Strong has committed to closing Men’s Central Jail and rooting out deputy gangs.
The campaign for Lieutenant Eric Strong for Sheriff hosted a fundraiser with Stevie Wonder this week. The event was held at the glamorous Santa Monica restaurant La Conde — which promotes gold-leaf plated Wagyu steaks, and mixology concoctions being served out of IV bags and genie bottles, on its Instagram. It was an event of stark contrasts, where Los Angeles’ elite were openly discussing the issues of deputy gangs in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in a restaurant that adheres to a relatively strict dress code forbidding “excessively baggy clothing.”
Music icon Stevie Wonder told Knock LA Strong reminded him of another politician who reached out to him. “When I met President Obama, he came to me to support him when he was running for senator of Illinois. I said to him as I similarly said to Eric Strong — ‘as much as I know you’re running to be senator, I see you as doing something far greater than that. I see you being president’ — because of the spirit I felt for him.”
Wonder has advocated for a litany of social causes, including ending apartheid in South Africa, working to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday, and fighting for equitable employment for people with disabilities. When pressed on his feelings about current Sheriff Villanueva, Wonder shied away from being explicitly critical. “I’m not here to criticize. We all know what we’re not. We have to get to where we come together.” He spoke in platitudes about how Los Angeles needs to come together. “It’s about fairness, equality, and making sure that people can feel safe — both in the hands of the system, and that police can have a better relationship with the people,” Wonder said.
Strong says he first started speaking to Wonder last June over the phone to tell him about his vision for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and earn his support. “This is the man that wrote some of the most prolific songs about world peace — he is a man of conscience and he wants to see things done right,” Strong said of Wonder.
After Strong made a speech to supporters in the crowd alluding to deputy gangs and misconduct in the sheriff’s department, Wonder responded in slightly more pointed metaphor:
“If you’re working with musicians and they play the wrong note — the consequence could be them being fired. Because you mess up the song. So I hope that you become sheriff — and you will — and that people in the system or [in the community], when they do the wrong thing, you’ll give them consequences. They’re accountable for what they do… and people [will know] that the system is working for the people, and the system is kept right.” Wonder then joked that he would be the first blind policeman, but that he wouldn’t carry a gun.
Bishop Henry Hearns, who was elected to Lancaster City Council in 1990 and then became the city’s first Black mayor in 1991, echoed this general message of social equity. “I’ve seen a lot of sheriffs come in and out of LA County,” Hearns told Knock LA. “And what I would like to see is an equitable system, so that whoever does something — they get the appropriate punishment for the crime. Not something based off of their gender or color or race or any of that. Eric is that guy.”
Strong previously stated, at Knock LA’s Antelope Valley Sheriff Forum, that he does not support LASD deputies being contracted by schools to work security. He said he would listen to the community if they did not want deputies in schools because, “the community knows better than the department does.”
Hearns also declined to say anything negative about Villanueva, saying that he’d rather focus on his support of Strong. Following Strong’s speech, which was heavily critical of Villanueva, he cryptically said, “When a man’s character is gone, he is gone. I’m happy to support a man of character.”
Many attendees became involved in the race because of headlines made by the current sheriff. Several said they had become more aware of issues within the LASD through Strong’s campaign. Strong believes new voters are being drawn to the race because of Villanueva’s refusal to acknowledge deputy gangs, his consistent insulting of women and the County Board of Supervisors, and a lack of transparency on the department budget. “This $3.6 billion budget that the LASD has all comes from people in this room, but nobody knows where that money goes.”
Scott Rowe, who formerly worked with Warner Brothers in marketing and communications, said that he hadn’t paid attention to the LA County sheriff before meeting Strong. “I never knew about [deputy gangs]. I don’t know that a lot of people knew about that.” He says that he dug into the issue more after meeting Strong. “He didn’t seek out Hollywood, we just met,” Rowe says of their meeting. LA County filing records show that he has given $1500 to Strong’s campaign.
