EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - Rarely do I walk away in an interview impressed, thinking “this is what true leadership looks like”, and even more rarely would it be a Democrat.
But LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who I have gotten to know over the years, is the real deal. Many politicians, clearly detached from the common man, speak in platitudes and can never provide specificity or details. Not a problem here: we got all substance all the time from Alex.
I also hear “bipartisan” a lot from mediocre politicians seeking to score political points. Alex stands in contrast as he truly walks the walk, involving conservatives like me in his Community Advisory Council, elevating people from all walks of life, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographical diversity. What a contrast to the fake calls for bipartisanship from people in Washington or even locally, in the elite, who only see the world from the paradigm of privilege. From Alex, it’s sincere, it’s everyday man and community focused.
I caught up for a nice 45-minute chat with Alex at a local Filipino celebration. His words are powerful and his answers straightforward, detailed and focused on disseminating the truth on hate crimes, cash bail, human trafficking, fighting corruption within his own party, DA Gascon, the very dishonest media, woke hypocrisy, his record number of Conceal and Carry Weapon permits issued to arm honest citizens, the homeless industrial complex and the community.
Watch the full video here or read the full transcript below.
Marc Ang (Interviewer): Alex, thank you for supporting the Filipino community at historic Filipinotown for this annual celebration.
Alex Villanueva (LA Sheriff): I've been here before. I was here in December, during the Christmas event here, wonderful reception, so near and dear to my community. In our department, we have so many Filipino employees. And Tagalog is one of the big languages after Spanish and Mandarin, so it's an important part of what makes up LA such a great place: the rich diversity, and this is right here where we got it.
MA: I want to kind of drill down on one of the things that you talked about: Asian hate crimes that are going on. I personally know of many instances where Filipino homes have been targeted for property crime, but also we're looking at some violent crime. What have you seen as far as incidents in the county? And what are you doing to combat that?
AV: We do know that there's been an uptick in 2021 of hate crime, that increase is alarming. We are taking positive steps, as you know, we have the Asian Crime Task Force.
MA: Tell me a little bit about that. Is that under your department?
AV: The Hate Crime Task Force is one that is focusing exclusively on hate crimes. And we're trying to get people to report incidents and crimes. Don't chalk it off as “Oh, well, I can't do anything about it.” No, we saw these cases. And we have about four in a row that were serious hate crimes that were also violent crimes. For example, the robbery of the elderly couple in Rowland Heights in, we got three in custody behind it. The same thing when an angry driver drove through a protest in Diamond Bar. He got arrested.
So we're on these things, as soon as they happen. We just need people to report incidents that don't rise to the level of a crime. But they're serious because those same people are typically the ones who later on or suspects.
MA: And that's a big problem in the Asian community and in the Filipino community specifically, where there's a reluctance to report crimes and say “chalk it up to that's just what happens when you live in the city or live in high density areas” What have you guys been doing to kind of change that culture?
AV: We did a hate crime summit last week at our headquarters [with] participation from the FBI from the ATF at the federal level from the Attorney General's office from the DHS office representatives. We invited the consular staff from all the different consuls of Asian communities. We had good representation, good turnout and we explained what we can do, how to report hate incidents, the difference between an incident and a crime.
MA: What is that difference?
AV: An incident is something that could be a hate speech, for example. Someone posting any image derogatory to the AAPI community, but it doesn't rise to the level of a crime. Another thing, which is a big takeaway, we found out is that in California, a hate crime is not a crime by itself. It's an addition to another crime. For example, if the guy that was yelling racial epithets at the protesters in Diamond Bar, had not driven through the crosswalk, it would not have been a crime. It would have been the act of driving through the crosswalk. We added two additional charges of a hate crime. It's an enhancement. So we want to make the hate crime a standalone crime in the state of California.
MA: What is the realistic ability for that to happen?
AV: Well, the legislature right now is too busy trying to protect criminals. Their whole push is about not presenting more opportunities for people to be jailed because they think somehow that's safer, but it's not. It's horrible for the API community, it’s horrible for the Jewish community, Muslim community and the ones that tend to be targeted for hate crimes and incidents. It’s horrible for them. Because then we have to rely on there to be a crime attached to it to then be able to do the enhancement. I see BS on that. If there's a federal hate crime standalone, why is there not a state standalone?
