MONTEREY PARK — The East Los Angeles College Auditorium might have been the safest place in the country Dec. 3. A big deal has been made of the fact that Alex Villanueva was able to shake up the political establishment by ousting Jim McDonnell as the top cop at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Surrounded by SWAT members who trailed his every move — on and offstage — Villanueva was formally installed as the official of a law enforcement agency hit hard recently with a variety of controversies that have engulfed the department.
With wife Vivian, who is a 30-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, by his side, Villanueva was sworn in with an estimated crowd of several thousand people packing the auditorium, mostly sheriff deputies and other peace officers.
“Let me make one thing very clear: I didn’t just wake up yesterday and decide to run for LA County Sheriff,” Villanueva said. “I’ve been a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department serving the people of Los Angeles for more than 30 years. I’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the brightest deputies our nation has ever known — men and women who are committed to protecting and serving their communities with dignity and respect.”
Villanueva spoke for less than 10 minutes on stage before honoring well-wishers and backers with the obligatory handshakes, small talk and selfie photos. Villanueva ran his campaign on the platform of reform, rebuild, restore the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. He spoke on making that vision happen with the communities the Sheriff’s Department serves.
“This city and our entire county is standing at a crossroads,” Villanueva told the crowd gathered for his swearing-in ceremony at East Los Angeles College. “We can either decide to go along to get along or to challenge a status quo that has only worked for a select few and left far too many behind. The people of Los Angeles have decided that we’re going to make real and new vision for what law enforcement in our community should do and look like.”
With the department under public scrutiny because news about cliques within the department and other scandals that have surfaced, Villanueva wants to change the perception that people may have
Villanueva will be in full cleanup mode of the department. In 2017, former Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in trying to obstruct an FBI investigation into inmate brutality within Los Angeles County jails. Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was handed down a five-year prison sentence.
At the center of this issue were reported abuses by sheriff deputies in the Men’s Central Jail and other county detention centers. The shooting death of Donta Taylor in 2016 by two deputies unearthed potential cliques within the Sheriff’s Department in Compton. Villanueva is looking forward to shaking things up. He also had a solemn message to his deputies.
“The success of your career will be determined by how well you serve the community, not pollical power. Those days are over,” Villanueva said.
By Dennis J. Freeman