Sheriff Candidate Questionnaire: Eric Strong
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.
What do you think is the number one thing that needs to change at the Sheriff’s Department and how would you change it?
The number one thing that needs to change at the Sheriff's Department is the leadership, which has a direct impact on the mindset and the culture. I would change this by leading by example, setting expectations and having accountability at all levels when those expectations are not met. Mindset and culture is a difficult thing to change, however we have to start somewhere. Relevant messaging and training that speaks to the hearts of employees can have a significant impact. I need to emphasize the need for change, and the need to treat people as we would want to be treated. The department’s many years of failed leadership has created so much division not only between the ranks, but also between the sworn staff and the professional staff. There is division between our individual stations and then inside the stations there is even more division between subgroups that are assigned there. How can we expect our deputies to treat our constituents with respect, dignity, and compassion when oftentimes they cannot give this to their own colleagues. Adjusting the mindset and culture will have positive organic change.
Do you think the department needs more deputies? If so, why, and how many more?
No, I do not think we need more deputies. What we need is our deputies to be responsible for the duties required of their position, and to focus on providing public safety.
I say this without standing in front of the white board with all the current numbers in front of me. We need to reassess what is really needed for each location and work to fill the need.
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?
The rise in murders in areas patrolled by the Sheriff's Department is a direct correlation to the connection between our department and community. There are things that we can do with saturation patrols and there are techniques that we can use to deter crime, however there is no magic technique and there is no magic policing model. To address the rise in murders, it requires getting out in the community, being visible, and having community engagement and interaction.
We are suffering from a serious crisis in leadership within the Sheriff Department. The messaging to our deputies is that everything is everybody's fault, and there's nothing that we can do to change anything, which is wrong. If deputies care about the communities that they serve in and they're proactive, visible, and doing the things that they're supposed to do, we would not have this significant rise in the number of murders. We've seen a much higher increase than in areas patrolled by LAPD because LAPD does a much better job at community engagement. Our deputies are victims of faulty messaging from the sheriff which is having a direct impact on everything they do.
What role should the Sheriff’s Department play in addressing homelessness?
The Sheriff's Department should not be the first point of contact when it comes to dealing with our unhoused populations. Our homeless population has so many variables and factors, such as people affected by mental illness, people suffering from addiction, women who are abused and run away from their homes for their own safety, families with children that have fallen on hard times and all they have left are their cars to live in.
There are even those that choose to be homeless.
The job of law enforcement is to provide public safety and that includes protecting our unhoused population from predators that are victimizing them. We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis, and we will not find sustainable solutions inside of jail cells. The role the Sheriff's Department should play is a collaborative role with other stakeholders that provide the services needed for lasting solutions, and we can be there to comment, advise, and act on matters of public safety.
Do you believe secretive deputy subgroups or “gangs” exist inside the Sheriff’s Department and if so do you think they are a problem?
YES and YES.
How would you address this issue?
I would address this issue headon by first acknowledging that they exist. I would create policies that have teeth to them and can actually be used to hold deputies and supervisors accountable. I would allow the Office of Inspector General the freedom to conduct their investigation unhindered. I will work with the DOJ and FBI to conduct independent investigations that are impartial. I would use administrative powers to remove those deputies identified as being a member of a deputy gang and having violated the public’s trust from the department when possible. When it is not possible to remove them from the department, I would reassign them so they are not in a position to continue to violate the public’s trust.
I will address this problem by attempting to work with ALADS and other unions to see the overall big picture for the betterment of all personnel and the community. Lastly, I will create policies that not only demand that deputies report misconduct, but also protect and reward deputies for doing the right thing.
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?
I support giving people the resources and services needed to create sustainable solutions. I truly believe that many of these calls can be handled by unarmed clinicians and deputies can be free to deal with crime and public safety issues.
To improve how our department deals with the mentally ill, I would create teams of deputies that have some personal experience in dealing with the mentally ill, such as a family member. I would also see where the Sheriff’s Department has room to trim some resources and use those to help clinicians be in the field.
Do you think the department needs to change how and when deputies conduct traffic stops? What about bicycle stops?
Yes I believe the department needs to change how and when deputies conduct traffic stops and bicycle stops. Traffic enforcement and traffic control is vital to public safety. Without either, the driving of 3,000 lb vehicles on our roadways would be extremely dangerous.
