Vowing to challenge the “established authority” and status quo of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Alex Villanueva made it clear he was going to shake things up as the newly elected 33rd sheriff of the country’s largest sheriff’s department.
“The rumors are true,” he told the enthusiastic crowd at the close of his first public address, which broadcast online. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”
Villanueva, after 30 years of service with the LASD, made history in winning last month’s election over Sheriff Jim McDonnell. On Monday morning, inside the East Los Angeles College Grand Auditorium, Villanueva was sworn in as sheriff after becoming the first person in 104 years to unseat an incumbent sheriff in Los Angeles County.
“We were the underdogs in this campaign,” he said after being sworn in. “We were discounted by the establishment… What we didn’t have in money or influence, we made up for with a few brave souls.”
In thanking scores of supporters, Villanueva thanked his biggest supporter, his wife, retired Deputy Vivian Villanueva, who, he said, “bore (the) brunt of retaliation levelled my way, with dignity and grace.”
“This is a rare moment in history,” he said, “where we not only have the opportunity, but the courage and responsibility to challenge an existing power.
“To ensure that no matter where you’re from, where you live or how you pray or the color of skin, your Sheriff’s Department will work to protect you and keep you safe.
Villanueva promised to manage the homeless crisis and quell “the fear of law enforcement in communities of color.”
At one point, in rock star fashion, Villaneuva pointed the microphone at the audience to finish the phrase he used during his campaign.
“We are about to reform, rebuild…” he said, allowing the audience to answer: “Restore.”
Villanueva, who began his education in Puerto Rico, enlisted in the United States Air Force, which brought him to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino in 1983.
In 1986, he joined the LASD where he met his wife, going on to become the proud father of Jared, a U.S. Army and Iraq War veteran, and grandfather to two girls, Chrissy and Sophia.
“We’re going to make changes to the culture of the department,” he said. “Where kids who grow up in Compton can serve Compton, and those who grow up in East L.A. can serve East L.A.
“On my watch, the LASD will build a culture of compassion and inclusion that protects public safety through public services.”
During his campaign, Villaneuva made it known that he stood up against what he considered the corrupt administration of longtime former Sheriff Lee Baca, and his second in command, Paul Tanaka.