MA: I wanted your thoughts on Prop 47 I had my vehicle robbed in Cerritos and it was found in Compton 12 days later. What’s your thought on the bar for misdemeanors at $950? I'm sure it's encouraging crime?
AV: There's several studies that have shown that Prop 47 contributed to increase in property crimes. But the problem is when you pair Prop 47 with a progressive district attorney that doesn't even prosecute the misdemeanor crimes. Now you have no crime at all, they are just not going to do anything. And that's what's emboldened the criminal community to do these multiple times. We've had someone arrested three times in one day for Grand Theft Auto. You have the zero bail schedule, all these things are happening that tells the criminals that there's no consequences. So what are they going to do? More.
MA: San Diego actually reinstituted their cash bail after they saw it didn’t work.
AV: We did too. August 1st is when the Superior Court reinstituted cash bail. So it's a slight improvement. But we still have the drama of the District Attorney not prosecuting juveniles who commit serious crimes and treating them as adults. So right now, the failure rate of the juvenile system, the recidivism rate is just going through the roof, because there's no incentive. So now the older gangsters tell the younger ‘Hey, you do the crime here, you take the gun, you're not going to face any consequences’. And that's why we see all these crimes are going up.
MA: I want to transition over to human trafficking. What have you noticed in LA regarding this?
AV: The governor signed into law, a new assembly bill that eliminated the charter crime of loitering for purpose of prostitution, which makes [prostitution] basically legalized all the red light districts. Which is horrible, because in terms of human trafficking, that's just almost legalized. Then you have a District Attorney who is not enforcing prostitution laws. They've legalized prostitution in LA County. And with that, all the human trafficking that goes along with it, it's part of the mix. They're gonna keep pushing sex workers unwillingly. They've been forced into the trade and they're gonna continue traffic them between here, San Diego, Las Vegas.
MA: Have you seen an uptick in that since this?
AV: We saw an uptick during the Superbowl weekend, which is historical uptick, but it was more pronounced this year. Now it's more pronounced everywhere. And with the eliminating the loitering section, now you see areas on Figueroa downtown, places in Long Beach, Compton by the airport was for traditional red lights. Now it's just more brazen and in the open everywhere. And the residents unfortunately live with their driveway littered with condoms. You got kids, and you have people actively engaged in sex right in front of your house
MA: Let's transition to homelessness. What's going on with that? It seems like the problem has gotten worse. I drove through Skid Row the other day. And I said, Wow, this is more than I've seen ever before.
AV: Try to do it at 10 o'clock at night. I wouldn't even recommend it. What do you see? It looks like “Night of the Living Dead”. You have people who could literally be naked, covered in feces, screaming at the moon, walking down the middle of the street, and nothing happens. What's bad is in the past, you go to jail, you get cleaned up going into a Psych Services, psychiatric facility. None of that exists.
MA: There's no more of that? I mean, aren’t we funding these services more for the homeless?
AV: When you're paying money to organizations, it’s going to the homeless industrial complex. They spent six and a half billion dollars over 10 years. The problem doubled in size but the salary of CEOs of these nonprofits quadrupled. That's their main problem. The top 10 nonprofits for homelessness are making $800,000 a year. That's twice my salary. And I actually run an enormous organization that is very complex.
MA: What are the solutions to that? I mean, do we need to do audits on the nonprofits?
AV: The whole nonprofit sector needs to be cleaned up. It's basically anarchy right now. Anything goes, whatever they can get their hands on in the public contract, there's no oversight. All the attention in the political world is on the oversight of the Sheriff. They want to deflect all the attention over here while they're robbing the bank over there. That is by design.
MA: The negative perceptions towards law enforcement. What have you seen in LA county that “defund the police” and BLM have done and how do you combat that?
AV: Well, the community loves the sheriff's deputies. They love police officers. Every single community, you go block by block, riders on the trains, they want to see more deputies, they want to see more cops in blue. They don't want to see less. But you listen to the politicians, it's the exact opposite. They want to get rid of cops.
MA: The DA, you mentioned Gascon, has been on that agenda. Why do you think that recall failed and it's not going to be on the ballot this time around?
