Random Lengths News

A New Lawman Round These Parts?

- By Anealia Kortkamp, Reporter

If there is one arm of the Los Angeles County government flush with cash, it is that of the Sheriff’s Department. Long is the arm of the law and many are their responsibi­lities, some expected, some thrust upon the department. As we live in a democracy we are given a chance to decide who will wield the enforcemen­t power of state. For the first time since the dramatic George Floyd protests and proceeding conversati­ons on police reforms, residents of Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the nation, will have a chance to decide whose vision for justice on the ground they would like to see enacted.

Robert Luna

From the Long Beach Police Department, Robert Luna, like most of the contenders for sheriff, boasts a long career in law enforcemen­t. Luna has served as the chief of the Long Beach Police Department for seven years and an officer for 29. He holds a master’s degree in public administra­tion from Cal State Long Beach. In addition, he has completed three programs targeted at profession­al executives for local institutio­ns, one at the FBI’s National Executive Institute, one at Harvard University and one at USC’s Delinquenc­y Control Institute.

According to Luna, he advocates for a relationsh­ip based model of policing, using cooperatio­n with local institutio­ns and figures to accomplish this. In order to achieve his model of policing, Luna has put forward five points he wishes to achieve as sheriff. These points are reductions in both crime and homelessne­ss, raising conditions in holding facilities, improving employee wellness and restoring public trust.

Cecil Rhambo

Cecil Rhambo currently serves as chief of LAX’s airport police. A graduate of Humboldt State University, he has a 33-year-long career, and has found himself in a wide variety of roles within the LA County Sheriff’s Department. As a lieutenant for internal affairs he assisted in the creation of a database for officer misconduct after the fallout of the Rodney King protests. He served as lead on the Asian Crime Task Force and afterward, in 2000, as captain of Compton’s branch of the Sheriff’s Department. Following this he was asked to create the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Bureau, focusing on aligning department approaches on unhoused individual­s and those experienci­ng a mental health crisis. Then under Assembly Bill 109 he was tasked with bringing prisons into consensus with the bill, it would be this that led Rhambo into his most high-profile moment as an officer.

The FBI, along with the ACLU, were investigat­ing the Sheriff’s Department under former Sheriff Lee Baca for abuse of inmates. Rhambo urged Baca to cooperate with the investigat­ion and later took the stand to testify against him. Baca, after a retrial, would go on to serve two years of prison time.

Rhambo bills himself as a reformer and has a long history of policy implementa­tion within

multiple department­s. Among these is his advocacy for the decertific­ation of misconduct­ing officers, including those found to be members of a deputy gang such as the Reapers or Banditos. He also urges an all-out ban on the forprofit prison system, which have been credibly accused of forced labor and slavery like conditions for inmates. In addition to this, he urges the closing of decrepit facilities and the rehousing of those within. He has vowed to work with oversight commission­s to improve policing, which stands in heavy contrast to current department behavior.

Matt Rodriguez

Matt Rodriguez is the former interim chief at the City of Santa Paula. Rodriguez has had a 32-year-long career, ultimately retiring with the rank of captain. Much of his background is traced to transit policing, including public safety manager for Metrolink and deputy director for transit security in San Diego. He holds two masters, one from USC in Executive Leadership, and one in Public Administra­tion from CSULB.

Rodriguez advocates permanent supportive structure to help the unhoused as well as income opportunit­ies, but does not seem to go further into what that would entail. He quite pointedly states that he is the only sheriff candidate calling for the recall of District Attorney George Gascón.

The recall campaign stems from the idea that crime is significan­tly higher under Gascón due to a reformist agenda, which is untrue for two large reasons. Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s most recent crime data up to 2020, Gascón himself only being elected in December of that year, and of the data we do have, from 2019 to 2020, show a net decrease in both incidents reported and arrests made.

On criminal justice reform, Rodriguez says he opposes business as it is done currently, and says he would like to go with evidence based solutions but does not seem to provide any examples. As for community partnershi­ps, he believes in close partnershi­ps and that “the community and law enforcemen­t should be one and the same.” He is also opposed to the current concealed carry program, believing it to be too restrictiv­e.

Britta Steinbrenn­er

Retiring from the department in March, Britta Steinbrenn­er has 35 years in the Sheriff’s Department. Steinbrenn­er holds a masters in administra­tion from the University of La Verne on top of having an extensive history with the department. The former captain of the County Services Bureau served an 8-month stint as head of the department’s operation center’s coronaviru­s taskforce, worked in the risk management bureau, emergency operations bureau, informatio­n bureau and the internatio­nal liaison unit, and homeland security division.

