WEHOville’s explosive interview with Alex Villanueva
Foreward by Brandon Garcia
A lot of people want to see Alex Villanueva fail .
Progressive activists, local TV news stations, billionaire heiresses, some WeHo City Councilmembers and a sizeable portion of L.A. County voters — all of them would love to see the controversial sheriff lose his re-election race in November.
They supported him on his road to becoming the first Democrat in 100+ years to hold the position.
But he slipped his collar.
He ended up being more moderate than they thought he would be. More critical. Less obedient. And so they turned their guns on him.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva is L.A.’s lone ranger, stubborn but unbending, always in the line of fire. He’s diversified the department and reduced costs, but all the media wants to talk about are “deputy gangs” a.k.a. supposed cliques within the department.
Will he be outgunned come November? Or will L.A. County voters decide Villanueva is the straight talker and sharp shooter they need in this day and age?
Read and watch Larry Block’s explosive interview with one of California’s most polarizing political figures only on WEHOville.com.
FOREWARD BY BRANDON GARCIA
Hi Alex, I’m only here to solve the problems of Public Safety. So, I’m gonna put a voice note down, and we’re gonna stop every five or six minutes so they can transcribe it.
You got it. West Hollywood is a very important community for the department and for the county. Lord knows it gets targeted between the homophobia, the hatred, and the opportunists, smashing grab robberies. The conglomeration of things that can go bad unless we’re dedicated.
So, here we go, Alex, thank you so much for the opportunity to get past all the bullshit and talk directly to you. It’s a long list of questions. We have a few segments, The first is about you, the second will be about the department and the issues, then we will get into West Hollywood as it relates to the department. Ready to go?
Let’s start with you. Where did you grow up? How did you get into law enforcement?
Oh well, I grew up in between upstate New York and Puerto Rico — that was my upbringing. The military brought me back to the United States and I wound up in Norton, Air Force Base, San Bernardino. And from there Cal Poly Pomona and then the Department.
You’re married with a kid? And she’s retired.
She’s retired, I have one adult son, who is now a Deputy Sheriff and I have three granddaughters.
And your wife was in ex member of the force, so your law enforcement family.
Did you grow up in a law enforcement family?
No. I’m the very first time out of my family.
What part of Update New York?
Ah, I went to school in Upstate New York at Fredonia. Were you on the force during the Rodney King riots?
Yes I was working patrol.
How does that compare with the protest of the George Floyd verdicts?
It was night and day. What I saw on the ground as young deputy in 1992 were the failures of Sherman Block and Daryl Gates. The horrific mistake they made not to do anything initially. And then the only images that were telegraphed around the world was “you can do whatever you want, there’s no cops.” And that just lit the entire city on fire. So fast forward to 2020. Now I’m in the hot seat and I remember what they did and my goal was not to do anything they did. Do the exact opposite. That’s what we did.
The city didn’t burn down, the county didn’t burn down. No one died as a result of it. No major injuries on our part. And I think it was a successful operation. We had 20,000 people here protesting peacefully right in front of this building. No one went to jail. No one was hurt. And people were able to exercise their First Amendment right, which is very, very important. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. And the places that did have problems — Fairfax, Santa Monica, Long Beach — all shared one common thing: political folks, the politicians, telling law enforcement not to do their job. And it blew up in their face.
During the riots I understand you centralized command within West Hollywood. Ramirez told me that there was special attention, and they put a lot of sheriff’s deputies into the base there and that wasn’t part of any overtime charges. That was where your command center was to react to any violence.
So that’s a true statement, We had extra protection in West Hollywood that was not part of any billing contract or overtime charges.
No, everything we did during the riots was a result of civil unrest. And what they call unusual occurrences. As the Sheriff I’m responsible for coordinating mutual aid for LA and Orange County. So I ordered up the National Guard from the State Office of Emergency Services. They sent down Guardsmen, and then we had mobile field forces from other jurisdictions, Orange County and we put all those people to work in areas of violence or potential violence and West Hollywood definitely fit the bill.
In 2018. You ran as a reformer and I learned that you were the first Democrat to be elected to be LA County Sheriff, in 138 years.
I also became the first Puerto Rican sheriff ever. In the whole nation.
Oh, I didn’t realize that. But you inherited a system that was baked in 138 years of conservatism.
Then you go right into 2019 and it’s the COVID epidemic and the riots.
Didn’t catch any breaks.
You didn’t catch any breaks. Have you had a chance to enact any of those reforms?
Yes, as soon as I took office, we enacted massive reforms, we launched the Body One Camera program.
Is that an Axon program?