AV: Well, if you listen to the critiques of the people doing the recall that they were incompetent and do their job, but they got more than half a million signed validated signatures, that's a huge chunk of the population. You look at the Registrar Recorder: did he have his finger on the scale when he was certifying signatures? I don't know who to believe or not to believe. I do know that a huge bulk of people want to see him gone. And I don't think he's going to survive. But what is the action of the Board of Supervisors? Let's get rid of the sheriff. And I'm just doing my job. But the one who's not doing his job, and everything is falling apart. Let's protect him.
MA: How can you do your job effectively and serve and protect our community when you have all these people witch hunting you and stopping the good that you're doing?
AV: The LA Times is on that bandwagon right now. They're flat out saying everything they can say about me and it's all false. Yet the guy that they're trying to prop up: my opponent, they give him a pass. He's been a disaster for the city of Long Beach, he lets Long Beach burn down during the riots because he told his officer to stand down and not to arrest looters, which is insane. And then you look at his history. They didn't do their homework. But you listen to the LA Times editorial, the guy walks on water.
So there's a lot at stake here on this election and unfortunately, Lord willing, I'll survive, you know, this onslaught of negative press, which is has no basis in reality. But they're gonna fall. The corrupt entities will fall. When I was a young Sergeant in patrol in the department, Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka were corrupt. And they were destroying the organization. I spoke out against it. I was retaliated against. My career was killed. But at the end of the day, they were convicted, and I was vindicated. And this I will be vindicated again. You can see one by one, they're gonna start falling.
MA: Give me a laundry list of your achievements so far, and during your tenure, because you bet you've had about three and a half years on, you're gonna have Yeah, so let's hear what's tangibly been done.
AV: I'll just talk about the things that I campaigned on. Body worn cameras: I had to fight the board, tooth and nail to get it done. But we got it done. They're all out there. 31% reduction in citizen complaints. Success when we kicked ICE out of the jails, ending the scam grant funding where the County was selling undocumented databases to the Feds so they can be deported. And then turn around claiming to everyone that they're the immigrants’ best friend. $122 million from 2003 to 2018 and I was a bad guy for stopping it. I did the right thing. What was the reaction of the LA Times and the Establishment when I called out Supervisor Hilda Solis? How dare he? They came up with a term “misogynistic”. No, she was betraying her own people. So yeah, let's ignore that.
Looking at the tens of thousands of people that were deported, they deport more people than Joe Arpaio? Here in LA County, supposed to be the the sanctuary place and friend of the immigrant community and undocumented defender. No, not at all. The mayor is making money off it.
I initiated it. I campaigned on it. I achieved it. And in the process, we established there has to be a bright line of division, immigration, federal immigration, they have a job to do. They need to do it. They need to secure the border. But they can't be mixed in with local law enforcement because then people don't want to call 911.
And that harms local law enforcement’s ability to do their job. And when I understood this, and I pushed this, I enacted it, it worked. Even my conservative critics, when I explained the whole thing they realized. So I've had a lot of conservative minds turned around. Both have a job to do.
And now, when it comes to diversity, I campaigned on inclusionary policies for the workforce. We did that and we enacted them. And now I had the most diverse sheriff's department in the nation.
MA: I'm part of that I'm one of your CAC members, thanks to [community leader] Peter Ramirez.
AV: He's done a wonderful job with this measure.
MA: So tell us a little bit about CAC for the audience.
AV: Lee Baca had an idea way back in his first term that was decent, but it got corrupted, along with so many other things that happened. Their advisory council was more about self-serving interests, selling badges for camping, etc. Shame on them. But the concept was good. So when I took office, we cleaned up the concept and make sure it has a good governance model, that the people in the CAC are there to support the community in every way possible.
Now it's working. Now we've seen that throughout the pandemic, we had the CDC out there everywhere doing the food drives and the clothing drives at Christmas time. The Center for Family Health and Education joined forces with us to do the vaccination drives. The CAC was front and center working with the community, and that's what it's supposed to be. And it was a beautiful thing. So now we have the right model.
Again, part of what I campaigned on, part of what we executed in office.
MA: So promises made, promises kept.