Eden Alpert, daughter of jazz trumpeter Herb Alpert and partner at his Bel Air restaurant Vibrato Grill Jazz, told Knock LA that “[Strong is] so aware of the gang thing going on… I love police officers and I respect what they do. But stuff isn’t going right right now.” Alpert held an event for Strong on March 30. She says “no one knows who’s on the ballot” for the race, but that people need to hear that Strong is “coming from a place of compassion.”
Destiny Good was thanked by Strong for arranging the event. Good founded the PR Firm D. Good Publicity, and teamed up with 180 South Group to support the Strong campaign. Good tells Knock LA that the event was a no-host, in-kind contribution — meaning that a good or service was donated to a campaign in lieu of money — and a portion was paid for by the campaign.
Good says she initially wanted to pass on working on a political campaign with Strong, but was inspired by his “mission” of wanting to root out deputy gangs. Strong has touted that he investigated deputy gangs as part of the Internal Affairs Bureau, and that current departmental policies on deputy gangs have no teeth to be enforced. “Not voting is the same thing as doing nothing,” Good says. “You can march and protest all day long, but if you aren’t taking action to educate yourself and go out to vote and change, then we won’t see that change and we’ll keep repeating history over and over again.”
Good’s mother, Rhonda Moss, was also present at the event and expressed support for Strong. In particular, she feels that Strong has more practical and compassionate solutions regarding Los Angeles’ unhoused population. “Instead of receiving mental health [services], they’re being criminalized. And that’s something he’s trying to change,” Moss said.
Strong’s family attended the event as well. His wife, Lieutenant Sidra Sherrod-Strong, is currently suing the department for allegedly retaliating against her for whistleblowing on poorly maintained food services in jail facilities run by the department.
Strong said during his speech that “the solutions for the unhoused are not inside of a jail cell. It’s going to come from sustainable resources and sustainable services.” He implored the crowd to “not believe the fear mongering that tells you that if we give them services, then that means we’re going to let loose all of these predators and bad awful people.” He also called community policing — a reform touted by law enforcement that, in practice, means community surveillance — a “buzzword,” and called for outside investigators to make the department “uncomfortable,” so as to root out deputy gangs.
Strong has also consistently advocated for the closure of Men’s Central Jail. At the fundraiser, he told the crowd to not believe “that if we close a jail we’re going to lose 1,000 deputies. No we’re not.” Strong has also pledged not to increase department personnel in office. “We’re going to put [deputies] where they need to be — where they can service the public and fight crime and give us resources and attention for all of those things that are making us a little uncomfortable right now,” he told the audience. “I fear for my family. And you should right now. Things are in dire straits.”
Aaron Littman, Clinical Teaching Fellow at UCLA School of Law, agrees with Strong about closing Men’s Central Jail. “It is critically important to close jail facilities, because it is one of things that can be done to reduce the amount of people in jail, ” he says. “Marginally reducing the population in a jail actually doesn’t save that much money, because the cost of feeding and clothing somebody is not that high, but the cost of staffing a unit is very high.” Littman also says law enforcement agencies are in the business of “increasing the demand” for policing and incarceration.
Knock LA has reported that LASD has misled contract cities like West Hollywood on crime rates, in an attempt to wage a PR battle against an overbilling scandal. Petty crimes like phone theft have been reported by the Sheriff’s department as grand theft, for example. Even more conservative news outlets acknowledge the homicide rate dropped in the first few months of 2022. Total homicides have risen marginally over last year’s totals, and the LA Times reported that many crime increases are “nowhere near historic heights.” Nevertheless, law enforcement agencies are historically known to tweak crime statistics to fit narratives. Yet, Sheriff Villanueva reported that the clearance rate on homicides, referring to the percentage that LASD solves, had reached a low of 31%.
“Anybody can say they’re going to do X, Y, and Z just to win a campaign,” says Good. Sheriff Villanueva was elected on a wave of Democratic support in 2018, only to be formally asked by the LA County Democratic Party to resign in 2021. “But what sets Eric apart is that he truly has that compassion,” Good added. Strong preaches accountability, transparency, and a wholesale cultural shift in the department with progressive language. Only time will tell whether he’s serious about making practical changes if elected — or if it is all just buzzwords like “community policing.”