Yes, it’s an Axon program, they save the storage in the cloud. The previous sheriff abandoned the program in 2017. They gave up. They said it was too expensive, two cumbersome. So when I took office the very first week we sat down and said we need to make this faster, better and cheaper — how can we do it? We put all the toys on the table and mapped the way forward. And it took us all the way till October 2020 when we finally cleared all the red tape with the County Board of Supervisors. You would think they would have championed the cause with us. No they were actually resisting getting the program launched. So we finally overcame all the resistance of bureaucracy and the program has worked incredibly well.
My first week in office we kicked ICE out of the County Jail. That was a campaign promise. It worked wonderfully well. We followed that with a permanent moratorium on ICE transfers. So we established a bright line of separation between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. Both jobs need to happen but you can’t mix the two jobs together — because then people no longer trust you. Those are big reforms. Those moved the needle nationally because I was the first sheriff to do this. And we got death threats from certain camps behind it, got hate mail from the Trump White House. So you would think that would have been a something that people hailed and appreciated especially from my own party but actually, curiously, it was not even reported in the LA Times. They just refused to cover it.
Thank you so much. We’re gonna talk about the department. How many deputies are under your command?
We had 18,300 budgeted positions. The board of supervisors defunded us and reduced it by over 400. So now we’re down to about a little over 17,000. Of those 17,000, we have roughly 9,500 that are sworn.
Sworn meaning that’s how many in a day that you split up among all the cities?
Sworn as in sworn peace officers. Versus professional staff, and we’re divided up into 12 divisions; 4 patrol divisions, a detective division, two custody divisions, court services division, and then countywide services.
What about the diversity on the force?
We are the most diverse sheriff’s department in the entire nation. 83% of my command staff are women or people of color. A full 20% of my sworn personality are female, which is the highest in the nation. The entry level, we’re an actual reflection of the communities diversity, and that is not by accident.
I have the very, first LGBTQ Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco. The very very first.
And Captain Bill Moulder in West Hollywood. We’ve had, we’ve had several gay captains, he’s not the first, I think he is the 3rd or 4th. So we have a lot of success in that arena, and another reform. When I took office, we dismantled the good old boy network. And we actually made now made becoming a station Captain an inclusive process where all lieutenants can compete and the community plays a part.
Like Captain Bill Moulder in West Hollywood, he was a finalist in a very thorough vetting process. He had to interview to become a finalist from the semi-finalist group and then the community, the civic leadership of West Hollywood, I think the City Manager, a member of the Board of Supervisors or representatives, they interviewed the five finalists and he was appointed as the winner. That process did not exist before I took office.
I have a couple of questions from the Mayor of West Hollywood, Lauren Meister. She asks: If you were to get reelected. What could be done to lower liability costs?
Well, I’ve got some good news to report. We’ve registered a 17% reduction in lawsuits against the department since I’ve taken office comparison to McDonnell. A 21% reduction in use of force in the county jails. A 31% reduction in citizen complaints. These are big numbers, the 36% reduction in employees suing the department and a 39% reduction in people suing me as a sheriff . So all the numbers are trending downward.
We got the track, the Emergency Vehicle Operation Center, the train track up and running. We just opened it …did the ribbon cutting ceremony about five months ago. Now, we have two facilities to train our deputies in patrol . Because one of the biggest drivers of liabilities is actually preventable traffic collisions. A lot of young deputies are in a hurry to getting everywhere cause there’s not enough deputies, so now we’re getting them to slow down and be a little more mindful of avoiding collision. It’s working. So all the numbers are trending downwards. So I’m gonna approach to bring liability down. To see how they actually calculate, to see if we can start bringing that number down and give some money back to the cities.
Lauren’s second question: How can we establish more productive partnerships with the Supervisor and Sheriff?
That’s a very good question — because it’s kind of hard to establish a productive relationship with someone kicking you in the teeth. And I think when the community, the voters, register their preferences, I think everyone doesn’t come into respect those preferences and start working collaboratively.
And I think a prime example, I just finished a meeting we have an overdose response task force for fentanyl poisonings. We’re trying to chase around drug dealers for the deaths they are causing by selling fentanyl, and that’s a collaborative effort internally and we’re working with the United States Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration. These are all collaborations that are successful. The County Board unfortunately has had a majority that’s been dominated by people that look at law enforcement as liability that needs to be defunded and shrunk, whereas the community views law enforcement as an important components of their safety.
I think the elections coming out in November and by December. I think it’s in the new majority conceded on the board supervisor that I think we’re getting a good position to have to a good working relationship with them.
Did any West Hollywood City Councilmember reach out to you to talk to you about the problems before registering their votes on removing any deputies from?
