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Sheriff Candidate Questionnaire: Sheriff Alex Villanueva

  • LAist sent all candidates for L.A. County sheriff the following questionnaire. Below are the responses from candidate Eli Vera, an L.A. Sheriff's Commander. Their responses have been published in full, without any editing.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva (KPCC/LAist)

What do you think is the number one thing that needs to change at the Sheriff’s Department and how would you change it?

Inside the department, we need to continue developing a new generation of leaders.

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Our goal is to move from a warrior culture to a guardian culture. That means leadership committed to engaging with the community, building relationships, and working collaboratively to reduce the use of force, expanding training for community policing, and moving out the last elements of previous regimes that violated civil and human rights under the failed leadership of Rhambo, Vera, Baca, Tanaka, and the LA County Board of Supervisors.

My opponents are all holdovers from the corrupt Baca and Tanaka days. They have gaslit the media along with the Board of Supervisors that my administration is another dark chapter in the department. We need to continue to develop new leaders who can help extend our reforms and grow internal moral and ethical leadership.

Sheriff Candidate Villanueva Talks About His Reelection Run

(The sheriff also vowed to continue his policy of "permanently banning" the transfer of people released from jail to ICE. "I am the originator, not the imitators," he said.)

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Do you think the department needs more deputies? If so, why, and how many more?

We have one of the lowest ratios of deputies on patrol to the population of departments in the nation. Most importantly, violent crime is on the rise. The answer is heck yes!

In 2018/19, we were 12% of the County budget, today we are just 9%. All while violent crime is on the rise. Patrol stations are operating with as low as 70% of deputy personnel. In other words, the 70% has to work overtime to cover the 100%.

We have a District Attorney that is telling the youth of LA County that some crime is acceptable. Gascon sees violent crime as not a big deal. He is sending the wrong message and our region is becoming more and more dangerous each day.

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While NYPD has a 4.0 officer to 1,000 resident ratio, the national average is 2.5 cops per 1,000 residents. LAPD has 2.2 cops per 1,000, and the LASD has an astonishing 0.9 deputies per 1,000 residents, the lowest in the entire nation! Considering that LASD ratio is spread out over 3100 square miles of the county’s 4,083 square miles, and you begin to see how poorly staffed the LASD truly is. This is a recipe for disaster in the nation’s most populous county.

Instead of improving the quality of life for LA County residents, the Board of Supervisors wants to tell you that my wearing a cowboy hat to protect myself after surviving deadly skin cancer is the problem. Shame on them.

How would you address the rise in the number of murders in areas patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, which has seen a much higher increase than in areas patrolled by the LAPD?

We need a District Attorney that serves as a deterrent to violent crime rather than a DA who seems to tolerate violent crime. Look at the recent attack on Dave Chappelle by a man with a knife disguised as a gun. District Attorney Gascon declined to prosecute the case, referring it to the city attorney. What does that tell others who may disagree with artists such as musicians, comedians, or even actors in a play someone may disagree with? The repercussions are irrelevant. That is dangerous.

Before COVID, crime was down across the board in our patrol areas. During COVID, we saw a rise in car thefts, for example, as workers remained at home. As we have reopened our economy, home robberies are up now that people are no longer stuck in the house. Similarly, as the Board has cut my budget in the hundreds of millions from our budget to appease the radical left and deflect from their own disastrous failures during the COIVD pandemic.

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I am not making excuses. We are working hard to address rising crime, a national and regional trend. The Board has recently agreed to allow us to conduct two new hire deputy academies. Next, we need to permanently end the county hiring freeze (only on our department) to increase patrols and fight crime.

Simply put: defunding our department has consequences. Hiring freezes have consequences. A terrible DA who won’t prosecute also has consequences.

What role should the Sheriff’s Department play in addressing homelessness?

The Board has thankfully agreed to expand our nationally recognized Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST), but we need to expand this model and build regional collaboration.

