LA Sheriff's race: 8 candidates look to unseat Villanueva as LA County Sheriff

The top spot in Los Angeles County law enforcement is up for grabs this election season, with incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva facing eight opponents in his re-election campaign. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is the largest sheriff's department in the world, according to the department, with the sheriff overseeing about 18,000 employees.

Many of the candidates on the June 7 primary ballot have previous ties to LASD. Here's who's running:

Alex Villanueva

Villanueva is the incumbent in this race, assuming office in 2018 after winning nearly 53% of the vote over then-sheriff Jim McDonnell, according to Los Angeles Almanac. According to Politico, Villanueva was the first Democrat elected LA County Sheriff in nearly a century.

According to his campaign website, Villanueva is running on the tenants of stopping violent crime, reducing homelessness, expanding mental healthcare, and creating a coalition to fight corruption. Villanueva has come under fire throughout his tenure as sheriff, with calls for him to resign last year, as well as four lawsuits from top LASD officials alleging Villanueva covered up a use of force investigation

SUGGESTED: 4th top official accuses LA Sheriff Villanueva of coverup

Robert Luna

Robert Luna is the former chief of the Long Beach Police Department. Luna was named chief in 2014, and served in the role until retiring in December 2021. He is a 36-year veteran of the LBPD.

Luna says he's running for sheriff because "the current Sheriff has created dysfunction and chaos which has put our public safety at risk. We can do much better." Luna's running on five issues, according to his website — reducing violent crime and property crime; addressing homelessness; restoring public trust in the Sheriff's Office; reform and modernization of the department and jails; and improving deputy wellness.

He has been endorsed by organizations like the LA Times, as well as two California Congressmen, Tony Cárdenas (D-CA 29th District) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA 47th District). 

Cecil Rhambo

"The time is now for a person like me to lead the Sheriff's Department," says Cecil Rhambo. 

The 63-year-old Rhambo is currently the Chief of Airport Police at LAX.  Rhambo also served as City Manager for Compton and Assistant City Manager for Carson. In 2014, he retired from the LA County Sheriff’s Department after serving 33 years. 

Rhambo has been criticized for being involved in three shootings during a three-year span in the 1980’s. No-one was killed.

Rhambo says he’s not afraid of exposing corruption, pointing to the case of Lee Baca. Rhambo testified against the former sheriff who was sent to prison for obstructing an investigation into abuses in county jails. 

If elected, Rhambo is promising "real reform".

"Sheriff Alex Villanueva is the Donald Trump of LA County," Rhambo said in one of his campaign ads.

Matt Rodriguez

"I’m not into power, money, or greed. This is in the public service, not self-service and I'm all about keeping people safe," says Matt Rodriguez. 

The 56-year-old retired LASD Captain is the only Republican candidate running for LA County Sheriff.  He is a law enforcement veteran who served 25 years in the department, retiring in 2013.  

Rodriguez who graduated from UCLA and has two master’s degrees says if LA County voters elect him as Sheriff, he will get rid of deputy gangs, provide complete transparency, and change the culture of policing. Rodriguez says, "I want to take law enforcement from a gladiator mentality to a guardian mentality, one where we are peacekeepers of the community as opposed to just enforcers of the law."

April Saucedo Hood

April Saucedo Hood has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, according to her website. She's currently a state parole agent, but according to the LA Times, she also served as an officer with the Long Beach Unified School District. Saucedo calls herself an "outsider" candidate, running on a promise to restore "fractured" trust between the community and LASD.

"The current administration's response is to give excuse after excuse for these pressing problems," she says on Villanueva.

If elected to the role, one of Saucedo says some of her first moves will be to order an external review of Internal Affairs and review the department's disciplinary policies.

Britta Steinbrenner

"I really believe that it's now time to change the culture. And you can do that by putting a woman in office, a female in office," said Captain Britta Steinbrenner. 

Steinbrenner is a 35-year veteran of the LASD, retiring in March 2022 to focus on her campaign for Sheriff. Most recently, she served as the Captain of the Community Service's Board, which provides officers to hospitals, libraries and other county buildings.

"I am committed to reforming the Sheriff’s Department inside and out, through new leadership and surrounding myself with a team that wants to put an end to scandal and embarrassment," her website reads.

Steinbrenner is the only candidate who's listed environmental issues on their platform. Steinbrenner says she wants to implement solar power, hybrid/electric vehicles, water reclamation, and water conservation initiatives to help the department reduce its carbon footprint. 

In addition, Steinbrenner's platform includes plans to battle the homeless crisis, including a plan to create a "Mental Illness Report Tracking" database; eliminating deputy gangs, and more.

"Over my 35 years I've seen the good and the bad of this department, and never has it been in such disarray," she said.

Eric Strong

"You can expect me to be deliberate, bold and blatant about making change," says Eric Strong. 

Lt. Eric Strong has been with the Sheriff’s Department for over 21 years, serving in various capacities including lead investigator of internal affairs. He says the reason he wants to be the next LA County Sheriff is that the department desperately needs the help. He says, "It's divided on the inside, there's turmoil, there's no consistency." Strong says there is a need for accountability and oversight and unlike the current sheriff, he would love to work with the Inspector General. 

Strong says if elected, he will be firing anyone involved in deputy gangs. "When you're involved in a deputy gang, you do not deserve a badge and a gun," says Strong. He also promises to get rid of the, "us versus them" mentality. "I can tell you inside the sheriff's department for decades, the message on the inside from the leadership down has never been simply ‘Treat people how you want to be treated.’ It's never been simply, ‘Treat people with respect, dignity and compassion.’ It's been, 'Gonna take people to jail, and we'll figure it out,'" says Strong. 

As a black man who has faced adversity, Strong says he brings a unique understanding to this position. "That's an understanding, from personal experience, having been profiled by law enforcement, having been roughed-up by law enforcement, having family members that have suffered from addiction, been incarcerated and victims of violent crime, I am bringing a 360-degree perspective towards what’s needed," says Strong. 

Eli Vera

"What we need is a professional Sheriff, somebody that can very much keep Los Angeles safe, but can build the coalitions that are necessary," says Eli Vera. 

After 33 and a half years with the LA County Sheriff’s Department, working his way from patrol to Swat Commander to Division Chief,  Eli Vera retired a month ago. Now, he’s running for LA County Sheriff.

"I’m running for a multitude of reasons, but if I’m perfectly honest, I’m embarrassed by the fact that I supported the current sheriff. I thought that he was going to carry out some of the things that he talked about when he ran for office, and I’ve never seen Los Angeles as divided as it is today," says Vera. 

Working on public trust by eliminating deputy gangs and welcoming oversight, are two of Vera’s promises. 

During his career, Vera was involved in five shootings while on the job, including one where a 16-year-old boy was killed. 
Vera was cleared in all the shootings.

With the recent endorsement from The Professional Peace Officers Association, Vera says he feels confident voters will choose him for LA County Sheriff. 

Enrique Del Real

Enrique Del Real does not appear to have a visible campaign website outlining his platform, but is listed on the primary ballot. The county's public records show he filed his intention to run for LA County Sheriff back in November 2020.