No, by the way, they did reach out to Moulder. Either it became a three/two split, the vote yet.
Lindsey Horvath was the mayor for 18 months during that time. Have you ever met?
I met her a few times but she never never talked to me about it.
Lindsey had a reputation previously of being pro-police. And all of a sudden things changed. Do you have any thoughts on what changed?
I think that’s called “weathervane politicking. ” Figure which way the wind blows. You’re just what you’re okay with because you view your future electability based on that.
Council member John D’Amico who voted to defund had a couple of questions.
By the way for the record, you’re very thorough. I like this.
Thank you. Just trying to do my best and not make any mistake. Council member D’Amico asked: Does every contract city get changed the same rate per deputy?
Yes, every contract city pays the same rate per deputy. We do not establish the rate. It’s established by the auditor control office. And this is very important because there was a lot of false information being put out.
I think what someone from the Public Safety Advisory Committee —the daughter of the LA Times owner — was absolutely false. Everything she put in print. Because the auditor control establishes it and it gets audited like crazy. So we do not overcharge or undercharge — we charge exactly what the cost is to provide the service.
‘We cannot be the magnet for the nation’s homeless’
Councilmember D’Amico also had another question: What is the safest LASD jurisdiction? If not WeHo, why do you think it’s safer?
The safest one would probably have to be Santa Clarita . They made third safest city in America in one of those national surveys of safe cities. It’s a mixture of a variety of things. One is a support for local law enforcement. West Hollywood traditionally has been very supportive of the Sheriff’s Department. I mean, since West Hollywood became a city, we’ve been your law enforcement agency. And so that’s been a very good working relationship. I think just recently, the whole thing about this anti-law enforcement sentiment becoming popular in political circles as in a political agenda, that’s frayed some of those relationships. Could West Hollywood compete and be as safe as Santa Clarita? I think so. I think it’s very possible — but one is more, rural spread out. West Hollywood is very condensed and more vertical — huge tourist destination with a huge nighttime population that doesn’t mirror the daytime population. It’s different challenges — kind of like apples and oranges.
Note: All five City Councilmembers were asked two days before the interview if they would like to submit any questions for Sheriff Villanueva. Lindsey Horvath and Sepi Shyne, who led the effort to reduce the Sheriff’s budget in West Hollywood, did not respond. John Erickson said he had no questions.
Is West Hollywood the only city that is scaling back its approach to the sheriff in defunding or is this a beginning? Or is it a contagion?
The only one that is trying to do that, yes, is West Hollywood. It’s the only city that’s trying to do that. I have other cities that are actually trying to increase their sheriff’s presence. I’ll cite one, for example, is Norwalk. I have other cities that are trying to explore the same thing. We just don’t have the personnel now to be able to increase.
Is there any way to explain the increase in cost in overtime: 50% over ten years?
All of our contracts are audited on a regular basis and we have to be within 98% or 102% of the cost of each contract. If we go under the 98% we have to refund money because we didn’t meet the contractual goals; if we go over then obviously provided more service than the city paid for. We’ve got to keep it at the 100% mark and provide every city exactly what it contracted for. Now that’s not been easy because of 1) the defunding and 2) the hiring freeze has left all of our patrol stations at about 70% capacity. So we’re missing 30% of personnel. So the overtime costs have gone through the roof because now deputies have to work to cover the 30% that aren’t there.
Let’s talk about the homeless. I think everybody knows it puts a tremendous burden on the Sheriff. Where does the Board of Supervisors come into that problem? Bob Hertzberg explained there was an audit — like a billion dollars unspent in the homeless fund, of the taxes we collected. Is there mismanagement there?
There’s a lack of political will. It’s a cardinal sin of the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor and LA City Council. Because of that lack of political will, they’re not constructing emergency shelter capacity, they’re not building permanent residential treatment capacity for those who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Those three things have to happen 10 years ago and they’re not happening at all. Everybody’s just twiddling their thumbs, as the problem gets bigger and bigger and bigger. We cannot be the magnet of the homeless population for the entire nation. And we are right now.
We are the magnet of the homeless population for the entire nation?
We are ground zero. A full 25% of the entire nation’s homeless population lives in LA County. And that is horrible. And the effects of that to our economy, to the ability of our own — because we generate homeless within our own county who are homegrown. But every person who shows up from Iowa here means there’s less resources for our L.A. County residents and that is a big problem. But the Board doesn’t seem to really care about that. They pretend like we’re going to build our way out of the problem and that’s a fallacy.
The Board of Supervisors voted three to two to try to remove you from office. And get more control over the Sheriff. We have elections?
