It was a smaller debate than usual, but steeped in community interest and concern as the Los Angeles Area Chapters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. hosted a forum on May 7 at Inglewood City Hall, to hear from the candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff heading into the June 3 election.

Todd Rogers and Jim Hellmold, two assistant sheriffs, were on hand to answer questions from the audience of 100 or so citizens, many donning the sorority’s signature red. LAPD Chief of Detectives Lou Vince bowed out earlier in the day. The moderator was actress T’Keyah Crystal Keymah known most notably for her roles on In Living Color and Cosby.

Both Rogers and Hellmold were brought into the sheriff’s department to help begin reforms—particularly at the Twin Towers jail facility downtown—after the Department of Justice launched an investigation over claims of deputy brutality against inmates.

“I was brought into the department to help implement reforms, and I’m here tonight to say that’s just what the sheriff’s department needs and we’re on our way to restoring public trust,” Hellmond said. Rogers, in charge of the $2.8 billion department budget, said his first action was looking into alleged “cronyism” within the department and has advocated department personnel as well as civilians to report immediately any witnessed misconduct by deputies whether on the street or in the jail facility.

“Transparency is vital to the success of the department and to the well-being of the community,” said Rogers, a 29-year department veteran and current mayor of Lakewood. “I support civilian oversight as well as a ‘collaborative reform process’ to open the doors more to best practices. This is among the reforms I will implement if elected.”

Hellmond, who has served with the department for 25 years, is in charge of patrol in the Los Angeles region and points to his success to building rapport in the city’s African American and Latino neighborhoods. He advocates more youth outreach to help foster better community relations.

“I was very proud years ago to help implement ‘midnight basketball’ in Watts and in Compton,” Hellmond said. “We were able to take kids off the streets and place them into a constructive environment away from gangs, drugs and delinquency. These are the things that can work, are proactive and cost effective; my deputies coached with community members to provide activities for those young people.”

Hellmold offered a unique anecdote regarding the basketball program. “We’d just finished practice one night and some kids were on their way home,” he said. “I had a deputy who took pride in his arrest record—and he was good at it—and this evening he was doing his usual best to patrol the neighborhood. Thing is, he stopped the very kids who had just come from basketball practice. That’s the ‘stop-and-frisk’ problem people complain about. We talked about it the next day and how that [perception of minority kids] actually works against what we’re trying to do. He volunteered to coach on his off hours.”

Rogers also condemned the overly-zealous ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy and said he has no tolerance for “unconstitutional” policing. “While I ran the Carson station, our focus was solely on the community and from captains to patrolmen we built better community relations by having regular input with our neighbors,” he said. “At first we sought to include the residents in our community programs, and in time residents began to come to us with ideas to improve communication and responsiveness.”

Both candidates agreed that the old methods of “arresting your way” out of the problem of crime does not work and can only increase the jail population. “You know what that method does?,” asked Hellmold. “That only teaches a kid how to be a criminal. If you continue to put kids behind bars early, you’ll only work to develop a hardened criminal. They learn criminal behavior from behind bars, not on the street. We can do better and, if elected, I promise that the bad guys will be locked up and the kids ‘at risk’ of delinquency will be steered in another direction.”

Rogers called for more scrutiny on who can receive a license to carry a weapon. “You know, the ‘bad buys’ don’t follow gun laws,” he said. “Law-abiding people carrying a gun is a community issue, but I can tell you that most of those who receive a concealed weapon permit are wealthy people. The majority of citizens can’t get one. We have too many guns on the street and simple computer checks aren’t enough. Public safety demands a full background investigation, not just cursory computer check on past encounters with law enforcement.”

Both candidates said there should be more African American women in command positions within the department and they will endeavor to promote people who best “reflect” the communities they serve.