New sheriff in town: A look at 7 potential successors to LA Sheriff Lee Baca

The badge of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
The badge of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's retirement at the end of January sent shockwaves through the county's political and criminal justice ranks, and completely reshaped the upcoming race for the top position in the nation's largest sheriff's department.

And for good reason. There have been fewer sheriffs in L.A. County in the past 80-odd years than there have been popes at the Vatican. Since 1932 there have been a grand total of four sheriffs, for an average tenure of around 20 years (nearly twice as long as the average of a pope serving in the same period). Though California sheriffs have go through an election every four years, there are no term limits for the job, and it's rare that an incumbent is unseated.

RELATED: Process to pick LA County Sheriff Baca's successor underway

With that in mind, we offer an overview of candidates for the next election. Get used to those faces; if history's any guide, you'll likely be seeing one of them around for a very long time to come.

The Declared Contenders

Patrick Gomez: Former Sheriff's lieutenant

A former L.A. County Sheriff's lieutenant, Gomez retired after 31 years in the department.

In 2010, Gomez received a nearly $1 million settlement from the Sheriff's Department after claiming he faced retaliation for criticizing Lee Baca when he ran against him for sheriff in 2002. 

Gomez says he believes the Sheriff's Department needs major reform. Under his leadership, Gomez says each department member will be held accountable and responsible for their actions and/or inaction. 

Gomez was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. He currently lives in La Cañada Flintridge with his wife. 

James Hellmold: Assistant Sheriff, Baca's former driver

One of the two possible successors Baca mentioned in his retirement announcement: James J. Hellmold, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department currently in charge of patrol and detectives. Hellmold is currently one of four Assistant Sheriffs at the department and commands the department's Field Operations Regions, Detective Division and Homeland Security Division. 

Hellmold says as Sheriff he'd focus on using new technologies for policing and continuing reforms in the jails. He says he decided to run after encouragement from clergy and community groups.

"It's really inspired me to move forward and try to modernize our Sheriff's Department in a way that will continue these great reforms while also strengthen public safety and public trust."

A longtime confidant of Baca and once his former driver, Hellmold was the deputy mentioned in the L.A. Times' story on the lead-up to Baca's retirement decision as one of those who advised his boss to step down: 

"I told the sheriff I was getting feedback from deputies on the front line that there's a lot of negativity, and they felt like it was impacting their ability to do their work," Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold told the Times. "It was a good decision for him to step down."

During his tenure in patrol, Hellmold received formal recognition in Long Beach and Bellflower for his impact on reducing street crime. He holds a Bachelor's Degree from California State University, Fullerton and completed the Executive Leadership Program at Cornell University. 

Read and listen to KPCC's profile of James Hellmold here.

Jim McDonnell: Long Beach police chief

McDonnell is currently the chief of police for the Long Beach Police Department and president of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association.

In a statement, McDonnell said: "Our greatest strength is in our ability and willingness to work together to provide world-class service to those who live, work and visit Los Angeles County." 

McDonnell announced his decision to run for sheriff Monday, January 13, along with an impressive list of supporters, including LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. 

McDonnell holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, and a Master's Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. He is also a graduate of the FBI's National Executive Institute. 

Related: Read and listen to KPCC's profile of Jim McDonnell here.

Bob Olmsted: Former Sheriff's Dept. commander

A retired Sheriff’s commander who was with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for more than three decades, Olmsted threw his hat into the race early on. 

During his tenure, Olmsted commissioned internal audits that concluded some deputies used unnecessary force against inmates in the nation's largest jail system and testified before the Los Angeles Citizens Commission on Jail Violence in May 2012

Olmsted, a former member of Baca's senior staff, says the department needs major changes and is running on a promise to create greater transparency. He has heavily criticized Tanaka as being part of the leadership that lead to the department's many problems. 

Olmsted has taught criminal justice at El Camino College and his father previously served as a Lieutenant in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. 

Related: Read and listen to KPCC's profile of Bob Olmsted here.

Todd Rogers: Assistant Sheriff

Todd S. Rogers, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was one of two deputies named by Baca Tuesday morning as a potential "highly qualified" successor. Shortly after, Rogers officially threw his hat into the ring.

Rogers is currently one of four Assistant Sheriffs at the department; he oversees the budget, personnel, training and technical services operations. Rogers also serves as the vice mayor of the city of Lakewood. 

Rogers told KPCC Tuesday that there has been a catastrophic failure of leadership in the Sheriff’s Department and he believes more direct accountability is one way to fix it. He says part of Baca's failure was that the sheriff trusted the wrong people, including Paul Tanaka. 

Rogers holds both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts Degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills. 

Related: Read and listen to KPCC's profile of Todd Rogers here.

Paul Tanaka: Mayor of Gardena, former undersheriff

Tanaka served as undersheriff of Los Angeles County from 2011 to 2013, the culmination of his 33 years with the department. Already the  mayor of the City of Gardena, Tanaka says he is a leader who can provide direction for the Sheriff's Department.  

In March 2013, Tanaka retired as undersheriff under pressure amid a federal probe over inmate abuse. He was also singled out for criticism by a blue ribbon committee that investigated jail violence. Nonetheless, Tanaka said his retirement was unrelated to the criticism over jail violence and vehemently denied that he condoned or tolerated excessive use of force or misconduct of any sort by deputies. 

Still, Tanaka and Baca have a history, and after his retirement, Tanaka came out swinging against his old boss. It remains to be seen how the announcement of Baca's retirement will change the focus of the Tanaka campaign, which had been focused on heavily criticizing Baca's leadership. 

Tanaka is an L.A. native and received an accounting degree from Loyola Marymount University; he is also a Certified Public Accountant. 

Related: Read and listen to KPCC's profile of Paul Tanaka here.

Lou Vince: LAPD detective supervisor

Lou Vince is another announced candidate in the race for L.A. County Sheriff. He's currently a detective supervisor with the Los Angeles Police Department. Prior to that, he held positions at the department as a field training officer and sergeant.

Vince said in a statement Tuesday that he has had "many disagreements with Sheriff Baca" regarding what he says were the sheriff's mismanagement of the department. Vince also wrote that the department needs a hands-on leader who is aware of all aspects of operations and not connected to the current LASD administration.

Lou attended Western Illinois University, earning a Bachelor's Degree of Science in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. In 2010, he earned a Master's Degree in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of California-Irvine. He is also a former U.S. Marine. 

We'll keep you posted on the L.A. Sheriff candidate pool grows. Check back for updates.