The Los Angeles Times, the battered wife of the failed Los Angeles Establishment, which has spent much of the last four years reporting about Jim McDonnell’s failure as sheriff, endorsed him for reelection Thursday. How unsurprising.
We will catch you up on a ton of LASD headlines in the next day or so (still catching up ourselves from vacation!), but here is another important article out today:
The Los Angeles Progressive–while not our cup of tea politically–is an important LA political blog. So it’s noteworthy they blasted Sheriff McDonnell for his pathetic failure to participate in the debate around LASD’s future Saturday, opting (as usual) to speak to friendly audiences (not just EPC), instead of ones with information, backbone or the freedom to disagree without fear of reprisal.
As we reported Saturday, McDonnell’s refusal to participate in an ACLU-moderated debate is cynical cowardice–but emblematic of how he operates. Either you agree with (and praise) him or you’re part of the problem. That’s why he’s grown his career through appointed positions (or by running for office against a felon) and why he has no interest whatsoever in participating in the democratic process now.
Refusing to stand tall for your decisions would rightfully be a fireable offense for a deputy. It should be for the sheriff, too.
But Sheriff McDonnell has always been a special snowflake.
Debates are about ideas–and a candidate’s ability to articulate or defend them. They’re about leadership. They’re about transparency.
“Transparency starts with showing up for debates,” Alex Villanueva told the debate audience Saturday.
“Change won’t happen overnight,’ the LA Progressive observed.
“But it starts November 6th,” Villanueva concluded.
Candidates for sheriff Alex Villanueva and Jim McDonnell recently sat for roughly 18-minute video interviews with the Santa Clarita Valley Signal.
Overall, McDonnell seemed pretty annoyed to have to be there, but he answered the student reporter’s questions gamely. It was the usual unspecific, “but-when-you-look-at”, stay-the-course, “couldn’t be prouder” song and dance. Click here to see McDonnell’s interview.
For his part, Villanueva cast McDonnell as “an angry old man” who, like the Wizard of Oz, makes confident declarations that informed people know just aren’t true. That crime is down (when it’s up); the morale is great (when it’s possibly the lowest it’s ever been); that McDonnell has accomplished so much–a “sea change!”–when even basic things within his control remain undone (such as providing an adequate number of mental health teams). Villanueva’s focus, he said, would be on fixing specific things that would dramatically improve LASD’s culture and performance: getting rid of probationary employees who aren’t up to the job, rather than the current practice of going-along-to-get-along and making them somebody else’s problem. He spoke of specific ways he would improve community relations, particularly with the communities of color that supported him so strongly during the primary election. To see Villanueva’s interview, click here.
While he doesn’t yet have quite the polish McDonnell has from four years as a politician, Villanueva’s answers strike us as specific, while McDonnell’s were, as always, vague, or just wrong, or put in the rosiest light. After watching both these interviews, it’s easy to see which candidate thinks things are going just great and which has the passion and commitment to change.
In just over two months, we’ll find out what the voters are looking for.
The Los Angeles Times has published four hard-hitting articles in the last three days taking examining misconduct by Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs, taking square aim at changing California’s police officer privacy laws.
LASD.News’ Opinion: We don’t know whether officer privacy laws / the Peace Officer Bill of Rights needs to be changed or not. As easy as it is to get information about people these days, and with a bloody history of officers being followed or confronted at their homes, there are certainly safety reasons to preserve POBR.
While the Times has identified many cases of real or alleged misconduct it would have liked to know about, and defense attorneys would have liked to know about–we don’t think it has established that the prior misconduct was actually relevant in the subsequent cases. For example, in the first story, the Times cites many lawyers and criminal suspects who would have been glad to use the deputy’s prior misconduct to angle for a lighter sentence or dismissal, when their actual guilt and the evidence in their cases does not seem to be in doubt.
