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Sheriff Candidate Questionnaire: Eli Vera 

  • 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.

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

Photo shows Eli Vera in uniform.
Eli Vera
(Courtesy LASD)

The Culture, like many fortune 500 companies, the CEO or leader of the organization sets the tone for a company or organization that is functional and successful or in the case of LASD the opposite can occur, based on a lack of leadership or poor leadership.  The culture has changed under the current Sheriff’s tenure based on his modeling, fighting with oversight committees, fighting with the BOS, and making disrespectful comments in public to those that oppose him.  This Us V them mentality has got to stop day one.  The LASD has always been a client driven service organization that is a leader in all three components of the criminal justice system.  Providing competent Patrol functions to our 42 contract cities, providing security to the largest court system in the state and providing an ethical model of running the largest Jail system.  These are the areas where I would focus day one, modeling ethical behavior and holding everyone in the chain of command accountable to honor our core values and move the organization forward in an ethical manner.

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

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The number of deputies needed by the department is part of the contracting formula, which is only affected by politics and funding mandates.  As the contract service provider, each of our 42 cities, contracts for a certain number of deputies.  This is also true of our court service contract, which requires 1200 items along with our court mandated staffing for our jail system.  When items are removed, as has been done recently, they usually affect staffing ratios in the 41 unincorporated communities we serve.  The citizens in these areas pay the price for the reduction in staffing, as it is the only areas that can legally be cut.  In addition, by cutting the number of items, the contracts are filled by deputies working overtime, which has a long term negative effect on the deputies and the organization.  It is not that I would propose growing the organization, I would propose adequate staffing to fulfill our contracts. 

14:50
Sheriff Candidate Eli Vera 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?

There is a proven way to affect the murder rates in communities that we serve and it takes leadership and adequate resources. In my 33 years with the department, I have worked assignments that resulted in lowering crime (Homicide) rates in our highest crime areas. As part of a concerted effort using Homicide Bureau detectives, coordinating Operation Safe Streets detectives, providing boots on the ground uniformed teams and coordinating Major Crimes detectives who Liaison with Federal Partners, this coordinated effort will achieve the immediate goal of lowering the number of Homicides in an area. Much more than must be done to find the root causes and address them also, identifying at risk youth and providing education and jobs to those that need it.

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

The Sheriff’s Department should be an organization that works with its County partners to develop strategies (Multi Jurisdictional) to address the issues with the un-housed population.  One strategy will not fit the population but treatment and tracking of the mentally ill population, housing for those that are economic victims and drug and alcohol treatment for those that are in need.  We cannot arrest our way out of this problem, but as a national leader in Law Enforcement, we can develop programs to affect this population that other jurisdictions can look towards.

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?

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The issue is not whether these sub groups exist or whether they are perceived as a problem, these facts have been established. The issue is how do we address these problems.  As I stated in the opening question, leadership on this issue will be the key to solving these problems.  Leadership begins with acknowledging the problem, the public concern and the ultimate liability these groups and their symbols pose to the organization.  Next would be to educate all personnel as to the liabilities and the intolerance for continuing these liabilities moving forward.  This type of cultural shift can only take place if it starts at the top.  Buy in from all top executives would create the top down policy shift and cultural change required. Bringing in the outside help of experts to assist in identifying educational and policy options that would be effective.  Using the employee unions to assist in coordinating these efforts.  It’s been a long term problem in the making and creating one policy with no enforcement will not change the minds of those engaging in this behavior.

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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?

The LASD Mental Health Team model uses a clinical nurse in the field with a deputy sheriff to respond to calls of persons involved in a mental health crisis.  The unarmed clinician is key to the model, yet their safety has to be ensured by having our personnel present.  An increase of these teams and their deployment can change the culture of how we deal with this issue as a leader in the field.

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

Traffic stops come in all different forms, based on the mind set of the officer conducting the stop and the population he is attempting to enforce. Case law, the vehicle code, the penal code give law enforcement the tools needed to conduct legal stops of vehicles for different reasons.  As we know, these stops can cause problems in communities for law-abiding citizens who feel they are being unfairly targeted.  It’s a training issue for all deputies to understand the reasons; the rationale and the ultimate result these stops may have upon public trust in Law Enforcement and does the ends justify the means.  It’s another cultural issue and the answer is training and reinforcement of ethical policing standards.