AV: Right. Up and down. Every single thing I campaigned on, I've had a chance to do. A few have been interrupted by politicians like my Truth and Reconciliation process. The board says, “you can't do that”. They passed a motion which I could have ignored, because they don't have the authority. But I said “okay, have your way”. And because they had their way, that means all those wrongful termination lawsuits that could have been settled pennies on the dollar early on, now came to full fruition. I had to pay one guy nine years of back pay, because he was wrongfully terminated nine years ago. That cost me an arm and a leg. The Truth and Reconciliation process would have discovered this earlier on: at least we could have cut the cost down.
MA: Why did you let that battle go?
AV: Because there are so many other things going on at the same time. So you know what? Who's gonna pay the price ultimately is the taxpayer. And I will remind [the Board of Supervisors] that you're forcing the taxpayer to pay for the bad decisions of my predecessor.
MA: What are the tangible benefits of the Community Advisory Council, now that you've done all this community outreach? What have you seen accomplished from the CAC?
AV: People now understand that when there's a problem or a complaint or issue within a community, particularly a cultural one with a language barrier. They have a mechanism now, to have an issue addressed. It might not be something worth calling your local sheriff's station because it [doesn’t amount to] a crime. But we have a concern. So now we have a way to address it. And that's productive. It wasn't there in the past.
MA: Have you actually seen people reporting more crimes and incidents because of CAC?
AV: Because of the CAC, heck yes. Even on our campaign for election, we come across information. This is a matter that needs to be addressed with law enforcement, it gets directed towards the department towards, might be the Special Victims Bureau, might be Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau. We come across it. Now we have an outlet immediately. Okay, go get it. And they jump on it and run with it. It is being responsive to the needs of the community.
MA: The Board of Supervisors defunded the LA County Sheriff Department.
AV: We were victims of defunding by the board. They took away 1,281 positions, they implemented a hiring freeze unilaterally. They took away 145 million on one budget 160 million on another budget. I started with $101 million in the hole. And I finished last fiscal year at a $22 million surplus.
And what does the Times say? That I can't manage my money. They actually said that in their editorial promoting [my opponent]. They said I fired the budget staff. No I didn't. I got rid of one person. It was a job created by my predecessor: an assistant Sheriff position, which we could not afford to begin with, who had no idea what they were doing. They created $101 million deficit. And so one of the things I did was shrink the overhead.
It was comical that they were trying to defend the white out of Towner that didn't know the job. My guy Black Budget Director Conrad Meredith, his subordinate, Rich Martinez, Latino, and his number three, a Filipino. Those three, got it all done. God bless them.
They're doing the right job, but they don't get the credit. And it's kind of sick when you realize that they know what they're talking about. But what they're doing is they're challenging a political establishment that refuses to acknowledge that they're wrong.
MA: They want to hold on to their power and not look like they're weak or that they've made a mistake. We all make mistakes.
AV: There's a racial undertone to the whole thing because the decidedly white establishment doesn't want acknowledge that they're in the minority,
MA: For conservatives, you are the right choice. All the previous sheriffs, your predecessors were more right leaning but did not issue as many CCWs as you have.
AV: Well, I knew that historically, CCWs in our department: they made this standard of “good cause” impossible. Unless you were a retired judge, or a buddy who grew up with a sheriff. It's not realistic. It's not fair. Let's make a “good cause” standard that's achievable. Reasonable, not that we're going to be handing out weapons out there by the pallet, but an achievable standard. So we made it achievable.
For example, if you own a jewelry store, you transport jewels, you should be able to defend yourself. Anybody who runs a business that does cash deposits at night, say, restaurant owners. We don't have the resources to babysit you. Here: Arm yourself, so you can protect yourself. Real estate agents showing houses in the middle of nowhere with no access to local law enforcement: Lord knows what you're getting into. Victims of Crime: you got the stalker from hell, all of those made sense [to issue CCWs]. And so we've issued about 3,600.
MA: Good citizens should be armed.
AV: And what does the Times do? They try to do a hit piece. They spent months analyzing data and PR requests only to arrive at the conclusion that no laws were broken. All the time, energy, but why don't they do the analysis of George Gascon’s policies and juvenile justice? Why don't they ask him: where's your data and science about your policies? Because crime is spiraling out of control. There's data now. You got almost two years worth of his policies in effect, where's the data? Where's the science? Show me the results.