Through our homeless outreach team, working with social service agencies, we are getting people off the streets, getting them the help, they need, and opening up public places. We’ve done this at Olvera Street, Venice Beach, the VA facility in Brentwood, and many other public spaces across the county, so that we can all enjoy them. Our efforts need to scale up, as does the county’s efforts in creating shelter capacity and residential treatment capacity for mental health/substance abuse.

Do you believe secretive deputy subgroups or “gangs” exist inside the Sheriff’s Department and if so do you think they are a problem? How would you address this issue?

Yes, cliques exist. You use the word “gangs.” I am the Sheriff and I understand the legal terminology. A gang is three or more individuals affiliated for the purposes of committing crime.

We were the first law enforcement department to ban these cliques and even fire some who were involved in illegal activity. In fact, AB-958, the bill that bans subgroups, was based off the policy I created and implemented. I was also the original sponsor of the bill.

The repeated unproven assertion that our department, which is now majority Latino, in addition to African Americans and Asians is riddled with “gangs” is disturbing. Especially since the majority of accusations come from politicians with agendas and activists from the extreme left. The term deputy gang has become a racial dog whistle, particularly evident since as a Latino sheriff I’m the only sheriff who has done anything about the issue.

Do you support responding to calls involving people who appear to have mental health issues or are otherwise acting erratically with unarmed clinicians instead of deputies? How would you improve how the department deals with people with mental illnesses, absent an increase in funding from the Board of Supervisors?

Just last year we created the “Special Alert” program that invites households to notify the department if they are caring for people with disabilities or mental health conditions to prevent misunderstandings that could spiral into altercations between deputies and their loved ones. This program will help immediately notify deputies if they are responding to a 911 call at a home with people who have special needs, alerts the Mental Evaluation Team, and alerts the field supervisor to respond to the scene of the emergency to ensure a safe outcome for all.

Deputies are also trained by, and work with Mental Evaluation Teams. Our goal is to obtain proper mental health assessments and treatment instead of being arrested and jailed, as well as de-escalating potentially volatile situations with patrol deputies. We will continue to expand this model.

The public should know that internally we call this a “co-response model,” where deputies are paired up with licensed mental health clinicians from the Department of Mental Health. This model, first in the nation, was launched in 1993 and has now grown to 34 teams. It has been proven to be extremely effective at deescalating tense situations and resolving them without force or arrests.

Do you think the department needs to change how and when deputies conduct traffic stops? What about bicycle stops?

We detain more people in high crime areas where there is more of a threat of violent crime. Our Audits and Accountability Bureau monitors traffic stops in order to detect potential problems, and we proactively address any potentials of unlawful bias in our actions.

Do you think there is a way to reduce deputy-involved shootings and, if so, how?

We have greatly increased continued professional training (CPT) for our patrol personnel, one of the foundations for reducing deputy-involved shootings. Our body worn cameras that are now on each patrol deputy have increased accountability when force is used, including shootings. It has been a rough few years for community and law enforcement relations since the murder of George Floyd. The truth is, I see great and positive changes we need to expand on. Greater training would help.

Another effort to raise the standards of deputies has been our new requirements that new hires have to have at least an Associate of Arts degree or at least 60 college credits completed prior to being hired as a deputy sheriff trainee, a first in the nation for sheriff’s departments.

BTW, two of our opponents (Rhambo and Luna) have had increases in use of force everywhere they have been.

Six years ago, the Sheriff’s Department signed an agreement with the federal government to improve conditions for jail inmates. 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. How would you fix these problems?

We continue to make the jail a safe place for inmates and deputies. During COVID, we were the first in the nation to provide inmates with masks and to early release nonviolent inmates.

We continue to fight for additional resources, to fund programs, to make the jails safer and make it more likely released inmates do not return once released. It should be noted there are three consent decree monitors, not one, and they have indicated that the board’s defunding efforts have had a negative effect on the conditions of confinement within our jail system. We cannot raise taxes ourselves, we are stuck with the resources the board allocates to our operations.

Why do you think Black people are arrested by the police at three times their share of the population? Does the department have a role in addressing this?

