By Joshua Bay
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva joined newly appointed San Dimas Station Captain Walid Ashrafnia and city officials at a virtual town hall on Tuesday, Feb. 2 to discuss public safety concerns with residents.
Villanueva and Ashrafnia addressed county-wide law enforcement budget cuts, community relations efforts, diversity within the department and COVID-19.
“Our financial troubles are still with us,” Villanueva said. “We got defunded $45 million for the current fiscal year, but we hope to have the right funding to keep the community safe.”
Villanueva said there will be a minimum 10% reduction in net county funds through Measure J, which will impact unincorporated communities, jail operations and the entire detective division.
“We’ll be taking investigators out of the field, which means our cases closed are going to increase,” Villanueva said. “Bad guys are going to still be out there harming other people, and that’s going to be because of the budget cuts.”
He also brought up how the budget cuts will increase COVID-19 risks within county jail facilities.
“We’d have to close many jail facilities entirely, which means the remaining inmates will have to be condensed into a smaller space,” Villanueva said. “This will increase the likelihood of the COVID-19 pandemic exploding inside our jails.”
San Dimas City Manager Chris Constantin explained how he does not foresee any further law enforcement budget cuts from the city.
“There are no, at this point, reductions planned. In fact, the cost of services with a contract typically go up,” Constantin said.
Constantin explained how the potential increase in budget is linked to the installation of new equipment.
“You will notice around town that there are cameras going up around roadways that will proactively be reading license plates,” Constantin said. “This will help officers respond to stolen vehicles in a more efficient fashion.”
San Dimas resident Crystal Jones asked if there was anything in the works to improve community relations.
Villanueva responded by pointing out that he conducted 29 town halls around Los Angeles County in 2019.
“The pandemic really threw us off for a bit,” Villanueva said. “We adjusted and now we’re having these community conversations virtually.”
He also pointed out that this town hall includes a sign language interpreter.
“This is the first time we’ve used one,” Villanueva said. “In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve seen a sign language interpreter on a Webex meeting so this is pretty cool.”
Villanueva told residents there was a transparency tab on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department website.
“You will see all of our conversations with the Inspector General, all of our correspondence with the Oversight Commission and with the Board of Supervisors,” Villanueva said.
He also mentioned additional ways the Sheriff’s Department has reached out to the community.
“We initiated a newsletter that’s going out on the 15th and 30th of every month,” Villanueva said. “And we also have a Community Advisory Council composed of a bunch of different groups. We have an interfaith group, one that is dedicated to the homeless, one to veterans, one to the business community, one that is culturally based, and geographic ones for every patrol station.”
Ashrafnia added in how the San Dimas Station has its own Community Advisory Council too.
“We meet monthly, but due to COVID-19 that has been difficult,” Ashrafnia said. “What we’re planning on doing going forward is to get a Webex forum and have our community members join in there.”
Villanueva later explained his efforts to train future sheriffs by recruiting locally.
“As soon as I took office, we ended all out of state recruitment. We were doing that because of the previous administration. They messed up the entire recruitment process, and we had to reform internally,” Villanueva said. “Now if you look at the leadership team of the department, it’s a reflection of the rich diversity of LA County.”
He also commented on the Black Lives Matter movement for its negative impact on recruitment.
“Black Lives Matter, as well-intentioned as they may be, have done a disservice in terms of persuading young black kids from looking at law enforcement as a viable career. And that is an unfortunate fallout of this entire movement,” Villanueva said.
“We’re working really hard to meet virtually with our chapter presidents of the NAACP and our interfaith leaders in the community. We’re constantly challenging them to convince their sons and daughters to take a career in law enforcement.”
When asked about the possibility of law enforcement officers not wearing masks, Ashrafnia said he expects all deputies to wear a mask at all times.
“There’s no wiggle room,” Ashrafnia said. “If you ever see any deputy not having their mask on, please contact me.”