As a journalistic and opinionated outfit ourselves, we understand the Times’ desire for access to officer personnel files. (Are journalists offering up their personnel files, too? Will LASD “executives” be wearing body cams?) But we are not yet convinced that the desired transparency will benefit anyone other than reporters who want to tell interesting stories, criminals who want to get out of jail, and the defense attorneys who want to help them. We look forward to the Times’ editorial board’s big reveal as to what exactly they are proposing.
Everyone makes mistakes in their life and career. While police officers have tremendous public trust placed in them and misconduct should be dealt with, criminals and their attorneys are looking for whatever will establish reasonable doubt in the least intelligent member of a jury. Or suggest to a busy deputy district attorney that a slam-dunk case will become a hassle and should be dismissed or pled.
Allowing criminals, defense attorneys and reporters to go on fishing expeditions through officers’ past and cherry-pick tidbits that benefit their own agendas will have many consequences which should be fiercely debated.
Struggling Sheriff Jim McDonnell flashed the anger, contempt and casual relationship with the truth he is known for Wednesday in responding to LASD’s largest union endorsing his challenger, retired Lieutenant Alex Villanueva.
I’m not surprised by the announcement made by the Board of Directors of ALADS today. By endorsing my opponent, ALADS has endorsed a candidate who has publicly opposed the reforms underway that have reduced jail violence and increased accountability. He would take the Department backwards to a time of chaos and corruption like it was under Baca and Tanaka.
I have come in and implemented accountability measures and the ALADS Board has taken issue with that, and I am not going to apologize for holding accountable those who tarnish the badge.
What an astonishingly passive-aggressive, dishonest, bridge-burning, and childish bunch of nonsense. Had ALADS endorsed him, McDonnell would’ve instead been talking about how honored and humbled he was for their support and partnership.
In other words: you don’t think I’m doing awesome so you’re part of the problem.
This sort of denial and blame-shifting wouldn’t be tolerated of a deputy sheriff trainee in the academy; we absolutely shouldn’t tolerate it from the elected sheriff. He’s had four years to learn our standards. This is Phase 1 roll-up behavior.
Is it any wonder McDonnell’s community relations are so fraid? That he was absent from much of the community for the last four years until, surprised into a runoff, he’s running around hat-in-hand, begging for money from wealthy West Siders? That he views the Citizens Oversight commission as his liaison to the community rather than an actual oversight panel?
Petulant as McDonnell’s statement is, it’s a window into how his Father Knows Best mindset reacts when a partner dares to challenge him. No wonder suck-ups and sycophants have done so well promoting under McDonnell, especially all the Tanaka-acolytes who so quickly changed their colors?
McDonnell’s statement is completely unhinged.
Here are the facts:
Jim McDonnell has accomplished very little in four years as sheriff. Crime is up, proactive police work is way down, morale is probably the lowest its ever been, chancing arbitrary and career-altering/ending discipline by ambitious middle-managers and self-styled “executives” is viewed as a risk of showing up for work, acting with integrity is viewed as an act of foolishness, while the executive ranks themselves are riddled with suck ups and people with extensive records of misconduct (some quite recent).
Alex Villanueva hasn’t opposed significant reforms because McDonnell has neither made significant reforms nor even suggested what they might be. All he talks about is implementing systems of processes of layers of paper-pushers (all wearing brass belt buckles and sewn-down epaulettes, of course; all telling him how great he is). And this is without even getting to the 300 admin staff he says he’d need to run a body cam program.
In fact, the only major McDonnell “reform” LASD.News can recall Villanueva opposing was releasing an informal list of deputies previously accused of having integrity issues to the District Attorney’s office (the so-called “Brady List”), including its apparently intentional and criminal leak to the media. And the reason Villanueva has given for disagreeing is not that he opposes the list in principle but because the list is not accurate–it includes people who don’t even know they’re on it or why they would be; it includes people who were bullied into accepting a punishment that without their knowledge landed them on the list rather than risk loss of pay while fighting an internal case; indeed the Los Angeles Times has itself reported that deputies have been removed from the list after someone realized they were there in error. That McDonnell is comfortable needlessly and perhaps falsely tarnishing peoples’ reputations to achieve the appearance of having achieved something says more about him than it does about anyone else.