However, traffic stops should not be done just for the sake of getting into cars and searching them. Law enforcement has abused the pretextual stop tool that could be used for positive identification of criminal activity. Because of this, we may lose this tool and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. Traffic enforcement for the safety of all needs to continue, however it needs to be done equitably in all areas and all communities, which is often not the case. The same goes for bicycle stops.
Do you think there is a way to reduce deputy-involved shootings and, if so, how?
The way to reduce deputy involved shootings is through a change in training and a change in lethal force protocols. We also must have accountability that supports when a shooting occurs as a last result versus when a shooting occurs because it was legally justified. If we operate under the training model that “everyone could have a gun,” then we will always think everyone has a gun. Furthermore, we cannot continue to operate under the “write it right” philosophy, which basically means trying to find a way to justify actions rather than simply looking at facts.
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 will never solve the mental illness problem by arresting the mentally ill. I am the only candidate who said no to building another Men’s Central Jail. The resources needed to provide the mentally ill sustainable/rehabilitative methods, need to be the center of focus for change. We need to train and teach our deputies from day one that compassion, respect and dignity will be the only accepted behavior towards others. If deputies care about people they will care to do the work needed to improve conditions.
Supervision is not doing their job and holding accountability to the agreed upon terms with the federal government. This is a failure of leadership, once again. It comes down to what is absolutely expected and what will not be tolerated. There is a saying that says “deputies do what they are allowed to do.” Having rehabilitation centers for the mentally ill will free up space for actual criminals to be housed and not simply lock up those who need a path to improvements with mental health, which is why I do not support a new jail.
Why do you think Black people are arrested by the police at three times their share of the population?
This is not a question that can be answered in short. It is a result of decades and decades and generation upon generation of systemic policies and practices that have made it “OK” to under-serve and over-police Black communities. It is supported by a lack of education, a lack of exposure, and a lack of resources. Oftentimes the media helps fuel a fear of the Black community. This creates an environment where Blacks are arrested at a much higher rate. This is something that has gone on for generations, and the criminal justice system is intentionally designed this way.
Does the department have a role in addressing this?
The department absolutely has a role in addressing this problem. The department has to get educated and come to understand and learn the trauma and open wounds that exist in the Black community specifically as it relates to law enforcement. Many in law enforcement have had very little experience being around Black people. They then see a large majority of those in custody who are Black and subscribe to the thinking that Black people are criminals and the problem. Without understanding, law enforcement won't be able to show compassion and empathy on a large scale. If we want things to get better all the way around we have to hear every community, every resident, every race, and understand their past so that we can better serve their future.
How would you approach your relationship with the Board of Supervisors?
I would first apologize for what they have had to endure the past four years with the current sheriff in office. I would then set the tone for working together. We do not have to agree on everything, but we can communicate to solve problems and have better understanding, in support of the betterment of the department. For any relationship to be successful, there needs to be give-and-take and there needs to be mutual respect.
I would let them know immediately that I will work with a spirit of cooperation to the overall betterment of Los Angeles County. The current mindset is that the Board of Supervisors are our enemies and that mindset filters down into the conversations with deputies at the line level. Many of whom have no idea what is really happening with the Board of Supervisors have chosen a side against them; all because of the messaging from the top.
Will you comply with all subpoenas and requests for records issued by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General?
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?
I would improve transparency by first establishing a set of policies that announce what and when information will be released. I will open our doors to our stations and our jails and allow monitors and oversight unhindered, so they can see first hand what goes on behind our doors. Transparency will also be improved with the use of body cameras for all deputies both in patrol, as well as specialized assignments and in our jails.
The department can be more responsive to public records act requests under Senate Bill 1421 when we stop trying to find ways to defeat the PRA request and simply comply.
Once in office, I will convene a team to catch up with all of the backdated PRA requests and abide by Senate Bill 1421. I will make it a policy that the information will be released in a timely fashion. The public pays for law enforcement services, they also pay for the equipment and tools that we have such as body cameras, they should not be required to pay again to get this information released by way of having to fight it in court.
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?
I hate to keep beating the same drum but when it comes to the low vaccination rate, it is about failed leadership and poor messaging from the very top. If we look at LAPD that has vaccination rates over 90%, and LA County has vaccination rates in the mid to high 80 percentile, it begs the question of what is the difference between those and the Sheriff’s Department with its below 60% vaccination rate. Once you really stop and pay attention you will see that the only difference is failed leadership and poor messaging from the current sheriff.
Do you support the recall of District Attorney George Gascón? If so, why?
Learn about the rest of the candidates in our guide to the sheriff’s race.