Sheriff Alex Villanueva Wednesday criticized a report concluding that gang-like cliques continue to exist among deputies, insisting that his administration has cracked down on such groups and that researchers never conferred with him on the issue.
He also insisted the report by the Santa Monica-based think tank RAND Corporation made bold statements about the continued existence of deputy gangs based on limited numbers of survey responses, while also failing to distinguish between actions taken under his administration compared to past sheriffs.
“I read through the entire report and I did not find a single reference comparing current department leadership and past department leadership. Not one,” he said.
Villanueva said the RAND report essentially made 37 recommendations for addressing the issue of deputy cliques, and 30 of them are already in place.
“The sad thing, though, is the RAND report, the authors never came back to myself, my executive staff and said, `Hey, these are our findings, what are you doing regarding these findings.’ Because they could have reported this in their report. All of the things that are going on that confirm what their … recommendations are,” the sheriff said.
He conceded that the department has been dealing with the issue of deputy subgroups for many years, “and every single one of my predecessors has kicked the can down the road saying they either didn’t exist or did nothing about it.”
For the report, RAND surveyed 1,608 deputies and supervisors, who anonymously answered a questionnaire, and 16% said they had been asked to join such a “secretive subgroup,” one-fourth of them within the past five years.
RAND researchers concluded that department leadership can best discourage involvement in deputy subgroups by clarifying policy language to prohibit such groups, and by delivering strong and consistent messages to its staff opposing membership in the groups and related banned conduct.
Villanueva insisted that a strong deputy clique policy is in place and is being enforced.
“Now, with all the negative press associated with the deputy subgroups, with the efforts that I’ve done, my administration has done — putting in the policy, enforcing the policy, creating a video that every single member of the department had to see, they had to sign an attestation form, … none of this was mentioned in the RAND study,” he said. “Why? Because they were not interested in the truth, that’s the sad reality.”
The sheriff also questioned the small numbers of deputies in the survey who claimed to have been asked to join such a group, and the even smaller percentage in the past five years. He said there was also no clarification in the report of how many of those occurred during his administration.
He also claimed the report conflicted itself, saying at one point deputy gangs are actively adding members, while later saying they were not.
According to the RAND study, while department leaders have taken initial steps to address problematic subgroups, there needs to be clear guidance for command staff — particularly captains — about expectations and appropriate responses for dealing with the secretive subgroups.
Previously, captains have developed their own approaches to addressing issues with groups, creating a lack of consistency and differing expectations across the department, the report says.
While the consensus among department staff who were interviewed for the report is that the subgroups exist, the extent of their membership remains unknown.
For the past 30 years, the LASD has been subject to allegations about secret subgroups or gangs of deputies within its ranks, with their members allegedly mistreating both community members and department co-workers. Various investigations and lawsuits have targeted the claims, prompting the department to establish a recent policy that prohibits behavior that violates the rights of others.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors commissioned RAND to conduct an independent research project to learn more about how the subgroups are formed, why they exist, what actions might be taken if it is determined that they have a significant impact on the LASD’s mission, and whether they have affected community perceptions and trust in the department.