Actually, Villanueva has campaigned extensively on the assertion that McDonnell’s reforms have been fake in effect, not that they’ve been wrong in intent.
Indeed, under McDonnell’s leadership numerous deputies have been arrested or convicted of crimes, firings have gone through the roof (as have reinstatements through the legal system and back-pay awards), including firings of “executives” McDonnell sought to defend one day and kicked out the window the next. As any deputy knows, firing is viewed internally now as a management stunt easily and often entered into to make the lawyers happy and “leaders” look good, with the understanding that the legal appellate process will do the actual managing.
By the way, anyone know what’s going on with Todd Rogers’ civil suit against McDonnell alleging he was retaliated against after the last election? Did the County settle that one yet?
And speaking of integrity issues, what does it take for McDonnell to end up on his own Brady List, with all his own false statements? Such as when he told the media last year that no uses of force had been recorded on deputies’ personally-owned body cams (which they have bought due to his refusal to distribute them)? Or his claiming above that an “overwhelming number of deputies” support him in “moving the Department forward” when, in fact, 97% of deputies voted their lack of confidence in McDonnell? Or his many false statements to reporter Annie Gilbertson in her REPEAT Podcast (especially episodes 5 and 6)? He must know what he is saying is false, but he’s saying it so his LA-establishment backers who don’t know how failed and unpopular he is, who will simply take his word for it.
McDonnell’s attitude–and that of his supporters–seems to be that if the unions disapprove of his performance, he must be doing something right. That’s cute, except LASD’s unions endorsed him four years ago and have complained constantly since then not about McDonnell’s policy positions but mostly about his lack of vision, understanding of the organization, and his leadership. They’ve complained about his not responding when a deputy was shot in the neck because it was late at night. They’ve complained about his ineffectiveness; about his inability to recruit, about the wave of deputies immediately lateraling to other agencies, about being $200 million over budget, about detectives being put into patrol cars to achieve minimum patrol levels. The unions are raising serious concerns about a sheriff which experience is showing is not up to the job. (See, also.) You can ignore the warning light if you like, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to crash into the mountain.
Maybe this frequent commenter on the LA Times article summed it up best:
“I think Jim is the biggest let-down of ANY elected official in the last 25 years,” she said. “Now even I refer to Jim as Sheriff McBuckles. Sad. So disappointing. Jim, I hate to say this b/c I was such a huge fangurl, you had your chance and choked. Time to step aside my friend.”
The LA Times is out with another story this weekend about the discovery of yet another tattoo within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department–this time on Deputy Oleg Polissky. As anyone who has worked with Oleg knows, he’s a great cop and human being: good person, strictly business, great tactics, and a great mentor. Here he is above handing stickers out to kids (wearing, by the way, his own personally-funded body cam due to Sheriff McDonnell’s four years of feet-dragging on providing them). With the sheriff Police Chief of LA County saying he needs 239 more new administrative jobs to manage a body cam program, it’s no wonder nothing’s gotten done.
Related: Here’s a story about the issue of personally-owned body cams from a year ago. Note the absurd lie that “Deputies in L.A. have never captured any use-of-force incidents…on personally owned body cameras, McDonnell said.” That’s nonsense, which McDonnell would know if he knew what was going on within his department–but he doesn’t. (Seeing a trend here?)
Anyhow, Oleg’s a great cop. And he’s got a tattoo, which he said in a recent deposition acquired by the Times was bestowed to him by his partners at Palmdale Station because he’s a great cop. We believe it.
While McDonnell took re-election for granted during the primary (having won 75% of the vote four years ago), he couldn’t even muster 49% this time ’round–with communities of color coming out strongly against him. Now desperate for re-election, he’s promising to investigate LASD’s tattoos, as if he’s shocked–shocked!–to learn there is gambling going on in this establishment!
For our money, we think ALADS President Ron Hernandez has it right when he told the Times, “I think the department should focus more on the value of a deputy’s work product.”
* * *
What’s really going on here?
