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Sheriff Candidate Questionnaire: Cecil Rhambo

  • 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.

  • We also have a full overview of the sheriff’s race.

Cecil Rhambo in his LAX Police Chief uniform, looking off in the distance, with a police car behind him and the LA skyline in the far distance.
Cecil Rhambo
(Courtesy of the Rhambo campaign))

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

My top priority in office is re-establishing public trust, which entails a number of actions that must take place, including an immediate and relentless commitment to ending deputy gangs, embracing oversight including regular public and private meetings with members of the Board of Supervisors and their staff as well as the Inspector General and Civilian Oversight Commission, a holistic, coordinated inter-agency response to homelessness and refusing to re-hire fired officers.

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

I believe that the Sheriff’s Department needs to fill existing personnel vacancies to address rising crime and to properly and safely meet the department’s myriad of diverse responsibilities to its contract cities, courts, and custody divisions. Without fully assessing the current staffing, it’s difficult for me to make a statement on how many deputies the Department needs.

However, due to the fact that the Sheriff has re-deployed a number of staff to non-patrol or alternative assignments (such as the “public integrity unit”) I can safely assert that he is currently adequately budgeted for the department’s needs. Additionally, any increases in budgeted personnel will not be easy to fill due to the difficulty it is for law enforcement to attract enough qualified candidates and the time it actually takes to fill the vacant positions.

Sheriff Candidate Cecil Rhambo Talks About His Candidacy

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?

I have first-hand experience addressing murder rates in our most marginalized and troubled areas of Los Angeles County. The solve rate is obviously very important and is ultimately connected to public trust in the extent to which witnesses are willing to come forward and work with the LASD to solve crimes. Restoring public trust by addressing the culture of deputy gangs is absolutely critical to this mission. Additionally, I would incorporate the use of gang intervention workers and grievance counselors, as I did almost 20 years ago. These community-based groups help stop retaliatory shootings and murders and allow the community to heal.

Ensuring that youth intervention and prevention programs are in place and the LASD is working with School and Park and Recreation personnel in the communities serviced by the LASD will be crucial in keeping young people from participating in street violence. The weed and seed grant that I administered in Compton is an example.

Additionally, the use of technology, real time crime data and analysis combined with enhancements to the LASD/LAPD Crime lab to ensure DNA and other evidence are processed timely are critical tools to address the rise in the number of murders. I would also evaluate the possible need to increase staffing at Homicide Bureau as well as at Operation Safe Streets (Gang Bureau) and provide them with the adequate resources and equipment.

Finally, I would also explore the possibility that due to the current Sheriff’s outward disdain for elected officials, oversight and their policy suggestions, the deputies may be doing a “work slowdown.” This can be viewed in the documented police activity logs, anecdotal information from staff, and observations of LASD supervisors.

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

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One of my top priorities in office is addressing homelessness within the Sheriff’s Department’s jurisdiction and dedicating LASD staff to joining the region-wide homeless working group committee, as well as directing Sheriff’s Station Patrol Captains to work with city councils on their plans to address homelessness in their communities. The incorporation of how each municipality addresses homelessness will be important on how our region addresses homelessness together.

Sheriff Villanueva’s combative and isolated approach to our region’s growing homelessness crisis has been an abject failure, exacerbating the issue and leading to further government dysfunction. During the last three years, the Sheriff was absent from command on homelessness, particularly in the municipalities that contract for LASD services. Villanueva's refusal to collaborate with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, as well as cities across the county, has led to a deeply toxic environment filled with hollow photo-ops instead of what the people of L.A. County need, which is a real, actionable, holistic and commonsense approach to address this emergency.

