Two former veteran Los Angeles sheriff’s officials who are seeking Sheriff Jim McDonnell's job criticized his performance in office during a forum over the weekend, saying he’s failed to do what’s needed to turn the troubled department around in the four years since the scandal over jail beatings and an attempted coverup.
McDonnell was not at the forum. His campaign had told the main organizer – the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California – that he would not attend, but that he might attend a second forum in May. The primary is June 5.
During the Saturday event at East Los Angeles Community College, retired Commander Bob Lindsey accused McDonnell of ducking scrutiny. He likewise criticized the sheriff for withholding some information from the advisory civilian oversight commission created after former Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted.
"It’s not disclosed, it's kept behind closed doors," Lindsey told an audience of about 100 community activists and students, echoing complaints of some members of the oversight panel.
Lindsey, who retired in 2011, said he supports giving the commission subpoena power, which would allow it to compel the sheriff to turn over documents and provide testimony. Activists are gathering signatures to place such a measure on the November ballot.
McDonnell has said he’s cooperated with the commission and opposes giving it any authority over him. The sheriff oversees a department with about 10,000 deputies who patrol unincorporated areas of the county, 44 cities and a jail system with about 17,000 inmates.
The other challenger is former Lieutenant Alex Villanueva, who like Lindsey served in the department for 32 years. Villanueva, who retired this year, also opposes giving the civilian commission subpoena power but promises he would give it full access to the department.
"We need more transparency," he said.
Villanueva never held a top management job in the department. He pointed to that as proof that he's more committed to the community than McDonnell.
"We do not value serving the community," Villanueva said. "We value self-service."
One of the challenges facing the sheriff’s department is the large number of vacancies. The agency has not filled more than 1,000 open deputy positions.
Lindsey said he's uniquely qualified to address the issue because he once oversaw recruitment at the department. He accused McDonnell of failing to make recruitment a priority.
The vacancies have resulted in a doubling of the overtime budget, according to department officials. That led them to put on hold a plan to place body cameras on deputies.
Both Lindsey and Villanueva promised to begin a body cam program within a year.
Villanueva said he wants to require all deputies to have a minimum two-year college associate's degree. He argued that drawing deputies from community colleges would help further diversify the force.
As of the last campaign finance report, which covers contributions through Dec. 31, McDonnell had raised about $325,000 – nearly three times what Lindsey had raised. Villanueva said he’s raised about $17,000.
The next fundraising report isn't due until the end of next month.
In addition to money, the sheriff also has more name recognition than his challengers – an important asset in an area as large as L.A. County.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on June 5, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff in November.