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Meet the two men who want to replace LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell

Two men are seeking to replace Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell in Tuesday’s primary: Bob Lindsey and Alex Villanueva. Here’s a summary of their positions.

Bob Lindsey

Lindsey, 62, is a retired Sheriff's Cmdr. who spent 32 years in the department. He says he’s running because he sees "a department in crisis."

Quincy Surasmith / KPCC

His main issue: Fixing low morale. Deputies are discouraged Sheriff Jim McDonnell has retained some of the command staff of former sheriff Lee Baca, who was convicted in a jailhouse abuse scandal and cover-up that also took down his undersheriff and 20 others, Lindsey says. McDonnell has failed to significantly reduce the number of deputy vacancies, which top more than 1,000.

When McDonnell started as sheriff, "one of the first statements he made was, everybody here starts with a fresh slate," says Lindsey. "That’s not how you come in and clean up a corrupt department … There are about 26 people this sheriff has promoted that were very close associates with the regime that was previously in there … Not everybody’s guilty, guilt by association doesn’t matter … But there is no promotion for merit."

Lindsey says he knows the corruption firsthand. After he refused to falsify test results in 2002 so Tanaka could promote people loyal to him to higher ranks, Tanaka promised to retaliate, according to a lawsuit filed by Lindsey’s son, who is a deputy. The lawsuit claims that more than a decade later, Tanaka orchestrated the arrest of the son and his partner for perjury and conspiracy in the arrest of an alleged drug dealer. A jury acquitted them.

When it comes to bringing new talent to the department, Lindsey claims McDonnell’s recruitment policies are a failure. "There’s a lot of competition" from other law enforcement agencies for qualified staff, and desirable people are getting "stolen" by LAPD and others because McDonnell didn’t hire enough strong recruiters and "because the system he implemented is just too slow," says Lindsey.

He opposes sending deputies freshly graduated from the training academy to work as jail guards, as has been the practice for decades. "They’re being trained [in the academy how to be police officers. They’re being trained how to conduct patrol activities, and from there they should go out to patrol," he says. "That’s also a cost savings for us," Lindsey explains, because the department has to provide deputies refresher courses on patrol after they’ve spent a year or two in the jails.

Activists are collecting signatures on petitions to place a measure on the November ballot that would give the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power. Lindsey supports the idea.

"I think they should have the power of subpoena, but I will tell you this: That doesn’t trump Peace Officer Bill of Rights [which protects individual officers’ privacy]," he says. Lindsey says the reason the issue of subpoena powers has come up "is the lack of transparency that the current administration has."

He says the department needs to intensify its search for outside resources to deal with the problem of so many people with mental health issues in the jails.

Lindsey supports issuing more concealed carry permits. I’m not clear on exactly what he’s saying about concealed carry permits. He says he believes in "shall issue," and "good cause is self defense."

Hear Bob Lindsey's interview on AirTalk here.

Alex Villanueva

Villanueva, 55 has been in the sheriff’s department for more than 30 years. Earlier this year he retired at the rank of lieutenant.

Former lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Alex Villanueva is running for sheriff against incumbent Jim McDonnell.
Former lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Alex Villanueva is running for sheriff against incumbent Jim McDonnell.

His main issue: community policing. Villanueva also criticizes McDonnell on recruitment. He says he would add 3,000 deputies, which he says would allow him to dramatically expand "community policy" countywide.

He says Sheriff McDonnell has failed to reform the department. "All the policies, the practices, the procedures, the very people that destroyed the organization under the reign of [former Sheriff] Lee Baca are the same people doing the same thing today," he says. "It needs to change, we’re on an unsustainable path, and under McDonnell it is not gonna happen."

Villanueva criticizes the adoption of policies "designed to micromanage everything the deputies are doing" in the jails in response to the abuse scandal under Baca.

For example, he says the department has shifted decision-making higher up in the chain of command, to sergeants and lieutenants, "so the deputies are basically not making the decision … Because they’re putting their hands in their pockets afraid to make a decision, bad things happen as a result of that."

Villanueva points to "skyrocketing cases of assault against … the civilian staff, psychiatric clinicians and deputy personnel. We’ve even had for the first time in my life incidents of deputies being shanked by inmates, which was unheard of in the past."

Villanueva doesn’t have management experience, but he insists that’s "an asset." He calls McDonnell and Lindsey "career bureaucrats" whose "familiarity with the organization means they cannot see beyond it." His opponents have "a vested interest in … preserving the status quo at all cost. Reform has to come "from the ground up," he says. "You can’t do it by being embedded and psychologically married to the status quo."

He believes the department should set up a two-pronged career path for trainees. Those who want to work in patrol would "go straight to the streets," while those "who want to dedicate their career to working in a custody environment" would work as jail guards.

Villanueva says he would issue more concealed carry permits than McDonnell, "who is basically issuing none" (there are about 200 people in L.A. County with these permits), but fewer than Lindsey, "who wants to basically hand them out like candy."

To establish whether an applicant has "good cause" to be issued a concealed carry permit, Villanueva says he would consider whether there’s a "documentable" threat to the applicant’s safety, and whether the applicant lives or works in remote locations without immediate access to first responders.

Villanueva wants more resources to deal with the jail inmates with mental health problems, expressing frustration that those individuals constantly cycle through the lockup and back onto the streets.

He’s opposed to outfitting deputies with body cameras right now, arguing that the estimated $55 million annual price tag is too costly at a time when the department needs another 3,000 deputies. Villanueva says he would consider deploying body cams once he addresses the staffing shortage.

With regard to the push to place a measure on the November ballot that would give the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power, Villanueva says that would be "inappropriate." But he adds, "I want to give the civilian oversight commission access to every single document, database, anything they need to do to oversee what the department’s doing on an aggregate basis," a reference to its oversight of "all of our activities collectively." He notes "legal constraints about what information can be shared" about individual deputies, such as California’s Peace Officer Bill of Rights.

Villanueva would give Inspector General Max Huntsman subpoena power, so he can "dig down into the weeds on individual cases."

Hear Alex Villanueva's interview with AirTalk here. 

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