In 2004, I commanded the Community Oriented Policing Bureau, where we addressed “quality of life” issues such as the unhoused and the emergence of homeless encampments. My team and I discovered that many of the folks there faced numerous challenges such as drug addiction, medical maladies (diabetes, heart ailments, serious infections, dental issues), no source of identification, and minor warrants that prevented them from entering into the HIMS (homeless integrated management system) to name a few. So, we brought in homeless outreach workers, mental health professionals, public defenders (to expunge minor warrants), the Department of Motor Vehicles (identification cards), mobile dental clinics, clothing exchange, and other comprehensive services to help provide unhoused folks with the assistance they needed.

As Sheriff, I will work directly with the various stakeholders, including Sacramento and Federal law makers to enact best practices and push for legislation that will ensure that our county’s chronically unhoused population has access to the critical services they need, including more mental health and drug rehabilitative resources. This crisis is a regional issue that needs to be dealt with on a much larger scale and with extensive cooperation across numerous disciplines, including public agencies and nonprofits, elected leaders, clergy, and more.

There is also a substantial connection between our region’s growing homelessness crisis, realignment in our prison systems, and recidivism. As the largest local prison system in America, LA County needs to improve the way we release former inmates into the general public, and ensure these folks get the help and support they need to reintegrate back into society. As someone who worked in the prison system during my tenure at LASD, I have led that change by working in the Education Based Incarceration program, ensuring the establishment of the County’s inmate fire camps, and working to develop the LASD Re-entry program.

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, deputy gangs unfortunately exist within in the LA County Sheriff’s Department. While many “members” behavior and performance may not rise to the criminal definition of a “law enforcement gang”, the existence of their “cliques” and groups simply must cease. My approach to eradicating deputy gangs within the department is as follows, starting with setting the tone for zero tolerance of deputy gangs:

1. Changing the culture in regards to deputy gangs in the department starts with the right people being in positions of power. As Sheriff, I will insist on hiring and promoting the right candidates for positions within the department, selecting training and management staff that reflects my values of zero tolerance for this behavior.

2. Next, I will incorporate training in the academy and at the various management schools on how to identify, and stop the recruitment and formation of such groups before they manifest themselves.

3. I will work with outside entities to investigate suspected deputy gangs that violate the criminal definition of the new law.

4. Additionally, I will draft a more stringent policy that requires mandated reporting if a deputy is approached or recruited by a suspected deputy gang member.

5. Included in that policy will be critical protections for whistleblowers and an “offramp” for members who want to denounce their involvement and have not been involved in serious misconduct, if applicable.

6. Lastly, I will meet and confer with the labor unions representing deputies and let them know that anyone who is identified as being in such a sub-group (that has not risen to the criminal definition of a deputy gang) shall not be eligible for the positions of training officer, specialized assignment, or promotion.

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?

Yes, absolutely. I support a re-allocation of services toward a non-law enforcement response to mental health crises and homelessness. While law enforcement personnel are trained to address people experiencing altered mental states and or with disabilities, these are not ideal situations for Sheriff’s deputies, and other law enforcement officials, to respond to.

To adequately address these calls for service, personnel need:

1. To be dressed down in less threatening clothing

2. Have plenty of time to calm the situation

3. Have non-police car transportation methods

I believe that the Department of Mental Health combined with the Fire Department or a mental health transportation unit should respond to these calls. Deputies should be there if the patient becomes assaultive or is armed. Additionally, any responding personnel should have the time to address the issue. Far too often, deputies are called to the scene with 15+ calls awaiting them, several of those may be “priority”. This places personnel in a situation wherein they feel pressure to rush the resolution, which often leads to unnecessary uses of force, sometimes with unfortunate outcomes.

The ”health care” response model must be fully staffed and funded. Law Enforcement has been the default responder because we have conditioned folks to reach out to us in a crisis and we are a 24/7 operation. One must also keep in mind that law enforcement will continue to get called if the health care responders are overwhelmed, short staffed or unavailable. Therefore, in those instances, I’d lobby for a contract ambulance or mental health transportation service be utilized to so that patients don’t have to be handcuffed and placed in the police car for simple transport to a mental health facility, which is the current practice.

