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Rhambo Emerges as Key Challenger in Contentious L.A. County Sheriff’s Race

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Tina Samepay

As demands for accountability and reform inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department grow louder and controversies continue to engulf its current leader, Alex Villanueva, the 2022 L.A. County Sheriff’s election will be one of the most important races on L.A’s political landscape this June and LAX Chief of Police Cecil Rhambo is emerging as one of its strongest contenders.

“Cecil Rhambo has what it takes,” veteran civil rights attorney Connie Rice told Los Angeles Magazine. “He is the only candidate for sheriff with the integrity, courage, and skill required to dig out the rot and lawlessness running amok in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.”

“He’s the reform sheriff that L.A. County and law enforcement needs,” says State Senator Steven Bradford.

Rice and Bradford are among a growing list of Rhambo endorsements that include the California Legislative Black Caucus, Assemblymember Autumn Burke, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, State Senator Sydney Kamlager, California State Controller Betty Yee, Compton Mayor Emma Sharif and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr.

His credentials are impressive. 

Rhambo spent more than 33 years with LAPD, followed by a three-year stint at Carson Assistant City Manager from 2014 to 2017 and two years as Compton City Manager before taking on his current position as Chief of Police for the Los Angeles International Airport, the largest police agency in the nation dedicated exclusively to 24-hour airport activities and the fourth largest law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County, with more than 1,100 law enforcement, security and staff.

As current Sheriff Alex Villanueva continues to clash with various departments across the County–including the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, The County Board of Supervisors, as well as civilian oversight committees, Rhambo proposes policing measures that are more collaborative. 

  “His combative and divisive approach to our region’s homelessness crisis has exacerbated the issue and led to further government dysfunction. Further, Villanueva’s refusal to collaborate with the LA County Board of Supervisors, as well as cities across the county, has led to a deeply toxic environment instead of what the people of LA County need,” stated Rambo, while also citing the rise in violent crimes that have come under Villanueva’s watch. 

If he were to win, the half African-American and Korean law enforcement vet would be the first African-American Sheriff in L.A County’s history. 

For whoever wins, the battle will be hard-fought, if not downright fierce. Villanueva’s —who has been called out for intimidating and harassing those who oppose him politically —demoted 30-year sheriff’s department vet Eli Vera from Chief to commander when he entered the race to unseat his boss; and sheriff’s department is currently being investigated by the Civilian Oversight Commission for the “harassment of families following a fatal use of force. 

Just recently Villanueva’s campaign suggested that Rhambo might have been a member of a deputy gang while employed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department citing tattoos that turned out to be his daughter’s name in Chinese characters and a dragon, neither of which was tied to a deputy gang. 

Deputy gangs inside the LASD have been a point of concern for many years. Ironically, Rhambo had openly charged Villanueva with failing to acknowledge the problem or enact any policy or cultural changes in the sheriff’s department to break up the gangs.

“That’s why I support officer decertification for officers who are convicted of criminal and terminable misconduct, including being a part of a deputy gang,” stated in a campaign video.

Although Villanueva was elected as L.A’s first Democratic Sheriff in over 140 years, his tenure has not only been shrouded in controversy over his handling of the department but his political leanings which have shifted sharply right—even coming under fire from the people who elected him. So much so that in June, the L.A. County Democratic Party called on Villanueva to resign. 

Rhambo has referred to him as the “Donald Trump of L.A. County.”

L.A County Inspector General Max Huntsman referred to Villanueva as fostering a “bunker mentality” among the department, writing in a 2019 report that Villanueva continues to “delay or stall” department policies.

In a recent op-ed, Rhambo shared that his biological father passed away from COVID and that he takes Villanueva’s arrogance and defiance towards vaccine mandates personal. Villanueva has publicly declined to participate in L.A County’s COVID testing protocols citing concerns of the County’s testing providers’ alleged connections to China.

Rhambo’s platform builds directly from the key major issues currently facing Villanueva—gangs, homelessness, the closure of the Men’s Central Jail–along with making sure the needs of youth are met to end the school-to prison pipeline and expanding mental health services to help police in their interactions with those living on the streets of L.A. 

“As sheriff, I’ll bring a new vision to the department,” Rhambo stated. “I also believe there is an important role for oversight from outside of the department. That’s why I will work collaboratively with the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission, Inspector General, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, as well as community groups across the county, to make sure reforms are being implemented, transparency is enhanced, the corruption stops, and that the LASD is put on a path where we can provide the trust and integrity that the department and the people of L.A. County deserve.”

Others in the running to unseat Villanueva include LASD lieutenant Eric Strong, former Sheriff’s Department Capt. Matt Rodriguez, LASD Captain Britta Steinbrenner and Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.


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