Come June 5, you get to have your say in who will head the largest sheriff's department in the country. There are three candidates running — incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell and department veterans Bob Lindsey and Alex Villanueva.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department employs some 10,000 deputies and oversees all the jails in the county — no small task. It's also still grappling with the aftermath of the massive, years-long corruption scandal that gave former Sheriff Lee Baca a three-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy in blocking an FBI investigation into inmate abuse at an L.A. County jail.
We've interviewed each candidate ahead of the June 5 primary to help you make your choice.
He's a retired commander of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, where he served for 32 years. He worked as the Department’s Director of Personnel for five of those years. After the sheriff's department, he worked for the state court system, where he supervised bailiffs and other security services. Now he says he wants to return to the department and help it run more smoothly.
ON WHY HE DECIDED TO RUN FOR OFFICE:
“[The sheriff's department] is a department in crisis. And when you look at the department on the inside, if it’s in crisis it causes community issues. Because the deputies can’t get out and do their job when they’re not getting the training, when they’re understaffed, and when they can’t get out there to do the things that they normally do in the course of their duty.”
Alex Villanueva is a former lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he served for three decades. He has criticized incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell for not effectively dealing with corruption in the department, and says his insider position gives him better knowledge of how to achieve this goal. He says he also wants to expand the department’s patrol operation and subsequently cut down on certain programs, like public relations campaigns.
ON NOT HAVING MANAGERIAL EXPERIENCE IN THE DEPARTMENT:
“The department has been led forever by people with tons of managerial experience. They’re career bureaucrats. My opponents, McDonnell and [Bob] Lindsay, they're both career bureaucrats. I have more time as [an] actual cop on the streets working than both of them combined. And in today’s environment, managerial experience, bureaucracy, the familiarity and comfort with the trappings of bureaucracy, is not helping us at all.
[Former L.A. County Sheriff] Lee Baca was a consummate bureaucrat. So was [former L.A. County Undersheriff] Paul Tanaka. Did that get us anywhere? Absolutely not. ... What counts is leadership, and throughout my career I’ve stepped up to the plate.”
Sheriff Jim McDonnell
Sheriff Jim McDonnell, elected in 2014, is the first department outsider to be elected to the position in over 100 years. He came into a department roiled with controversy and corruption, on the heels of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Sheriff McDonnell came in with the goal of cleaning up the department, and now he's running for another four years.
McDonnell says since he took on the job, he's "restored the shine to the badge," but KPCC interviewed watchdogs, civil rights groups, outside experts and members of the force, and found that while there's been improvement, important work remains to be done in the areas of jail reform, transparency and recruitment.
ON CRITICISMS TO EMBRACE MORE CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FEEDBACK:
“Well I’m certainly embracing of the recommendations. What we ultimately end up making a decision to do might differ in some cases. There are a number of things that the [Civilian Oversight Commission] has looked at that we have embraced and that we very much appreciate. ... Also the open forums when members of the public can come in and address whatever issue they would like to is invaluable to us as well.
The idea that we would embrace everything that they ask us to do would abdicate my responsibility as an elected sheriff...I try to be as judicious as I can with the information that I have to work with.”
Ready for Election Day? Get up to speed on what you need to know with KPCC’s Voter Game Plan. Read up on the candidates and ballot measures, find out about registration deadlines and ask us your questions.