Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva joined the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills on Feb. 14 by invitation to address law enforcement and crime in the county. Villanueva, a controversial figure in LA politics who is running for reelection on June 7, presented a stark picture of rising crime, entrenched homelessness and ineffectual and corrupt politicians who refuse to address the root causes of those issues. Critics of the sheriff, however, have accused LA’s top lawman of using bluster to deflect from the scandals plaguing the department.
Villanueva pointed to crime trends in the areas patrolled by the Los Angeles Sheriff ‘s Department (LASD), which have seen a 94% increase in homicides and 64% increase in grand theft auto over the last two years.
“The effects of the pandemic are still there,” Villaneuva told the Rotary Club.
He added, “We’ve come across now impacts of both the defunding and also of the lack of prosecution here locally.”
Villanueva repeatedly criticized District Attorney George Gasco?n, saying that Gasco?n and other progressive prosecutors around the country “have decided to embark on their own version of reform without the consent of the governed.” Progressive policies have led to “massive increases in violent crimes,” Villanueva said.
“You’re seeing the smash and break robberies…all those things that have captivated the nation, those are going on as we speak,” he said. “And the lack of prosecution is a troubling one, because the same people get caught one day and they’re out before the ink is dry on the report to do it again.”
Gasco?n has refuted a connection between his policies and the rise in violent crimes.
The houseless crisis was also on the minds of many Rotary Club members. On the topic of homelessness and policing, Villanueva said, “We have to regulate public space. We do not surrender it to anybody who shows up because they want to smoke dope.”
Villanueva estimated that over half of homeless people put into services by the Sheriff’s Department end up back on the streets, which he attributed to “the lure of the streets and no rules and an ample supply of dope to smoke.”
Villanueva has come under fire for refusing to enforce COVID-19 vaccine mandates put in place by the Board of Supervisors, saying that enforcement risks sparking a “mass exodus” of deputies at a time of a hiring freeze. Villanueva has also refused to enforce mandates requiring masks in indoor settings.
But critics such as LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo, a candidate for Sheriff, have accused Villanueva of fueling fear and misinformation around the vaccine. In an op-ed for Los Angeles Magazine, Rhambo pointed to the fact that more cops have died from COVID-19 in the last two years than any other cause.
“The board wants to impose a vaccine mandate against the will of people that just do not want to get the vaccine and that has a potential of another 4,000 deputies that could be lost,” Villanueva told the Rotary Club. “So, we’re fighting that one.”