Sheriff Villanueva on Los Angeles Sentinel
Thank you for your trust and support in electing me as the first Democrat to be Sheriff in over 140 years.
I was elected because of distrust in a department wrapped in many scandals regarding racial profiling, rising crime, a lack of transparency, and a failure to weed out unethical leadership. All of this was overshadowed by an unpopular collaboration with federal immigration agencies.
Crime is Down
The public wanted a more effective and community based approach to public safety. We are changing the culture of the organization from an enforcement model to an engagement model, one that prioritizes building relationships with the community. Deputies must now work a minimum of four years in their first patrol assignment and we are finally giving community knowledge the primary value it deserves. After our first year in office we implemented internal reforms that resulted in crime going down 7 percent in the communities we patrol, including a double digit reduction in murder and other violent crimes. Unfortunately, the COVID 19 crisis has now resulted in a noticeable uptick in murder and grand theft auto but overall crime continues its downward trend, even as the County Board of Supervisors has cut our budget.
We have also dramatically improved our recruitment and hiring efforts, with a net positive gain of 500 deputies with over 1,100 new hires. In the year before I took office the department had a net loss of 200 deputies as potential recruits sought out other agencies. The County Board hired an outside firm that led to the recruitment of deputies from some of the least diverse states in the nations like Kansas, Iowa and Wyoming. I am pleased to say our department now exclusively recruits deputies from Los Angeles County, local residents serving their own communities.
Jail Violence is Down
We are also proud to report a double digit reduction in jail violence, including assaults between inmates, against staff, and the need for use of force. We are proud to say that finally we will launch our body worn cameras for deputies in October, almost two years after I approved them. This delay was a direct result of the Board of Supervisors blocking the acquisition and funding for the camera operations. With regards to alternatives to incarceration, It was my position from day one that we need to expand the County’s capacity to care for the mentally ill and those with Substance Abuse Disorders, but it cannot happen at the expense of de-funding public safety.
Now the County Board has again followed our lead but I fear is going too far trying to shut down the Men’s Central jail altogether. I ask them, “Where will you transfer the 1,200 inmates accused of murder or the additional 600 accused of attempted murder?” Treating addiction and mental health clinically is the right thing to do and the public agrees, but we must deal with facts and reality, not rosy forecasts. Los Angeles County leadership should focus on improving our ability and capacity to successfully treat those in need, especially among our growing homeless population, while at the same time improving the treatment of those incarcerated who cannot be safely released to the community.
We Have Already Begun Needed Internal Reforms
Currently, we are engaged in a national discussion about use of force by law enforcement. I want to first say that officer-involved shootings are a tragedy for all involved. It is not the outcome we want, and we continuously strive to find ways to deescalate dangerous situations and diffuse potential conflicts before they escalate out of control. We want those we detain to either be released safely or have their day in court. It is my sincere goal to eliminate excessive use of force and to make the use of deadly force the absolute last resort.
We must also reduce the danger of gun violence in LA County. In California, one in every 7 adults owns at least one gun. Among gun owners 5% own some form of an assault rifle. That’s four million guns we know of and millions more that are unregistered guns, many that are prohibited. I believe in the 2nd Amendment, however I have gone on record advocating to ban ghost guns and the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, the weapon of choice for those intent on committing mass murder. We can support the 2nd Amendment while at the same time demanding sensible gun legislation that does not involve taking guns away from lawful gun owners.
Our Permanent Ban on ICE Transfers
We are safer as a society when victims of crime and witnesses feel free to communicate with law enforcement. In fact, there are what are known as U Visas, which give legal status to undocumented immigrants who are either victims of crime or key witnesses to a crime. We must protect our ability to work with ICE to utilize this tool. In some cases, these U Visas can become permanent. I want to make sure we protect this tool especially with the federal government’s failure to modernize immigration laws. For those who take issue with this position, I hope they remember we are discussing inmates scheduled for release because they have paid their debt to society, or are deemed not a risk for bail. The risk this group represents to everyone is dwarfed by the risk of over a million people not willing to report being a victim of violent crime.
I kept my word upon taking office and physically removed ICE from our county jails. I even went beyond Senate Bill 54 that calls for limits on collaboration with ICE and did so with the input of many of the groups that now criticize us on this issue where we are frankly national leaders. But as I saw the suffering that happens at ICE facilities including the family separation, children in cages and the growing and irresponsible spread of COVID 19 in immigrant detention centers I instituted a temporary ban on all ICE transfers. Now I have made that ban permanent and the Board of Supervisors has recently decided to follow our leadership. They are considering a policy that ends years of collaboration by LA County with ICE regarding undocumented immigrants.
Since 2005 the LA County Board of Supervisors and my predecessors have taken over $122 million dollars from the department of Homeland Security’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) in exchange for information regarding undocumented inmates. This is directly the result of the County Board authorizing previous Sheriffs to enter these agreements, a practice they should now ban to ensure Sheriff’s after me do not resuscitate these failed policies. Once I learned of this I immediately ended the program and rejected a $3 million grant award to the chagrin of the CEO of LA County, who scolded me for “unrealized revenue” that we failed to secure to balance our budget. This is what the CEO of LA County said, which is bureaucratic for a missed financial opportunity – I called it blood money.
As we move forward together I want to encourage a productive dialogue and collaboration that can lead to agreed upon changes and reforms. I am grateful and thankful to you for this opportunity to help lead. I want to assure you that even as we have disagreements and conflict at times, my expectation is that our entire department will continue to maintain a high level of accountability, integrity, honor and passion for the job of protecting the public. Please be safe, wear a mask, and may God bless you.