Sheriff Describes Service Cuts to Mountain Communities

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Loud, speeding car clubs, mailbox theft and emergency preparedness were just a few of the topics Topanga- and Malibu-area residents discussed as they peppered Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva with questions in a virtual town hall on Thursday, July 16.

The sheriff, facing a $150 million department budget cut, said unincorporated communities will have to rely more on neighborhood watch programs since he is being forced to trim in all departments. Villanueva swiped at the LA County Board of Supervisors: “Remember all the patrols in unincorporated communities are funded by the Board of Supervisors. They’ve decided to defund your public safety and security. They need to hear from you.”

The Sheriff and Lost Hills Captain Chuck Becerra heard from concerned area residents faced with the problems of canyon dwelling.

Even though Villanueva was not sheriff during the Woolsey Fire, he promised to streamline evacuations in the next emergency. In March, the sheriff was removed by the BOS as head of the county’s emergency operations (a move supervisors insisted was not related to conflicts between Villanueva and the board). Becerra explained his department is “surveying the entire region with regards to fire prevention, the egress—entrances and exits.” And Becerra touted the Arson Watch program.

One caller wanted the sheriff to clear up what she thought was conflicting information on fire evacuation. She said she was told to leave her home unlocked when she evacuated during the Woolsey Fire in case fire crews needed access, only to be worried for days when her home was unsecured and yet undamaged. Villanueva set the record straight, replying, “If you’re going to evacuate, lock your house up as tight as you can. If the fire department needs to enter your house—and that’s typically because it’s on fire—you have bigger problems to worry about than your front door being smashed by the fire department.”

Other questions focused on the department’s response to increased road racing on mountain and canyon roads. Becerra agreed it is a problem, saying LASD and California Highway Patrol work together and are looking into more funding for patrol. The captain did not favor speed bumps, explaining, “We have to get our vehicles in. In an emergency, it’s hindersome.”

On the growing problem of mail theft, the sheriff and captain reiterated that neighborhood watch groups would ultimately shoulder more responsibility, stating, “If you see something—call it in.”

Again taking a jab at the BOS, Villanueva expressed he would have to cut back on “every single unit.

“Almost the entire parks bureau will be eliminated—there will no longer be law enforcement presence in the county parks,” Villanueva said. “That’s a decision from the Board of Supervisors. They put me in the position of deciding whether to have special victims bureau investigators investigating child abuse crimes or having deputies in the field in our parks. Those are decisions I should not be forced to make. The Board of Supervisors decided that they were going to dump it on the Sheriff’s Department.”

Villanueva added a call to action.

“You need to reach out and call them and ask them, ‘What are your priorities?’ I hear loudly from the community—they don’t want unincorporated communities to be harmed,” the sheriff said. “Now, we’re losing a big chunk of our resources to provide public safety for the county. This is shame on the board for doing that and playing politics with public safety. It does not advance the public’s interest. But notice they had $2 million to spend on public relation firms in the middle of a pandemic.”

The sheriff also touched on police brutality, perhaps referring to an ongoing investigation into the department. The FBI is currently investigating the LASD after the June shooting of 18-year-old unlicensed security guard Andres Guardado. The young man was shot five times in the back by a county deputy.

“We can always reform and do our job better,” he said. “No one’s going to support police brutality, but no one’s going to support the absence of us, either.”