On the subject of “deputy gangs”

Sheriff Villanueva’s continual resistance to answer questions regarding allegations of “deputy gangs” inside the LASD is putting deputies at higher risk of attack. Those with hatred of police will use Villanueva’s silence, as evidence; deputies are the enemy.

On the eve of Mother’s Day weekend 1995, a sheriff’s deputy named Steven Blair was patrolling the streets of Lynwood when he stopped to investigate the activity of two suspicious men. As soon as the young deputy stepped out of his patrol car, one of the men opened fire, killing Deputy Blair.  The killer was arrested and charged with the murder of a peace officer but at trial he justified the killing as an act of self defense. Self defense? How was a claim of self defense justified when Deputy Blair was shot simply exiting his patrol car? The defendant based his claim of self defense on a belief that Steven Blair was a deputy “gang member”. 

In 1995 the issue of the Lynwood Vikings, an alleged group of tattooed rogue deputies, was a controversial thorn in the department’s side. Sheriff Sherman Block once defended the group as harmless much the way he did other similar groups around the department.  But later he was forced to speak out against the Vikings in the face of public pressure and allegations that the Lynwood Vikings were a group of “deputy gang members” identified by matching “station tattoos”.

After Sheriff Block was succeeded by Sheriff Leroy Baca, Baca made an attempt to ban all “department-related” tattoos with the idea that banning them would solve the department’s negative image.  He was wrong. The First Amendment allows the freedom of expression (including tattoos) and Sheriff Baca’s easy “fix” to the problem went down in flames.

Fast forward to Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Not only has he done nothing about the public perception and the possibility of police gangs among the ranks, he is destroying public confidence by refusing to talk about the subject in public. Why?

In this day of unprecedented efforts to undermine police, why does the leader of the world’s largest sheriff’s department adopt silence as his policy? What will Sheriff Villanueva have to say after ignoring the communities’ concern, results in the murder of another deputy? He will likely blame everyone else, as always.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, an organization dedicated to the subject, thus far in 2021 the country has grieved the loss of 146 law officers (not counting COVID deaths).  But having already surpassed 2020’s number of 131 duty-related deaths, the only remaining question is, how many more will be lost during the month of Christmas.

The irony is stunning that Villanueva’s department rabidly seeks ways to prevent duty-related deaths from the standpoint of training, tactics and physical fitness, while the issue of negative public perception has never been considered as a causal factor leading to the murder of police officers. However, the ambush shooting of two deputies in compton by a man with a hatred for police should have acted as Villanueva’s wake up to reality.  In fairness, these sort of unprovoked attacks on law enforcement are on the rise all over the country.  But Villanueva and the profession in general continue to close their eyes to the obvious:

“Sheriff’s deputy in California killed in ambush”

“One deputy killed, two wounded in ambush”

“Officer punched in face in unprovoked attack”

“Attacks on police are a cause for alarm”

In 2016, five Dallas officers were slain by a gunman.

…and the list goes on.  But closing your eyes to something is far different than intentionally making matters worse. So long as Sheriff Villanueva refuses to be transparent on the subject of gangs operating among the rank in file, he will continue to motivate attacks on his deputies.

The argument here is not to imply that deputy gangs exist or to imply they don’t exist. The issue is, the sheriff swore to be transparent and work under civilian oversight but on the subject of alleged systemic criminal behavior under his command, his silence raises nothing but suspicion and stokes the flames of hatred toward his deputies.

But what is a gang anyway? The department’s own definition of a gang is, three or more people acting under a similar philosophy with a formal or informal command structure, who identify themselves by symbol or tattoo and engage in a pattern of criminal activity. Looks like all the boxes are checked except for one.

Thanks to Sheriff Villanueva, the public debate rages over whether or not deputies are engaging in a pattern of criminal activity and his silence is only raising the temperature more. Villanueva has utterly failed his oath of office and chose political defiance in favor of officer safety.

As Sheriff Villanueva continues to disobey subpoenas on the grounds that he is “too busy” to appear, he is putting his deputies at greater risk of retribution from a segment of the population that seeks any reason to kill a cop.

Too busy to answer subpoenas