A day after the uproar over West Hollywood’s vote to reduce the number of sheriff’s deputies on patrol despite a recent wave of violence and mayhem in the city, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva admitted the decision caught him by surprise and warned that fewer deputies on patrol will only contribute to higher crime in the city famous for the bustling nightlife on the Sunset Strip.
“We thought it was just a vocal minority of the city council,” said the sheriff, whose swaggering brand of law and order has polarized a city that is also home to the largest gay nightlife district in L.A. “It turns out a majority of people on the West Hollywood city council seem to think law enforcement is a freebie. But we can’t keep defunding and expect nothing bad is going to happen. There are consequences to defunding.”
The council passed the budget with a narrow 3-2 vote Monday, with Councilmembers Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico and Mayor Pro Tem Sepi Shyne voting for it, and Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilman John Erickson voting against it. As a result, the city will have up to five fewer deputies on patrol—at a time when the council is looking to push last call at bars back to 4 a.m.
According to statistics compiled by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, West Hollywood experienced a 137 percent increase in crime from May of last year to May of this year.
The city is in the midst of skyrocketing crime rates, with specific problem areas of late including drink-spiking, pickpockets, sexual assault, and robberies, said West Hollywood Sheriff’s Captain Bill Moulder. Moulder, a new arrival who began his appointment as captain in late May 2022, said more law-enforcement funding would allow for foot-patrol beats and special operations concentrated on rooting out pickpockets and predators from popular night spots.
Instead, the new budget will divert the funds for up to five sheriff’s deputies to the Block by Block program, which staffs the unarmed, blue-shirted security ambassadors who provide the city with supplemental law enforcement services, WEHOville reported.
“What we know now is our residents want foot patrols,” Shyne said in support of the cuts. “We need to be fiscally responsible And we have all talked for two years. Reimagining policing means reallocating funding. You can’t just say it without actually doing it. Period.”
In an exclusive interview with Los Angeles, Sheriff Villanueva blasted the vote as “tone deaf and irresponsible.”
“Private security does not enforce the law,” the sheriff said. “They’re not going to be making arrests. In fact, they’re going to be the ones calling law enforcement to do a job that they’re not going to do.”
“The community does not want their law enforcement reimagined,” Villanueva said. “They’re happy to increase and add more eyes and ears but not at the expense of taking away actual law enforcement. And then you’re doubling down by trying to increase the operating hours of your nightclubs and bars to 4 am with fewer cops that can actually enforce the law? Good luck.”
Concern over the rise in crime at times took a backseat to concern over the sheriff’s notoriety in defiance of everything from the county’s Covid-vaccine mandate to subpoenas from its civilian oversight panel. D’Amico, for one, faulted the scandal-plagued Villanueva for the rising cost of liability coverage to the 42 cities that contract law their enforcement services from L.A. County.
The sheriff could once count on the support of powerhouse groups in the gay community like the Stonewall Democrats. But the political enthusiasm for the sheriff has cooled in recent years, and the sheriff did not attend this year’s Pride march in WeHo.
Still, the timing of the vote to defund was enough to give residents and officials pause.
Donny Cacy, who owns the 7-Eleven at Santa Monica Boulevard and Curson Avenue, told the council his store recently got knocked off by a band of thieves who ran off with $9,000 worth of merchandise. He said a neighboring liquor store suffered a similarly costly robbery.
“One month there will be a huge rush on catalytic converters,” former WeHo city councilman and mayor Steve Martin, who opposes defunding the sheriff’s station, told Los Angeles. “Then there’s these random muggings. We’ve had dognappings, and in this city people are used to walking their dogs late at night. Crime seems to be coming from different angles and it makes people uneasy.”
So contentious was the push and pull on Monday night between opponents of Villanueva and proponents of increased public safety that two members of the public safety commission, Tod Hallman and Robert Oliver, publicly disavowed their earlier votes with the panel’s 5-2 majority to recommend diverting $3.6 million from law enforcement to the unarmed security ambassadors.
“When I voted with many of my fellow commissioners on what has been called our request to defund the sheriffs, that was not my intention,” said Hallman, a 30-year WeHo resident and veteran neighborhood watch captain.
Oliver, a candidate for WeHo city council, attributed his change of heart to discussion with members of the community. “Our problem is not too much law enforcement,” Oliver told the council. “Our problem is that we lack the additional resources for mental health and homelessness.”
Mayor Meister agreed, arguing, “I’m not going to vote for the budget if we cut the sheriff’s [funds]. First of all, nobody has the gun problem that we have in this country. You can’t expect us to have a public safety team where most of the people aren’t armed in order to defend our citizens.”
Meanwhile, Public Safety Commissioner Nika Soon-Shiong, the 29 year-old activist-minded daughter of Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, urged the council to make an example of the LASD on behalf of all “opaque, inefficient and unaccountable law enforcement agencies” in L.A. Soon-Shiong has argued that having a sheriff’s department doesn’t necessarily make things any safer.
“It is beyond misleading to say that we can both fund social services and increase the sheriff’s budget,” she said.
Asked if the vote to eliminate deputies will prompt difficult conversations between the sheriff and the city manager, Villanueva put the onus on the council members.
“They’re the ones that are going to have the difficult conversations—with their constituents, when they want to know why their case is not being solved quickly enough or why certain crimes continue to increase in frequency. Again, there’s consequences to defunding.”
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