January 2, 2020
Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
2300 East Imperial Highway
El Segundo, California 90245
Dear Los Angeles Times Editorial Board:
SHERIFF VILLANUEVA’S RESPONSE TO THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
The year 2019 is now over, and it is an appropriate time to look back on what we have achieved by reforming, rebuilding, and restoring the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to better serve our community. I campaigned on that promise, and I delivered on that promise as well. For those keeping score, violent crime is down 7% in the areas policed by LASD, aided by a 15% drop in homicides, and another 15% drop in burglaries.
There was good news in other important areas as well. Jail violence is down across the board, with a 33% drop in inmates assaulting each other, a 27% drop in inmates assaulting staff, and a 10% drop in deputies using force against inmates. These figures are a welcome change from five years of increase after increase in jail violence, and they were achieved without changing any reform measures put into place by previous administrations.
The successful hiring and retention of sworn personnel, something that eluded previous administrations, has turned out to be a resounding success, with a healthy 65% increase in hiring over the average of the previous four years. This was achieved by scrupulously adhering to state standards for the hiring of peace officers, and newfound faith in the direction the department is going.
Recruitment and hiring is now a local effort only, ensuring that our deputies are serving the communities they grew up in, and have a vested interest of well-being.
The leadership diversity of the LASD has changed drastically in my first year in office, with women and minorities now occupying every single rung of the hierarchy, something that was impossible in the past. Both the line staff and the leadership of the department are now a true reflection of the rich diversity of Los Angeles County, another singular achievement previously out of reach.
The disciplinary system, long a source of contention between the department and the unions representing the rank-and-file members, is now a model of reform. Policies were introduced to strengthen investigative integrity, ban the formation of subgroups and cliques, and improve accountability, all while honoring due process and procedural justice for the workforce.
What the Times and my critics have failed to recognize is that in order to attract a highly qualified workforce, I have to be a fair and stable employer. A punitive and erratic employer with double standards only results in a flight of deputies to greener pastures – a direct threat to public safety. As my record now shows, I have no reservation terminating employees who fail to uphold the high standards of the Sheriff’s Department.
In 2019 I terminated 30 employees, each one for cause based on evidence, not agendas. I rehired exactly six deputies; all as a correction to bad employment decisions made by the previous administration. The first was rehired based on solid evidence that showed he was both falsely accused and wrongfully terminated. The evidence to rehire was far greater than that used to condemn him. Four of those rehired resulted from an order by the Civil Service Commission, and the last was initiated by one of my predecessors’ division chiefs on the belief that termination was excessive based on the facts of the case.
The Times would have the reader believe all is doom and gloom with the Sheriff’s Department under my command, however the opposite is the case. By removing ICE agents from LASD facilities, rejecting federal grant money in exchange for the database of undocumented inmates, and improving on SB54, we have now seen transfers to ICE custody drop by 53%. At the same time, we have been working closely with advocacy groups such as the Coalition of Humane Immigration Rights Los Angeles, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, and the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs, in order to build trust with our many immigrant communities.
I have increased threefold the number of deputies dedicated to our Homeless Outreach Services Team, and we are initiating an engagement model of policing for all of the communities. A policing model which places an emphasis on partnerships, problem-solving, alternatives to incarceration, and using enforcement action as a tool of last resort, not first.
In closing, what I’ve discovered to be true as sheriff runs contrary to the Times’ false narrative. Accountability and exacting performance standards of conduct are no substitute for ethical leadership and caring about the welfare of every employee. One cannot demand deputies respect the constitutional rights of our citizens if their own leadership cannot be trusted to respect theirs. Constitutional policing is a two way street – only when the community and the department work together we can make Los Angeles County a safer place for all. To that end, we did just that in 2019 and look forward to expanding our engagement efforts across all of our sprawling and incredibly diverse jurisdictions. I can only hope and pray that in 2020 the Times Editorial Board finds the courage to be more honest in their coverage of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.