By Jake Wylie
LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles Sheriff’s Lieutenant Eric Strong this week became the first candidate in the race for the sheriff’s office and to announce his policy platform—Strong’s platform unabashedly seeks to put communities’ needs first.
If elected as sheriff, Strong said he would oppose the construction of a new men’s central jail; in addition to being Los Angeles County’s first African American sheriff, Strong would be the first sheriff to take this stance.
“My platform is based on what I know is broken, and what our community is demanding their leaders take action to fix,” Strong wrote on his campaign’s website.
Mental health is a major concern for Strong, who stated that about one-third of people in prison struggle with behavioral and mental health challenges.
“By treating rather than incarcerating this population, we can better address the behavioral health crisis on our streets, its connection to homelessness and recidivism, and we can avoid building a costly and unnecessary new jail,” wrote Strong.
Strong’s one-third claim is backed by organizations like the Prison Policy Initiative, which reports a slightly higher 37 percent of prisoners diagnosed with a mental illness.
The platform also calls for a crime-reduction approach “rooted in community care that enables cooperation and coordination. Respect is earned, it is not demanded,” wrote Strong. “We must prove that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deserves the community’s trust by earning it, not demanding it.”
According to Strong’s platform, “earning it” includes resolving neighborhood-specific problems by partnering with communities, employing gang-intervention workers, and creating localized community advisory boards to foster better communication between station deputies and the communities they serve.
Strong also plans to regularly attend sessions of the Citizens Advisory Committee to hear from families and survivors of police violence, and to ensure that undocumented survivors are never reported to ICE when they make a report.
“It’s time to reform a dated institution that has fallen far behind,” said Strong. “Sheriff (Alex) Villanueva (the incumbent sheriff) has shown that he is not up to the task.”
Villanueva came under fire in September when a sheriff’s unit, the Civil Rights and Public Integrity Detail, was accused of targeting Villanueva’s political enemies.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, multiple sources within the sheriff’s department referred to the unit as Villanueva’s “secret police.”
In another scandal, a report from earlier this year by the RAND Corporation uncovered at least four gang-like groups actively operating and recruiting within the sheriff’s department.
The report revealed that approximately one-in-six deputies have been invited to join one of various “cliques” characterized by tattoos, hand symbols, and violence.
“Sheriff Villanueva has seemingly clarified that this policy is intended to prohibit subgroups completely,” states RAND’s report, though “statements made to the Civilian Oversight Commission have appeared to contradict a firm message of prohibition.”
In a 2020 resolution, the Civilian Oversight Commission expressed “no confidence” in Villanueva’s leadership.
Strong hopes that in the wake of the scandals under Villanueva’s tenure as Sheriff, he will see that law enforcement (re)gains the respect of Los Angeles and its communities.
Across his almost 30 years in law enforcement, Strong’s experience is wide-ranging. In addition to having commanded units in almost every area of the city’s Sheriff’s Department, Strong is the only candidate who has led successful investigations into deputy gangs.
“By listening to the community we can put their needs first,” said Strong, adding, “I will strive to lead by example, and I will work with community and elected leaders to identify solutions to our shared problems.”
The primary election for Los Angeles County Sheriff will be held on July 7, 2022.