MA: Gascon getting rid of the gang enhancements has been a real issue: have you seen gangs are actually empowered by his tenure?
AV: Oh, hell yeah. Getting rid of the gun enhancement, the gang enhancement and treating, a guy who could come in here and kill all us [in a room of a dozen people and they would consider that] only one person died. That's another enhancement: multiple victims. No, it's just one crime. All juvenile crimes are treated as juveniles, not adults. Releasing people straight out on the street as juveniles without treatment, engaged in violent crimes, and they're getting re-arrested again.
MA: A lot of people I'd say, in the beach cities like Manhattan Beach, they're sheltered from this.
AV: Those people tend to be sheltered. And notice they're the ones pushing for all these reforms because they're Ultra progressive. But the people that pay the price are black and Latino communities that are hardest hit by gang violence and poverty. That's where all the effects are concentrated, but not the decision makers. The decision makers are concentrated in gated communities, very wealthy enclaves. Not a single one of the five Supervisors lives in Sheriff's Department jurisdiction.That speaks volumes right there.
MA: The hypocrisy is deafening. I heard a laundry list of great results. What do you plan to do in your second term?
AV: Well, I gotta rebuild the department back up to the strength it had in 2019. I want those 1,281 positions back. I want to get that hiring freeze thrown out. And I decided when I hire, and bring the numbers back up to full strength, I'm going to work hard with whoever the next mayor is, and the next Board [of Supervisors] that is seated in December, we're going to build [homeless] shelter capacity. And we're going to clean up the streets. Plain and simple. We're not going to sit on our hands and say, “we'll have to wait till we can build $800,000 condos with the beach view”. We're not going to build our way out of it: they're smoking crack.
Building up shelter capacity, we can take back the streets, push people into shelters, into mental health treatments, substance abuse treatment, that capacity has to be built up. It's not right now. Which means we need to build a mental health treatment center and tear down that Central jail, we can do it. And I'm going to lose some of the capacity at my jail. But it's a trade off for me because then I have the capacity to treat people with mental health illness in a secure setting and a non secure setting at the same time. That’s the big picture.
Public corruption continues to rear its ugly head. I have learned more about things that are going on in the last three days than I have in probably the last three years of scandals that are public. Things are popping up that it takes your mind to wrap around it.
But just remember when I said back in 2004, I told Baca and Tanaka, “you guys are doing wrong, you're going to hurt the organization”. Now I’m in the process of telling the board, “you're doing wrong, you're gonna hurt the entire county.” Some steps I will take actively.
Our Public Corruption Unit, they’re going to continue to do their job. We'll work with the Attorney General, the Feds and we're not going to stop. And there's other things that we can take within the Department to fight corruption that we're going to take. And we're gonna have our hands full.
MA: Very exciting stuff. Some final words that you want to tell our audience, and also plug your website.
AV: My website is AlexVillanueva.org. You can read through my campaign website and how to contribute. You can do it online on social media. You can follow me @Alex4Sheriff on social media and on the department side, @LaCoSheriff on social media, and lasd.org the department's website.
MA: Everyone wants to make it about left and right. But I see you fighting an establishment that's not doing things for the people.
AV: I can tell you this when we cleaned out the homeless in Venice. We got Democrats and Republicans to start talking to each other. In reality, isn't our local problem far bigger than who's yelling at who in Washington? All of a sudden, we might disagree on things, but the bulk of what we face, we actually agree. So, county and city governments are failing massively, because they only allow the ultra far-left to occupy every single position. No other thought or perspective is allowed. So reality is not part of the equation. Hence, the results are always always bad.
But my goal as Sheriff is to make LA livable again. And I'm going to open up that tent and get more people involved. And I'm going to bring the left and the right together. That's my goal as Sheriff, and it is working. I've been to events, they're all Republican and they stand up and they applaud even though I'm a Democrat.
I'm trying to get Republicans to come to Democratic events, and have the Democrats applaud the Republicans. It's a tall order, but I want that to happen on both sides. Because then when we get to that point, we realize we're not playing this game of Red Team Blue team, because it’s now Purple team,
(Marc Ang [email protected]), a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.com is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He focuses on the minority conservative experience. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” will be released on November 9, 2022.)