New Sheriff in Town

Lt. Jennifer Seetoo (left) with California Senator Henry Stern

The law enforcement official who was the face of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been transferred to a desk job in Calabasas, leaving city officials and many Malibu residents shocked and unhappy. 

Lt. Jennifer Seetoo was removed from her post as liaison to Malibu, which has an $8.5 million contract with the sheriff’s office this year to provide law enforcement services, as the municipal police force. 

City Hall officials said they were shocked and blindsided by the move, made by LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s command staff. But Seetoo’s boss in Los Angeles asked for patience, and said the move would bolster her career within the department. 

“Malibu can expect to find they have a great leader in their new Captain Matt Vander Horck,” Cmdr. Blaine Bolin told KBUU Radio in an interview last week.

“I believe once he gets out into the community ... which I know he is already starting to do ... the community and he can address their concerns ...  speak to issues at hand ... gets to know the community,” Bolin said. 

Malibu residents who had invested time and energy in working with Seetoo were furious. They questioned what would happen to several initiatives that they and Seetoo had invested time and energy on.

Malibu Mayor Karen Farrer said she was “shocked and extremely disappointed in that decision.”

Andy Cohen, a member of the city’s Public Safety Commission, had spent dozens of hours with Seetoo visiting trouble spots, organizing “Coffee With A Cop” sessions and making plans to address homeless campers.

“I’m devastated that she is no longer there for reasons that no one seems to know,” he said.

Cohen said Seetoo “has the complete support of the city manager, all the city council people, all the business owners and all the people of Malibu that she has helped so much.”

Sources at the county and City Hall told KBUU that the lieutenant may been a victim of her own success. One example: Seetoo bypassed the sheriff’s headquarters last spring, went to county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, and got an extra half-million dollars for extra summer traffic enforcement on PCH.

The result was a record number of tickets and zero fatalities for the first summer in years. But at sheriff’s headquarters, that significant success was viewed by some officials as “showboating,” in the opinion of an insider at Malibu City Hall, who spoke with KBUU on background.

And worse, it was a case of playing ball with Kuehl, a public enemy of the sheriff on several issues.

Seetoo also embraced bringing Volunteers on Patrol and private security guards into the mix in Malibu. That did not sit well with traditional sheriff’s department practices—almost a professional affront to the office.

Seetoo was apparently viewed as overly ambitious—applying for the job of captain of the Malibu/Lost Hills Station when the sheriff had several other candidates in mind—according to sources here in Malibu. 

At the sheriff’s headquarters, however, her boss said Seetoo is held in high esteem, and is still being groomed for advancement.

“Lt. Seetoo is also another individual that is highly thought of within the sheriff’s department,” Bolin told KBUU. “She has many years ahead of her ... a very bright future ... I am confidant of that.

“And, right now, she is getting her requisite line experience as a watch commander under her belt. And we are very confident that seasoning she is getting ... and that experience she is getting at the line level ... will serve her well as a firm foundation as her career moves forwards as well,” Bolin added.

Bolin said the newly elected county sheriff, Villanueva, did not demote Seetoo. Villanueva is enmeshed in numerous battles with county supervisors, over what they see as his abandoning of reform measures.

Malibu City Hall, and many Malibu residents, see this as a demotion, and see this as the replacement of a strong woman achiever by yet another white male from within the system.

They see a woman who had achieved substantial accomplishments in just 11-and-a-half months suddenly yanked out and demoted to a desk job.

Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman said she has spent several days trying to get answers about what many view as a demotion of the one law enforcement official who was a near-daily presence at City Hall. 

Feldman told KBUU that she and Seetoo spoke daily, often several times every day, and that Seetoo has the support of the full support of city hall—and the entire city council.

At the public safety commission, Cohen said, “I’m broken hearted and devastated, because she did so many other things.

“She brought the community together with coffee with a cop events, she brought the dolphin stickers back, she had so many thoughts and ideas ...things with the schools. She is just a sensitive and wonderful person while still being a hard-assed cop,” Cohen told KBUU.

This would be the fourth Malibu police liaison to be introduced in two years.

Bolin said Vander Horck would eventually get to be known by Malibu: “I think once that begins to occur, the community is going to love him.

“He’s a hard worker. He has a great reputation within the sheriff’s department.

“And I know that the communities that selected him as the new captain did so because they are confidant he is the right person to lead Lost Hills Station going forward,” Bolin said. 

A previous version of this story aired on KBUU News.

Editor’s note: Public Safety Commissioner Andy Cohen, who spoke to KBUU News for this report, died before this story went to print in The Malibu Times. In acknowledgement of Cohen’s expertise and hard work in this area, his quotes have been included.

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