LOS ANGELES — Back in 2018, Alex Villanueva did something that had not happened in more than a century. He ousted the incumbent Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
History repeated itself in November when residents voted to replace Villanueva with former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.
It’s now been a little over a month since Villanueva left his post as sheriff.
Controversy marked his term, frequent clashes with the LA County Board of Supervisors, journalists and those who had been investigating allegations of deputy gangs.
Today, you can find Alex Villanueva in a different position, the owner of a fitness studio.
“Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen worked out with Villanueva at his gym, called Fitness Resolute in Whitter. They spoke about the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
“The department that I left behind in 2022 was not the department of 2018,” Villanueva said.
He helped improve every single facet of the organization when he entered office in 2018, according to him. He said that ranged from the care inmates got to prevent them from catching COVID-19 to the violence going on within the jails.
Villanueva added that the steps he implemented led to deputies regaining control over jails.
“The inmates feel safer in the jail than before. Before they were afraid of their own shadow,” he said.
The former sheriff noted that another part of his transformation of the department was shifting old ways of thinking, specifically that the more arrests the better.
“We were building relationships, not arresting people as a priority,” Villanueva said.
Building relationships with the community was important to the former sheriff, but he said this was something the “political establishment,” wasn’t impressed with.
“Every action that they did was to delegitimize my effort and discredit everything we were doing in the organization,” he said.
The democratic party that supported him in 2018, but supported his challenger in last year’s election.
When asked why he thought that was, Villanueva said, “I haven’t changed a bit. I’m exactly where I was in 2018.”
The former sheriff added that it’s the party that has changed.
“The party here, locally, has gone so far to the left that it doesn’t recognize moderates within their own ranks,” he said.
Villanueva explained how there’s a “concerted effort” to push them all.
In his chat with Cohen, the former sheriff reminisced about his homelessness cleanups. He said that type of enforcement works, but only under a watchful eye because homeless residents return to their spots. But, cleanups like the one we saw in Venice have become controversial.
Looking toward the future, Villanueva added, “Karen Bass’ prescription for homelessness is destined to fail in a spectacular fashion but developers will make a lot of money.”
Villanueva said Bass’ focus is on “building, building, building,” which he claims benefits developers and no one else.
He noted that there’s been no talk about preventative measures and how placing someone into permanent housing only creates new space on the street for someone new to take over.
“If we are not investing in mental health, substance abuse and shelter capacity, period… we’re wasting everybody’s time,” he said.
As for what the future holds for Villanueva, he said, “I’m young enough and interested enough to see that California becomes what it used to be and not the nightmare it is today."
He added that he has yet to decide what role he and his wife will play in making this happen.
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