Random Lengths News
A New Lawman Round These Parts?
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.