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

This issue centers around “pre-contextual” stops. While I believe that it should remain a lawful tool to prevent crime from occurring and to identify persons suspected of committing crimes in an area (utilizing BOLO info), I believe the “fishing” expedition should be addressed and put to an end. Utilizing minor traffic violations to stop masses of motorists and cyclists in hopes that one of the stops will lead to an arrest has greatly eroded public trust in our disadvantaged communities and policy should be designed to allow its use but under justifiable and articulable circumstances.

For example, there has been a number of vehicle burglaries occurring during the hours of 2-5 am. Let’s say a RING camera has video and a photo of a suspect on a bicycle carrying a backpack and graveyard shift deputies see a suspect that matches the description riding a bike at night with no safety equipment. Although they are not sure this is the suspect, they conduct a traffic stop for no reflectors or light during hours of darkness and conduct further investigation. This stop may lead to a citation, recovery of a stolen bike, and the identity of the suspect or possible suspect. Without the ability to lawfully stop the rider, the deputies must rely on a consensual encounter, which can also be perceived as “harassment” by law enforcement. Roadway and equipment safety rules should also be allowed to be addressed via citation or warning as a part of the overall public safety model. The issue is not just the stop, it is the line of questioning following the stop and perhaps a search. These are training issues that must be addressed at the academy and advanced officer training schools in conjunction with the District Attorney’s office who must later file or reject an arrest that arose from a such detention.

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

The short answer is yes. The main methods to do so are proper training, rewards for desired tactics such as de-escalation, deployment of less lethal weapons, or tactical retreat, and discipline for the use of unnecessary or excessive force.

Any time a law enforcement officer uses deadly force is an abject tragedy and I have always embraced a reverence for life. Shootings should always be last resort, which is why one of my primary goals to reduce the number of fatal shootings to as few as possible. As a former Training Officer and Training Supervisor, I have studied and taught methods on minimizing the need to use deadly force. As the Chief of Police at LAX, I sent all of my officers specifically tasked with addressing the unhoused, mentally ill and drug addicted to Crisis Negotiations Training. This training provides de-escalation tools and skills that more often than not provide safe outcomes for personnel and suspects/patients.

Additionally, my 36 years of police experience also gives me the perspective that force reduction often begins with the point of contact between the law enforcement agency and the civilian dispatcher. If trained properly, this initial communication at the call for service can be invaluable into conveying the situation that the officers will be confronting. In addition, the use of technology such as placing a “hazard” notice for locations that have repeated calls for service can provide responding personnel with critical information such as the name of the person and a family member contact. This vital information that may be unknown to deputies who are not familiar with the location can illuminate if the person at the location is developmentally handicapped, experiencing dementia, or is a patient experiencing mental illness who may have stopped medicating. This kind of information allows staff to plan how to address the call, perhaps with different resources such as mental health professionals or case managers. The deployment of drones ahead of arriving personnel may also assist on assessing a situation prior to their arrival to verify if a “gun” or deadly weapon is present at the scene and who exactly is the subject of the call for service.

I will also be directing management and training staff to review the records of deputies for patterns of misconduct to identify and provide additional training to problematic officers before they commit harm. And lastly, as LA County’s Sheriff, I won’t resist efforts for transparency and instead will work collaboratively with the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission to ensure deadly use of force is investigated transparently and fully. If a shooting turns out to be fatal, I’ll refer that to the appropriate investigate unit, follow protocols, and I’ll be as transparent as legally possible about the incident to the public.

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?

As someone who worked in the custodial system during my tenure at LASD, I am intimately aware of this environment and am the most knowledgeable Sheriff’s candidate to lead the charge for reform. In 2011, I was the only Sheriff’s Department member on the AB109 Prison Re-alignment Committee, where I led LA County’s prison realignment process with a comprehensive anti-recidivism campaign; upon my appointment to working in the custody environment, uses of force decreased. While this was due to a number of factors, I am the only candidate familiar with the changes we were implementing at that time.