That’s what elections are for.
Is that an overreach? A power grab?
A massive power grab. To a scale no one has ever seen before.
If it happened in Texas or any other state, they’d go crazy.
It would still be a power grab. In fact in some places they would probably be marching on Hall of Administration to burn it down. Because there’s some things that people respect and that is one. The office of sheriff is an elected position that is steeped in American history and it’s supposed to be independent. I’m not a chief of police serving at the whim of the board. That’s what they want. And the community doesn’t want that.
Because remember, the board is the executive and the legislative branch of county government — they have no oversight. The only thing that is someone comparable in weight, to counter, is the sheriff and the DA. And they’re trying to kill the sheriff.
In a way, would you say that’s like Trump trying to take control of the Department of Justice on the federal level? We complain about that, but here we are Democrats doing the same thing.
Pretty much it would be somewhat similar to that yes.
Do you endorse anybody in the Supervisor race or other races?
Well there are people that I want to see win and people that I don’t care to see win, but I’m not going to endorse anybody who hasn’t reached out and asked for my endorsement.
Are you familiar with the news that when they voted to replace the sheriff and increase the Block by Block security ambassadors for West Hollywood, that the operations manager Shea Gibson previously served time — 8+ years for manslaughter.
How do you feel when you feel when they take away the work of your life — a guy who worked his way up the ladde — and they’re gonna fire that guy to replace him with this other type of guy from this organization that has none of these skill sets.
Well, they’re trying to sell that as “We’re enhancing public safety. We’re improving it.” Look now we’ve got 30 of these ambassadors, and that’s 30 people that are not going to do anything when crime is afoot. All they can do is pick up the phone like anybody else. So the city is forcing the residents to pay for less law enforcement services under the guise of somehow they’re enhancing Public safety. They’re not. They’re actually dismantling public safety.
And it’s ideological. They believe that cops are harmful, that less cops are better and that’s why they want these unarmed ambassadors. They’ve been an absolute failure Santa Monica. The concept that they’re working on in the MTA system is is very similar and it’s just as failed.
What would you like to do that you are not empowered to do? Is there something they would like to do that. You are not empowered and under authority to get done.
I would like to use eminent domain to start seizing public lands and empty buildings and converting them into emergency shelters. I have the authority to actually get people off public spaces and into shelter, but I just don’t have the actual resources of shelter. So that’s one missing element in my bag of tricks, so to speak.
How does that get implemented? How does that go forward? How does that solution get put into action? Can we physically get to do that?
Yeah, physically. I think the Board of Supervisors has a capacity to actually do that. So does the City of LA, the Mayor’s office and the City Council. Remember I talked about the lack of political will. Give me that ability and we’ll make it happen. In fact, we can get the entire homeless problem in LA County solved in 90 days.
And literally, it’s achievable because remember when Katrina happened, what did FEMA do? They created housing for half a million people in a week. When there’s a war or some famine and some Third World country, along comes the American International Red Cross, and they can house 2 million people in a tent city. They can get it done and it’s a tent city. It’s not going to be ridden with rats, typhus and all these infectious diseases — they’re actually going to have trash picked up, medical care provided. So it can be done. And actually our situation is a lot smaller than a Katrina, than a war and a million refugees, and we’re waddling and just incompetence because we don’t have the political will. It is not impossible. I can get the job done.
I can’t give up on that solution. That is you, that is we’re really at the point where we sort of talking about what’s going on, what we can do for, I didn’t expect it to go on this long, or to be able to get to this crescendo. Please, what would like to say to the West Hollywood voters or the LA County voters, who are concerned about everything going on in their public safety issues? Why should we trust you for another term and, and how can we give you that authority to be able to implement your progressive ideas to make things happen.
For West Hollywood voters, and you’re the heart and soul of what LA County is, you’re right in the middle of LA County in West Hollywood. And that’s the slice of our community that we need to preserve, we need to defend and between homelessness and violent crime, they’re threatening our way of life and our livelihoods. And we have to take that challenge seriously, and I’m running for this second term to do exactly that.
My two challenges are A) Homelessness, and B) Violent Crime. Actually they feed off of each other. We can get the job done.
Deputies are working tirelessly day and night and they are motivated to work even though all the obstacles presented by the Board of Supervisors and the activists with the bullhorns. Deputies don’t care. They are just dead-set focused on keeping people alive, on keeping people safe. And they’re doing this because they believe in my vision for the County, for Public Safety. They are committed to that. I’m not gonna let them down. They know what I have their support, they have my support and I hold them accountable to a high standard and it is working.