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Villanueva criticizes local report suggesting deputy ‘gang culture’

Alex Villanueva (272591)
Alex Villanueva

Sheriff Alex Villanueva this week criticized a report concluding that gang-like cliques continue to exist among deputies, insisting that his administration has cracked down on such groups and that researchers never conferred with him on the issue.

He also insisted the report by the Santa Monica-based think tank RAND Corporation made bold statements about the continued existence of deputy gangs in the LA Sheriff Department (LASD) based on limited numbers of survey responses, while also failing to distinguish between actions taken under his administration compared to past sheriffs.

“I read through the entire report and I did not find a single reference comparing current department leadership and past department leadership. Not one,” he said.

Villanueva said the RAND report essentially made 37 recommendations for addressing the issue of deputy cliques, and 30 of them are already in place.

“The sad thing, though, is the RAND report, the authors never came back to myself, my executive staff and said, ‘Hey, these are our findings, what are you doing regarding these findings.’ Because they could have reported this in their report. All of the things that are going on that confirm what their… recommendations are,” the sheriff said.

He conceded that the department has been dealing with the issue of deputy subgroups for many years, “and every single one of my predecessors has kicked the can down the road saying they either didn’t exist or did nothing about it.”

For the report, RAND surveyed 1,608 deputies and supervisors, who anonymously answered a questionnaire, and 16 percent said they had been asked to join such a “secretive subgroup,” one-fourth of them within the past five years.

RAND researchers concluded that department leadership can best discourage involvement in deputy subgroups by clarifying policy language to prohibit such groups, and by delivering strong and consistent messages to its staff opposing membership in the groups and related banned conduct.

Villanueva insisted that a strong deputy clique policy is in place and is being enforced.

“The hard, cold facts are that subgroups exist in any large organization,” Villanueva said. “Including the military.”

Villanueva noted that hundreds of deputies have been disciplined for use of excessive force or alcohol use and many have received letters of intent to discharge.

“The Rand report actually affirms and supports what we’re doing,” he said.

For the past 30 years, the LASD has been subject to allegations about secret subgroups or gangs of deputies within its ranks, with their members allegedly mistreating both community members and department co-workers.

The independent research project was commissioned to learn more about how the subgroups are formed, why they exist, what actions might be taken if it is determined that they have a significant impact on the LASD’s mission.

Lisa Fitch added to this CNS story.