What about bicycle stops? 

These stops can be extremely controversial when they result in violence.  They pose a risk to the officer as well as the rider of the bicycle.  Many of these stops involve gang members involved in criminal activity.  Many involve law-abiding persons going about their business. The key is training the deputies to understand that the use of bicycle stops can also erode public trust if they are used as a tool to oppress those not involved in criminal activity. 

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

As a station commander I addressed this problem and understand the causes and cures of state of mind shootings, the one classification of officers involved shootings that can be affected.  A state of mind shooting occurs when an officer believes the subject is armed, when he/she is not.  I introduced a program to reduce these types of shootings by training the deputies under my command to use tactics that would give them the time needed to evaluate a threat.  This type of training involves physical, mental and educational training and has to be intensive, bringing the level of sophistication of the deputy up to a level that they can process the situation and make well informed decisions, without panic setting in or being a factor.  Deputies trained to this level also shoot fewer rounds when they do engage. The number of state of mind shootings dropped to zero in my tenure at South Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station.

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?

The jail population has been monitored by a Federal Court who have employed outside experts to help the LASD change the culture, conditions and treatment of all inmates in our facilities.  Mental Health was moved out of the LASD to the County Department of Mental Health whom we work with daily as a partner.  These changes preceded the current Sheriff taking office.  Since these problems currently exist, it is because of the lack of commitment of this administration.  I would work to change that by using less energy to confront our Federal and County partners and more energy building a consensus with them.  Once again, changing the culture within this system through buy-in and education of our personnel, coupled with providing them the resources needed to complete each task.  With position reduction within the organization, many of our personnel are overworked, tired and ill informed, as they are not trained as needed due to economic shortfalls.  When doing more with less is the norm, problems occur and that leads to increased problems and issues for the entire organization.

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?

Economics.  People of color make up a large portion of our lower socio economic communities and suffer from poverty and the effects of poverty including lack of education, lack of opportunity which may lead them into gangs, drug use and sales.  These issues are not unique to Los Angeles County but as a leader in Law Enforcement, we should be looking for ways to work within these communities to help at-risk youth with education and jobs.  The LASD has defunded its system of Sheriff’s Youth Foundation facilities, which attacked these issues within the economically hardest hit communities.  It would be my goal to focus the organization towards re-building these programs and assisting all populations achieve their goals.

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

Humbly.  I believe collaboration with all of the LASD stakeholders is paramount to rebuilding the organization.  Creating a culture where we can agree to disagree, working together to create the world class Law enforcement organization I joined 33 years ago. 

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

I was trained by the organization to honor any lawful subpoena served upon me in the course of my duties.  As a professional, I will answer the requests for records in a timely and professional manner.  The fact that this question is being asked is evidence of a failure within the organization to act ethically when required or requested to do so. 

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?

As a professional, I would work to provide any information requested that I am legally obligated to provide.  I would work with our staff to find out why this is not being done and find the funding, through collaboration, to invest in computer software that could help achieve these goals.  There are processes and rules in place for these issues and I am willing to work within these processes to cooperate with everyone, not just those that I agree with or those who may benefit me politically.

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?

This issue has been taken out of the control of the Sheriff’s Department and is now under the control of the County HR.  As a professional, I would model ethical behavior and require my personnel to do so also.  Taking the politics out of the argument, there is a moral and ethical component I would address that would go hand in hand with the Culture change I have advocated for in my other answers to your questions.  I would work with the stakeholders, (Employee Unions, County Counsel) and come to a legal conclusion on how to answer this question. 

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

As a citizen, I do support the recall of the DA Gascon.  I believe his policies are counter productive to reducing the crime rate and he has not looked for common ground when negotiating policy changes within his office.  That being said, I do not like the Office of the Sheriff being used for political purposes.  I believe it is counter productive for one elected official to call for the recall of another, short of criminal charges being filed.  Restoring the professionalism to the Office of the Sheriff is my goal, modeling this professionalism for my employees and holding them accountable to that standard is the first step forward to returning this organization to a leader in the Criminal Justice System.

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

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