Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has come in for some harsh criticism by this writer for his bungling of what should have been an easy call to keep gun stores open during the COVID-19 pandemic—at a time when law enforcement is stretched thin, there’s a heightened fear of civil unrest, and the sheriff is freeing criminals from the jails and reducing arrests.
Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to remove Villanueva as the head of the County Emergency Operations Center – during an international emergency.
Villanueva chalked up his firing at this time to his handling of the gun stores debacle. And why wouldn’t he think that? Even he knows it’s been an abject disaster.
But Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said it really wasn’t about the sheriff, “I respectfully say to the sheriff, this is not about him. This is about the safety of the residents of L.A. County.”
An after-action report following the huge Woolsey Fire, before Villanueva took office, recommended that the sheriff’s office be removed as the head of the EOC because other counties use their executive, civilian staff to oversee their emergency centers. Communications were also identified as a big fail by the LA Sheriff’s Office and other responders during the fire that hit LA County near Malibu, Calabasas, and into Ventura County in 2018.
But do you really remove the head of the Emergency Ops Center during an existential crisis? You do if you’re LA and this guy’s in charge. It was definitely a vote of no confidence.
Villanueva said the move will leave a bean-counter in charge instead of a law enforcement officer.
“This will impact public safety and public health. They’re going to reassign the job to a financial analyst, and not a first responder with experience managing natural disasters and man-made. We’re in the middle of a global public health crisis.”
Villanueva has been conspicuously absent from the county’s coronavirus news conferences, choosing to hold his own, where he consistently has berated the supervisors. But he was allowed to come Tuesday, a short time after the supervisors had removed him as the head of the EOC.
He played it classy, saying he would leave his personnel in place until the county installed its new people.
But make no mistake, his job performance made it easy for them to clear him out of this job.
Now it’s up to the voters to find a person who knows something about the law to be sheriff.