Villanueva ran as a Democrat in 2018 and became the first person in 104 years to unseat a sitting L.A. County sheriff, but during his time as sheriff, Villanueva has appeared to some as a conservative Republican rather than a Democrat, which is something he challenges.
"Every single thing I campaigned on, I accomplished," he said. "So, them trying to paint me somehow as a born-again conservative, the facts don't bear out. I'm going to do things based on what's right for public safety outside of partisan labels."
If Villanueva doesn't receive more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in the November general election.
Here are the other eight candidates running besides Villanueva.
- Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna
- Retired LASD Capt. Britta Steinbrenner
- Retired LASD Assistant Chief and current LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo
- Retired LASD commander Eli Vera
- LASD Lt. Eric Strong
- Retired LASD Capt. Matt Rodriguez
- State Parole Agent April Saucedo Hood
- LASD Sgt. Karla Carranza
Almost all of them have connections to the sheriff's department except for Luna, who said he'll bring integrity to the job.
"In law enforcement, people are supposed to look at us at the people who not only enforce the law, but we listen and cooperate with for example, oversight, subpoenas," said Luna. "If I get subpoenaed, I need to comply with that, just like every community member in L.A. County does, and for some reason, [Villanueva] stands up there and thinks he's beyond the law. This is not about us as individuals. It is about the people we serve, and we have to come up with solutions. We have to problem solve and at the end of the day, what kind of person fights and calls people names to the same individuals who control your budget."
However, the candidates with connections to the sheriff's department said their understanding will help them turn it around.
"When this sheriff was elected, I volunteered to take on this issue because I recognize that as long as we have secret societies, cliques, gangs, station tattoos operating within the sheriff's department, we will not be able to take step one in regaining the public's trust," said Vera.
Strong also addressed the issue, saying, "Our public. Our citizens. We pay for these body cams. We should not have to pay again to fight legal battles to get the information released, so with me, you'll have true transparency."
Rodriguez believes the sheriff's department has been turned around and needs swift action.
"Everybody around the country emulated our training," said Rodriguez. "They emulated our models. They emulated our academy. It's not that way anymore. The sheriff's department has been completely dismantled. Defunded and destroyed under [Villanueva,]"
Meanwhile, Steinbrenner believes now is the time to change the department's culture.
"In order to do so, we have to change the whole makeup of the department," she said. "Number one: we're going to be known for community policing. Not our deputy gangs, and it is time to put a female in office."
Rhambo believes change starts with a collaborative effort.
"Rising crime rate involves working with other agencies throughout the county of L.A.," he said. "At the airport, I work with multi-jurisdictional task forces and federal partners."
Whether it's fighting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, visiting homeless encampments in the city of L.A., or threatening to pull out of the security contract with Metro, Villanueva has been all over the news. It's something that could end up helping in the primary, which will draw fewer voters than the general election.
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