleaner LA Opposing Karen Bass for Mayor, and all its ads paint the congresswoman in a negative light. They are designed to suppress the vote for Bass and have allowed Caruso to focus his spending on positive ads for himself.

The developer of the Grove and Americana shopping malls, and owner of such high-profile properties as the five-star Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel and Spa in Montecito, has donated a record $34 million of his own money to his quest for the mayor’s office.

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The mayor essentially controls the police department. They appoint the five-member Board of Police Commissioners. The next mayor will also decide whether Chief Michel Moore gets another five-year term next year.

The LAPD officers’ union is also seeking to influence key City Council races. It is running negative ads against community activist Eunisses Hernandez and labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez, who argue for a smaller police department and have joined calls to defund the police. Hernandez is challenging City Councilman Gil Cedillo. Soto-Martinez is challenging City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

The union has also plowed $500,000 into the City Council campaign of Traci Park, who is running to represent the 11th District on the West side. Park, a municipal law attorney, is seeking to replace Mike Bonin, who is retiring after two terms. The police union had threatened a recall campaign against Bonin, who is the council’s biggest critic of the LAPD.

Law enforcement unions argue police need more support at City Hall and the county Hall of Administration if they hope to address a murder rate that has not been this high since 2006.

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