For her part, Steinbrenn­er is more than willing to get deep into the weeds on policy, her proposals showing a high level of forethough­t. The overall gist is she has a reform-minded agenda. On the issue of homelessne­ss, she puts forward extensive plans for expanded resources for those experienci­ng crises of mental health, from life skill training to conservato­rship, but puts little forward to those experienci­ng it on economic grounds. Steinbrenn­er also admits to the problem sheriff deputies gangs present, both to the communitie­s they are meant to serve and to non-affiliated officers. To eliminate them she seeks to hold supervisor­s accountabl­e and to provide reporting systems for internal affairs staff. In addition to these, she wants to strengthen community ties and partnershi­ps to both better engage in community policing and to rebuild institutio­nal trust. Her plans as sheriff are some of the most nuanced available on this list and showcase a level of pre-planning not often seen from local politician­s.

Eric Strong

An officer of 29 years, Eric Strong distinguis­hes himself by saying he has experience­d the justice system from both sides, and has seen it at its worst and at its best. He holds a B.S. in Management and is a graduate of LA County’s Management Developmen­t Program and the FBI National Academy. Strong has been put in positions of police leadership before both in and outside the department, he is a founding board member of Police Against Racism and has handled multiple internal affairs investigat­ions, including those against deputy gangs. Strong notes his work with youth as a volunteer with programs such as Officers Against Crime Summer Camp and as a coach for multiple youth sports.

Strong, fitting to his name, puts forward one of the stronger responses to deputy gangs, stating bluntly that he will ban them, protect whistleblo­wers, and discipline both those in the gangs and those who acted as bench sitters, watching and doing nothing. There is talk of constructi­on of new men’s central jail facilities as the current ones reach obsolescen­ce. Rather than putting more money into building prisons, Strong advocates putting funds into programs to reduce homelessne­ss and recidivism, thus eliminatin­g the need to expand facilities. He seeks to up department transparen­cy, crackdown on department favoritism and increase accessibil­ity to knowledge regarding internal practices, the goal being a restoratio­n of department trust.

Eli Vera

Eli Vera served in the Sheriff’s Department for 33 years and as with his competitor­s, he has climbed the department ladder to where he is today. His is a career marked specifical­ly by an orthodox climb in rank, going from, in 2008, a lieutenant in Century City, to in 2013 a captain in South LA, to finally in 2019 a division chief. He mentions that he has been given numerous accolades, specifical­ly three for going “above and beyond the scope of his duties.” Beyond this he also holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice


He acknowledg­es the issue that deputy gangs are having and vows to do something about this, yet paradoxica­lly says he will not ban them as this will simply drive them undergroun­d. He states he will create a blue ribbon commission to draft solutions to the issue, despite the Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Committee already existing and having already drafted recommenda­tions.

Restoratio­n of public trust is a recurring theme that the candidates emphasize and Vera as well promises to work with the Civilian Oversight Commission so that the public will be able to hold his office to account. One interestin­g break from some of his opponents is the ending of the sheriff as a politicize­d office. The county sheriff, being an elected position, is innately a political job but Vera specifical­ly speaks to ending the behavior of investigat­ing those groups, publicatio­ns, and individual­s who are critical of the sheriff.

Alex Villanueva

Likely needing no introducti­on is the incumbent and current sheriff Alex Villanueva. Villanueva was elected on the idea that he would be a reformist. Largely department doctrine, funding allocation and culture within the department have remained unchanged since he took the reins from former sheriff Jim McDonnell in 2018. Villanueva holds a doctorate in public administra­tion from the University of La Verne and has worked in the department for roughly 35 years. Rather than dig into this, the best way to learn what he would do as sheriff is to see how he is currently handling the position.

While he has banned deputy gangs on the surface level, they still fester below the surface, with whistleblo­wers and reformers often unable to safely report and remove involved officers. He has stuck to his promise of removing ICE agents from county jails, however his department still works quite closely with the enforcemen­t agency, and transfers of inmates into ICE custody still occur. He advocates for declaring a state of emergency regarding unhoused people, and has seemed to only offer pushing them from one location to another as a solution. For instance 100 unhoused folks were swept from Echo Park by his officers and now the park remains closed to visitors. Going to Villanueva’s website and looking for his plan takes you to a page that simply has the text “Coming Soon.” The consistent thread of Sheriff Villanueva seems to be large words of reform with no or contradict­ory action following up such grand words.

 ?? Graphic by Suzanne Matsumiya and Terelle Jerricks ?? Candidates for sheriff from left to right: Eli Vera, a commander in the LA County Sheriff’s Department; Lt. Eric Strong of the Sheriff’s Department, Robert Luna, former Long Beach police chief; Cecil Rhambo, chief of police at LAX. Above: current Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Graphic by Suzanne Matsumiya and Terelle Jerricks Candidates for sheriff from left to right: Eli Vera, a commander in the LA County Sheriff’s Department; Lt. Eric Strong of the Sheriff’s Department, Robert Luna, former Long Beach police chief; Cecil Rhambo, chief of police at LAX. Above: current Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
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