Sheriff McDonnell has been claiming credit for turning LASD around for four years but, really, he hasn’t done much (other than destroying morale). And his confused response over this tattoo thing shows it: he says he’s single-handedly (like Moses!) engineered a sea change in the department, yet many deputies complain he’s never spent a single day working a custody block, or working a Sheriff’s Department patrol car, or understanding the culture and how it is different from the LAPD. He could have–four years ago–but he’s arrogant and thought he knew what he needed to know, so he didn’t. And now he’s left standing here like a dummy trying to explain paper over the difference between what he and his cheerleaders have been claiming and what the facts show to be true.
As for the tattoos themselves: look, LASD.News knows many deputies with tattoos. Most are great, some are zeroes who never should have been hired in the first place. Some are Department executives who are great, some are Department executives who never should have been hired (or promoted) in the first place. Focusing on the tattoos themselves isn’t helpful, but it can be a window into what is right or wrong with the culture and how the department is managed.
The reasons the tattoos are awarded are, as Polissky says, to be glue at the station-level for the standards the deputies there hold dear–beyond the lowest-common denominator behavior the Department as a massive bureaucracy must–or chooses–to tolerate. The tattoos are a way of the most respected deputies at a station inspiring people to do better than the department itself expects: “this is who we are and what we expect”. Can they be abused–or be a reward for misconduct? Absolutely, and they have been. But that is the exception, not the rule.
This is where knowing the organization and leadership come in. McDonnell doesn’t know and isn’t leading the Sheriff’s Department. He only knows what the ambitious or frightened “executives” around him tell him, and what he knows from LAPD. It’s the blind leading the ambitious or cowardly. LAPD may be a great organization in its own right, but it isn’t better than or all that comparable to the LASD. It’s not Coke and Pepsi (and, in fact, they too are very different kinds of organizations).
Rather than earning the organization’s trust four years ago or since then, McDonnell has promoted dozens of Yes Men and Women who will enforce what he tells them to do. From his perspective, that makes sense after the chain of command was so broken under Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka. But what he doesn’t see is he’s just replaced their Kitchen Cabinet with his own and, if he he has no credibility with the deputies, and the Yes Men promoting through the organization don’t either (because they spent a minute or less in patrol, or because people know they disagree with the sheriff but aren’t allowed to say so by policy), then he isn’t leading anybody.
What McDonnell needed to do four years ago was work in custody, work in the field, get to know the people and the culture and the issues, and to lead from a position of credibility (not resume). And this would have allowed him to speak externally about what was going on, as well as to say internally, “Hey, I know you’re doing this, and I understand it, but I am asking you to stop, or to stay within these guardrails, because it’s unhelpful to us in this way…” or whatever. McDonnell could have led. He refused. And here we are: four years down the pike, nothing to show for it.
LASD needs a sheriff that understands the organization, what needs to change, what doesn’t, how change can be achieved, and has a vision for the future.
The Professional Peace Officers Association (one of the three unions representing the LASD) is holding a debate tonight between the two remaining candidates to be your next Los Angeles County Sheriff: Alex Villanueva and Jim McDonnell.
While Villanueva and primary election challenger Bob Lindsey participated in several debates during the primary election cycle, McDonnell arrogantly blew off the debates. While he took 75% of the vote three years ago against a felon to win election, he will now have to run on his record against a long-time LASD member and reformer, a Hispanic, and someone who has found a deep well of support in the communities LASD’s relations are (the media says) most strained. Meanwhile, McDonnell’s support comes mainly from those served the least by the LASD (and the least familiar with it). A lot of wealthy white people living along the coast. Witness LA thinks it’ll be a real horse race.
Tonight’s debate will be moderated by Adrienne Alpert from ABC 7, who has interviewed McDonnell several times before (such as here and here). Other panelists will include Moriguchi, Marcel Rodarte from the Contract Cities Association, and Marjorie Green from the League of Women Voters. It will be held at LAPD headquarters (aka McDonnell’s Mothership).
For more information about the debate, click here.