By Sheriff Alex Villanueva
On December 3, 2018, I was sworn into office on a promise to Reform, Rebuild, and Restore the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. After twenty-two months, one pandemic, civil unrest, an openly hostile board of supervisors, and dishonest LA Times coverage, I can report that we have done exactly that: reform a massive operation where previous sheriffs failed.
ICE has been removed from the jails, patrol stations, and court houses. There is a permanent moratorium on all transfers of undocumented inmates to ICE custody. Federal SCAAP grant funds, previously taken in exchange for selling out the undocumented inmate database, have been summarily rejected. These milestones alone set me apart from my predecessors, but we didn’t stop there.
Body worn cameras are now here to stay. We created a financially feasible program, lobbied hard for its funding, and are now deploying the cameras in the field. This was my commitment during the campaign and a cornerstone of the LASD’s transparency promise, which now puts all legally permissible information directly in the hands of the community. The department’s website, lasd.org, now has all information previously hidden from the public’s view, including data on deputy involved shootings, discipline, conditions of confinement in the jail system and the impact of COVID-19, along with the entire organization’s rules and regulations.
In a bold departure from past practice, all deputy involved shootings are thoroughly debriefed and made public at the earliest possible stage of the investigation, including video and physical evidence. Even during these tragic events, the department reaches out and engages the families involved, along with local civic and religious leaders. In an effort to ensure the department is a reflection of the community, I banned all out of state recruitment, focusing instead on recruiting and hiring from our own communities.
My efforts at diversity did not end at the entry level, that was just the beginning. We’ve redone the entire process to select station commanders, giving civic leaders a major role in the selection process. All deputies are now required to serve a minimum of four years in their first patrol assignment before being eligible to promote or transfer, cementing my commitment to community policing and changing the culture of the LASD from an enforcement model to an engagement model. This is a major shift in law enforcement thinking, where the old warrior mindset is now giving way to a focus on community engagement and collaborative problem solving.
The LASD’s good ol’ boys network is officially DEAD. I promoted the first two Latinas to the position of Assistant Sheriff, and had both serving at the same time. There are now four female division chiefs, another first, and for the first time in the history of the department, the leadership ranks are now a truly accurate reflection of the rich diversity of our community. In
2019 alone, I hired over 1,100 deputy sheriff trainees, a huge turnaround for a recruitment and hiring effort that was dead in the water under my predecessor’s administration. On January 1, 2020, the minimum education standard to apply to become a deputy sheriff will be raised to an Associate’s Degree, the first time this standard has ever been raised.
Before the pandemic struck in March, we took the initiative in February and started a deliberate effort to decompress the nation’s largest jail system. Working in collaboration with all the criminal justice partners, we released five thousand inmates over the span of the next three months and in the process established a template for the entire nation to follow. As a direct result of our aggressive efforts in fighting the COVID-19 threat, we saw only a handful of fatalities and a small positivity rate, all the more remarkable considering the sheer size of our system.
The issue of deputy cliques has long befuddled my predecessors, with reports of misconduct by members of these subgroups stretching back fifty years. As the first and only sheriff to hold employees accountable for participating in these harmful groups, I implemented a policy that bans their formation and participation in activities that harm the public or their fellow employees. After transferring dozens of employees, I completed both criminal and administrative investigations that led to the suspension or termination of twenty-six department members. To date, 68 employees have been terminated, and another 60 internal criminal investigations have resulted in 15 employees being charged by the District Attorney’s Office, based on our own investigations – accountability at its core.
There have been unprecedented challenges, from the tragedy of the helicopter crash that took the lives of Koby Bryant, his daughter, and seven others in Calabasas. I created a new policy that protects the dignity of the deceased at crash sites, and sponsored AB 2655, which was signed into law by Governor Newsom last month. This legislation makes it a crime to take photos of the deceased from accident sites without an authorized purpose.
We have experienced the tragic Saugus High School shooting, several controversial deputy involved shootings, and the horrific ambush of our two deputies at the Compton Pax, which captured the attention of the nation due to the heroic efforts of our deputies in overcoming adversity. In all of these challenges we rose to the occasion as a team.
The civil unrest that followed the senseless murder of George Floyd resulted in widespread arson, looting, and vandalism across Los Angeles County, but damage was conspicuously absent from all areas patrolled by deputy sheriffs. This was not by chance. While protecting the rights of peaceful protestors to assemble and march, we were able to identify and detain those who were using the protests as a cover for riotous actions.
In closing, I will say to those members of the political establishment who wish to lead the charge and demand my resignation, let’s start working together to build a brighter future for all. To that end, I will continue to maintain laser focused on serving the community and would love to be joined by the Board of Supervisors in better serving our communities.