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Op-Ed by Sheriff Alex Villanueva: The Truth About LASD

The Truth About LASD

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 Kobe 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.

Cece Woods

The Current Report Editor in Chief Cece Woods started The Local Malibu, an activism based platform in 2014. The publication was instrumental in the success of two ballot measures, and seating three Malibu City Councilmen in 2016. During the summer of 2018, Woods exposed the law enforcement cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings, and a few short months later provided the most comprehensive local news coverage during the Woolsey Fire attracting over 1 million hits across her social media platforms. Woods also founded 90265 Magazine, the authentic Malibu lifestyle publication.

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