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L.A. County Sheriff
There's a new sheriff in town for Angelenos

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department employs some 10,000 deputies and oversees all the jails in the county — no small task. For the last few years, the department has been reeling from the scandals of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who, along with his undersheriff, was found guilty of trying to cover up beatings of inmates in L.A. jails.

Your candidates are two department veterans trying to usher in reform: Jim McDonnell, the current sheriff who took over when Baca resigned four years ago, and Alex Villanueva, a retired lieutenant.

Jim McDonnell

Age 59

Incumbent

Jim McDonnell

McDonnell started his law enforcement career in 1981 after he graduated from the Los Angeles Police Academy. After serving 29 years with LAPD, where he helped create the blueprint for community-based policing programs and served as second to Chief Bill Bratton, he joined the Long Beach Police Department and served as its chief for five years.

He was elected L.A. County sheriff in 2014 in the wake of the scandal over jail beatings and a cover-up that led to the resignation of former Sheriff Lee Baca and the conviction of Baca and more than 20 other sheriff’s officials on corruption and other charges. He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.

Alex Villanueva

Age 55

Retired Sheriff's lieutenant

Alex Villanueva

Villanueva has three decades of law enforcement experience. He served in the U.S. Air Force and California National Guard. He has a California State University, Northridge, master's degree and a doctorate in public administration from the University of La Verne. He is a sheriff's lieutenant in Los Angeles County, La Habra Heights Planning Commissioner, and adjunct professor in California State University, Long Beach, criminal justice department.


Where do the candidates stand on the issues that matter to you?
Pitch to voters
Jim McDonnell

McDonnell, who spent nearly his entire first year visiting dozens of sheriff’s facilities across the county, says he’s created a “more collegial, more team-focused approach to what we’re doing” among command staff.

Alex Villanueva

All the policies, the practices, the procedures, the very people that destroyed the organization under the reign of Lee Baca are the same people doing the same thing today,” Villanueva says. “It needs to change.”

Department reform
Jim McDonnell

McDonnell has taken steps to crack down on problematic deputies. He tightened the department’s honesty policy and broadened the language that allowed him to fire a deputy. He also tried to hand over to the district attorney the names of 300 deputies found to have committed misconduct that might raise questions about their credibility on the witness stand. The union representing deputy sheriffs sued to block the move; the case is before the California Supreme Court.

Rather than bring in his own management team, McDonnell kept some holdovers and promoted others from inside the department to command positions. He said in a KPCC interview that he’s created a “more collegial, more team-focused approach to what we’re doing” among command staff. McDonnell also spent nearly his entire first year visiting dozens of sheriff’s facilities across the county.

Alex Villanueva

Villanueva says things need to change at the sheriff’s department. “All the policies, the practices, the procedures, the very people that destroyed the organization under the reign of Lee Baca are the same people doing the same thing today,” he said in a KPCC interview.

Villanueva lacks management experience, but has said it’s an “asset.” He said the sheriff has “a vested interest” in “preserving the status quo at all cost,” adding that reform has to come “from the ground up.”

He says under McDonnell, the department has shifted decision-making higher up in the chain of command, to sergeants and lieutenants, “so the deputies are basically not making the decision...Because they’re putting their hands in their pockets afraid to make a decision, bad things happen as a result of that.” He points to “skyrocketing cases of assault” against civilian staff, psychiatric clinicians and deputy personnel in the jails.

Deputy shortage
Jim McDonnell

There are roughly 1,000 vacant positions at the Sheriff’s Department, a problem McDonnell says he inherited and is working to fix. He’s argued that overall morale has improved since he took over, but acknowledges that the use of mandatory overtime to fill the gap caused by the vacancies has hurt morale among the rank-and-file.

Alex Villanueva

Villanueva says McDonnell has not done a good job recruiting new deputies to fill the roughly 1,000 vacancies in the department. Villanueva says he would add 3,000 deputies, which he says would allow him to dramatically expand community policing throughout the county, one of his top priorities. As part of his community policing plan, he says he would reestablish community advisory councils, the sheriff’s youth programs and the reserve forces.

Villanueva supports changing the current policy that funnels all new sheriff’s deputies to work first as guards at the jails. He says the department should set up a two-pronged career path for trainees. Those who want to work in patrol would “go straight to the streets,” while those “who want to dedicate their career to working in a custody environment” would work as jail guards.

Transparency
Jim McDonnell

McDonnell says he supported the creation of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and cooperates with it to the extent he can, given union rules and the need to keep certain law enforcement practices secret. He believes the commission should remain as an advisory body only, and opposes a proposed ballot measure that would give the panel subpoena power.

Last year he proposed outfitting 6,000 deputies with body cams, and said he planned to allow the release of at least some videos shot by his deputies, calling himself “a fan of transparency.” McDonnell said he would permit the release of videos unless they involved incidents still under investigation or would violate someone’s privacy. More openness would be good for the public, and for his department, he said: “I think it only benefits us to be able to share with the public as to what our deputies are dealing with in the field, the challenges that we’re facing.” He later delayed his plan, citing the deputy shortage and exploding overtime budget.

Alex Villanueva

Villanueva opposes the proposed ballot measure that would give the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power, saying that would be “inappropriate.” But he said he wants to give the commission “access to every single document, database, anything they need to do to oversee what the department’s doing on an aggregate basis,” a reference to its oversight of “all of our activities collectively.” He points to “legal constraints about what information can be shared” about individual deputies, such as California’s Peace Officers Bill of Rights. Villanueva also supports giving the department’s Inspector General Max Huntsman subpoena power, so he can look more closely at individual cases.

Villanueva says he supports outfitting deputies with body cams immediately, but given the department’s staffing shortage, he says there’s a need to balance transparency with “budgetary reality.” Villanueva says he can lower McDonnell’s projected $55 million annual price tag “by utilizing decentralized data storage, moving away from 24/7 recording, and mandating body-cam recording in specific high risk scenarios.”