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OP/ED: LA County Supervisors Fighting Sheriff Villanueva Instead of Helping Him

BY ALBERT ROBLES • November 12, 2019

One year ago, our new Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the 33rd LA County Sheriff, was relatively unknown.  But on November 6, 2018, he pulled off the biggest surprise in LA County election history by becoming the first person ever to defeat an incumbent Sheriff.  Like all the major news outlets and every elected official in LA County (with the exception of three), I too had endorsed the incumbent.  However, unlike the LA County Board of Supervisors, I gave Sheriff Alex Villanueva a chance, and one-year later, as the Mayor of the largest contract City with the Sheriff’s Department, I believe Sheriff Alex Villanueva is doing a good job, especially on his number one priority – our public safety.

For your consideration here are some of his first-year accomplishments:

·Firstly, the morale among the Sheriff’s deputies throughout LA County, especially the morale of those deputies on the frontline is at an all-time high by any measure; including the one measure that counts the most, simply asking them as I have done.

·Secondly, our Sheriff has shown strong independent leadership, e.g., he promptly fired a deputy for filing a false report.  The deputy was terminated, and not put on an extended vacation, i.e., paid-leave or admin-leave.  The deputy was actually fired within a week of his false report.  I have never seen any top LA County official move so quickly, no matter how egregious the act.

·Thirdly, our Sheriff has increased transparency at the Sheriff’s Department by lifting the gag-rule so deputies and management must now testify on all matters, including civil service and administrative arbitration hearings.  Additionally, he removed politics and favoritism as the main consideration for getting promoted to the coveted position of Station Captain, and for the first time ever these prospective Captains are now promoted with input from the Cities the Captains will serve.

·        Fourthly, our Sheriff has pursued a community outreach effort that is second-to-none.  He has scheduled numerous community meetings throughout LA County (almost 30) to personally answer questions directly from residents, local businesses, mayors, and councilmembers – something no previous Sheriff has ever done.

· Fifthly, our Sheriff is finally implementing body-cameras at one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the Country, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.  Every previous Sheriff dragged their feet and delayed implementation of body-cameras by asking for more studies, and causing great distress for us public servants whom from the public demanded body-cameras.  Sheriff Villanueva delivered where others stalled.  As he has said, “these body-cameras on deputies are long overdue and will help secure the fair and impartial treatment of all persons.”

The above facts, coupled with Sheriff Villanueva delivering on his top priority – our public safety – everyone should accordingly conclude that he indeed had a good first-year, because LA County crime statistics show a 7% drop, making this year the safest in a generation.  This reduction in crime includes Carson, where data shows an even greater drop in crime that makes Carson among the safest cities in LA County.

Villanueva’s first-year, however, has not been perfect (but who’s is?), and while criticism for errors is fine, what the LA County Board of Supervisors has done to try to undermine Sheriff Villanueva is unfair and unsafe.  

For the LA County Board of Supervisors (Board) to try to blame Sheriff Villanueva for matters that pre-date him such as the crisis at the Men’s LA County Central Jail and the pre-existing Sheriff’s Department budget overruns is, simply put, nothing but an attack job.

The crisis at the Men’s LA County Central Jail has existed for decades and the fault is squarely that of the Board as they have repeatedly failed to address the problem.  

The Board prefers the politically easier route of kicking the can down the road by creating commissions, task forces or blue-ribbon panels full of their political friends and allies.  

The fact of the matter is this crisis is 100% the doing of the Board as they have the ultimate responsibility for the LA County Jail System.  

And the Board has repeatedly failed to address this issue and instead chosen to postpone, delay and study it to death – sadly to the literal death of some innocent inmates.  

It is clear to even the most casual observer that the Board cares more about “pretending” to do something, rather than actually doing something.  

As the “pretending” seems to be catching-up, their “Plan B” is to blame all the jail problems on the brand new Sheriff whom they did not support for election in the first place.  What a total cop out-no pun intended.

This is one of the ultimate duplicitous claims ever made by the Board, to try to lay the blame for the shortcomings at the Men’s LA County Central Jail on the new Sheriff – who again has only been in office for one full year.  

Moreover, the Board of Supervisors a couple of months ago, after spending millions and millions of public dollars to study, re-study, design, re-design, plan and yes re-plan for the construction of a replacement facility for the Men’s LA County Central Jail that would finally properly address the mentally ill inmate population, as should have happened decades ago, has instead inexplicably yet again chosen to postpone and delay.  

Even though this replacement plan for the troubled Men’s LA County Central Jail had zero input from our new Sherriff, to his credit our new Sheriff recommended proceeding with the destruction and replacement of the Men’s LA County Central Jail; thus, joining the many experts both hired by the Board as well as independent experts.  

Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors ignored this overwhelming expert advice and decided to leave the Men’s LA County Central Jail as is and unaddressed.  

What is more, in an attempt of a con worse than a game of three-card monte, the Board tried to shift the blame for this latest delay to the new Sheriff.  

While they may have done this to try to embarrass the new Sheriff, what they actually did was embarrass themselves.  

Our Sheriff once again showed strong leadership in speaking the truth to the Board, and I applaud him for standing up to the so-called “Five Kings” and showing us that “the King (and Queens) have no clothes.”

The situation at the Men’s LA County Central Jail is only one example of the Board being more motivated by politics than the facts in dealing with the new Sheriff.  

A few weeks ago, the Board tried to control our Sheriff (who speaks truth to power and does not kowtow) by freezing the Sheriff’s Department budget.  

The pretext for this despicable action reaches a new height of political hypocrisy as the Board actually attempted to justify their action by faulting Sheriff Villanueva for not cutting services as deputies worked overtime to keep us safe.  

This argument strains all credulity because as reported by all major news outlets, this budget deficit is not the new Sherriff’s doing and existed before he took the helm one-year ago.  

Besides, as everyone knows, the number one factor of the budget overrun is attributed to the overtime pay to deputies due to the severe understaffing that Sheriff Villanueva inherited.  

So freezing the Sheriff’s Department budget makes as much sense as the Board “cutting off their nose to spite their face,” except it is the residents and businesses that will suffer from the “cutting.”  

The Board must think that LA County residents don’t care about public safety because like them we also have our own publicly paid for individual Sheriff deputy chaperon and fly in-and-out of events in helicopters at public expense just like them.

Enough is enough.  The Board must stop fighting with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, and work together so that the progress made in reducing crime does not begin to reverse as the Board tries to score political points at our expense.  

In addition to the above factors, there are many more positive reasons than not to congratulate Sheriff Villanueva and begin to work with him.

For example, he has appointed more women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ community to the highest ranks in the Sheriff’s Department than ever before; there is less animus between residents and the Sheriff’s Department; he has had countless events with youth that reduces crime before it even begins, etc.  

The fact is he is our Sheriff now, and I encourage the Board to join me and the millions of LA County residents who are safer, and congratulate Sheriff Alex Villanueva on his one-year anniversary.  Thank you Sheriff Alex Villanueva for keeping us safe, and thank you for your 33-years of service to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department.

Albert Robles is the Mayor of Carson, the largest LA County City served by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.