Alex Villanueva was sworn in this week as Los Angeles County’s new sheriff, echoing his campaign vow to “reform, rebuild and restore’’ the department while saying the agency would not be influenced by “divisive policies’’ from outside the county and state.
“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.’’
Villanueva, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant, defeated incumbent Jim McDonnell in the Nov. 6 election. McDonnell, the first sitting sheriff to lose a re-election bid in Los Angeles County in more than a century, did not concede defeat until Nov. 26, when vote-counting showed Villanueva with an insurmountable lead.
Villanueva has already made headlines even before taking office. He announced plans last week to follow through on a campaign promise to clean house at the department by dismissing a series of people in the agency’s leadership structure.
Among those being relieved of duty are Undersheriff Jacques La Berge, four assistant sheriffs, eight chiefs, a communications director and a community outreach director, Danny Leserman, a spokesman for Villanueva, told the Los Angeles Times. The department’s two constitutional policing advisers will be transferred to new jobs with Los Angeles County and will be replaced, he said.
In his speech Monday, Villanueva called his win the culmination of a career of “speaking truth to power.’’
“This is a rare moment in history where we not only have the opportunity but the courage and responsibility to challenge an existing power to ensure that no matter where you are from, where you live, how you pray, the color of your skin — your sheriff’s department will work to protect you and keep you safe.’’
He also hinted at his campaign theme of not allowing immigration agents into county jails and his support of the state’s “sanctuary’’ law, saying, “We will not allow any divisive policies from outside Los Angeles or California dictate the way we do our job here in California. Hard-working immigrant families shouldn’t have to wonder if we’re here to protect them or deport them.’’
To the members of the department gathered at the ceremony, Villanueva said, “I only ask that you serve your community with dignity and pride.’’
“Treat everyone with respect and the success of your career will be determined by how well you serve the community, not the political powers to be,’’ he said. “Those days are over.’’
He thanked his campaign supporters for spreading a message to “reform, rebuild and restore the department that reverberated throughout the entire county of Los Angeles, sustaining itself with a belief that together we could actually make history.’’