The numbers speak for themselves. Young black men are disproportionately represented as both victims and suspects in the criminal justice system. Everyone should have a role in addressing this. Families. Communities. Schools. Local Government. And yes, law enforcement. In fact, all our elected leaders should take note of the growing extreme poverty and despair in many poor black, and brown communities. Economic opportunity would greatly help reduce disparities in those who interact with law enforcement.

My role as Sheriff is to lead. I’ve taken on the homelessness crisis for this very reason. Homelessness disproportionately impacts African Americans. The political establishment does not seem to care. They have accepted 5 people a day dying on our streets. I am willing to provide the leadership, and take the flack for doing it, to end homelessness.

How would you approach your relationship with the Board of Supervisors?

I remind people when they ask me that one former Supervisor has already been indicted for corruption and another is under investigation. There is more to the story than Villanueva clashes with the board. Ask yourself why Subpoenas? Deputy “Gangs?” Maybe the issue is that power and corruption does not like to hear truth.

I am hoping, with the election we will have supervisors who will respectfully work with my department. We each are elected officials, they do not work for me, and I do not work for them.

Will you comply with all subpoenas and requests for records issued by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General?

From the beginning, I have made myself and my leadership team available to attend and participate in Civilian Oversight Committee meetings. I have repeatedly openly and honestly answered their questions. Every single document they are legally entitled to is in their possession, something they refuse to admit. They, however, have sought for whatever reason to bully my office. As with the Board of Supervisors, let’s be clear, this body does not reflect Los Angeles County.

Ask yourself one question, if you served (or do serve) on a board or are an executive in a business or organization, how would you feel if you were subpoenaed to join a regularly scheduled meeting? They are trying to present my as defiant and rogue. I am not the one under federal investigation. Some of them are.

On a final note, these subpoenas from the Inspector General and the Civilian Oversight Commission open an entirely new front in political attacks. There are criminal and civil subpoenas issued by the courts for records and testimony regarding criminal investigations and lawsuits. These new subpoenas should be called what they are: political subpoenas, designed specifically to harm the recipient in the political arena, nothing more. Given all the complaints from the COC and OIG about not receiving anything, the first and only thing these two bodies saw to subpoena was myself. Not an investigation, not an internal document or record of any sort, just my testimony, under oath, for only one purpose: Inflict political harm by creating as large a public spectacle as they could muster.

The COC and the OIG, along with county counsel, also sought to deny my ability to challenge the legality of these political subpoenas, a basic violation of due process enshrined in the 14th Amendment.

What will you do to improve transparency at the Sheriff’s Department?  Specifically, how would you make the department more responsive to Public Records Act requests under Senate Bill 1421, which requires law enforcement agencies to release information about deputies who were involved in shootings and serious uses of force, and/or were found to have lied or committed sexual misconduct on the job?

From day one, we have been the most transparent Sheriff’s Department in L.A.’s history. Go to our webpage. It’s all there. We have released all data we could legally, while respecting deputies and the public's right to privacy. There is nothing left to be released, as all information once developed is posted on our website. Resources would help to make the process faster, but again that is one of the pitfalls of defunding the LASD.

Will you enforce the county’s vaccine mandate with deputies? There’s a lot of resistance in the department to vaccination; what steps would you take to get more deputies vaccinated? why?

I am vaccinated. I again and again have encouraged our deputies to wear masks, when possible practice social distancing, and get vaccinated and boosted. Like any manager, I have to balance real world choices people have. I have done my best to keep my deputies and the people of Los Angeles safe during the worst of the pandemic and today as we enter a new phase.

State employees weren’t subject to the same number of requirements – why didn’t the establishment and press go after Governor Newsom, President Biden, and LAUSD, who share my position on vaccine mandates? I see one difference. Do you?

Do you support the recall of DA George Gascon? If so, why?

I support the recall of District Attorney Gascon. He is not acting as our district attorney. He is making our neighborhoods more dangerous. And the bad people know it. He is refusing to prosecute misdemeanor cases connected to homelessness or drug abuse. This is a contributor to both problems spiraling out of control.

Learn about the rest of the candidates in our guide to the sheriff’s race .

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