I am actually surprised that over the last six years conditions have not improved, particularly since the last two Sheriffs vowed to address the jail issues. If inmates with mental illnesses have not received treatment, that is a function of the County’s Department of Mental Health. As Sheriff, it will be one of my top priorities to get monthly if not weekly updates on the conditions identified under the MOA. There is a shared responsibility among several County entities to ensure these critical issues are addressed, including adequate staffing (Drs, Clinicians, deputies, and custodial staff), funding, supplies, and a court system that places the criminally mentally ill in the appropriate setting(s) in as timely a manner as possible.

As far as inmates being kept in isolation cells, this is also a function of the Department of Mental Health. The design of housing for violent/suicidal criminals with mental health issues is not up to the Sheriff and is based upon recommendations by “professionals”. These issues have been a decades-long national issue as the number of mental health facilities throughout the nation have plummeted. I believe there is a physical housing issue that is a barrier to moving these inmates out of the jail setting and this will have to be addressed by the Board of Supervisors in collaboration with the State and Federal policymakers. In the meantime, the alternatives to keeping these inmates from harming others or themselves remain minimal and or non-existent.

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?

As a bi-racial African-American man who grew up in the inner city, I believe one reason that Black people are disproportionately arrested is that there has been a systemic practice of law enforcement overly using incarceration for petty offenses, particularly for young Black males. This results in a potential lifetime of obstacles as a result of the arrest, including making it more difficult to get a good job.

Additionally, in some areas, gang culture is very prevalent and even non-gang members get caught up in the inner city policing practices of treating all members of that community the same, resulting detentions that can lead to arrest for “obstruction” or “resisting arrest” when the person complains or acts belligerent for an inappropriate detention or the feeling that they are being profiled and/or mistreated due to race.

During my tenure in the LASD and even as the Chief of Police at LAX, I have always championed law enforcement involvement in mentoring at risk youth, youth development, mentoring and supporting youth activities. This in combination with better training practices to address biases and assisting the formerly incarcerated get job training and job placement, are ways that the LASD can do to slow the arrest rate of African Americans in Los Angeles.

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

As Sheriff, I'll bring a new vision to the department and take it in a fresh direction, working professionally and collaboratively with the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission, Inspector General and LA County Board to make sure reforms are being implemented and transparency is enhanced. This will help the LASD start on a path where we can provide the trust and integrity that the department and the people of LA County deserve.

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

Yes, absolutely. Actually, if I had been the Sheriff, the need for these subpoenas would have never been created. As I mentioned above, embracing oversight is one of my top priorities if elected to Sheriff, including regular public and private meetings with members of the Board of Supervisors and their staff as well as the Inspector General and Civilian Oversight Commission, and refusing to re-hire fired officers.

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?

By incorporating and enforcing current policy and working with the County Counsel on compliance with this law.

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?

Yes, absolutely. Enforcing vaccine mandates for Sheriff’s deputies—which keeps officers and the community safe and demonstrates that our department is not above the law or making a “political statement”, is critical to ensuring public safety. Vaccination mandates, like seatbelts, are a public safety measure and must be treated as such. As Sheriff, I’ll not only lead by example, but also work to ensure officers are taking the necessary steps to enforce mandates by offering masks to folks without them, and giving them a citation if they refuse to comply. As I have as Chief of Police at LAX, I will fire deputies who refuse to get vaccinated without a legitimate medical or religious reason.

Do you support the recall of District Attorney George Gascón? If so, why?

No I do not. I believe that this recall effort is extremely misguided and has been bastardized by opportunists. The reality is George is doing what he promised he would do when he was elected. There are many things that George and I may not agree on, but we ultimately share the same overall goal of keeping communities safer and as Sheriff, I am in a unique position to be a force multiplier for his efforts by developing and providing a robust rehabilitative and re-entry program for the incarcerated so we can we reduce crime without the revolving door of arrest.

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

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