There was a full house for LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s “Community Conversation” at Duke’s Malibu Restaurant on Thursday, Sept. 2—an event organized to discuss public safety concerns in Malibu. The crowd largely appeared to be Villanueva supporters from Malibu as well as other cities served by the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Villanueva comes up for re-election in 2022 and several candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring to attempt to oust the first-term sheriff; this public forum served as a platform to get him in front of voters in what looks to be a very contentious race. Villanueva has been holding similar events throughout LA County in areas served by the LASD, taking the program to Crescenta Valley, Diamond Bar, East LA and Calabasas so far this year.

Villanueva identified the LASD’s three main “challenges and existential threats” as homelessness, violent crime, and marijuana growers and dispensaries. Of the three, he identified homelessness as Malibu’s biggest law enforcement challenge and public safety issue.

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Sheriff Alex Villanueva

“Five homeless individuals per day in LA die unnecessary deaths from lack of medication and self-inflicted drug use,” the sheriff said, decrying the lack of beds for mental health patients. “They’re in jail by default.”

“We need hospital facilities with different levels of mental health care, and we had them until Reagan closed them all down in the ‘80s. The government promised that alternative facilities would be built, but they never were,” he stated.

Villanueva predicted the homeless problem would worsen when eviction moratoriums are allowed to expire (Sept. 30 in LA County).

“Some people believe we need to house all the homeless,” he continued. “Let’s stop this nonsense about affordable housing. We can’t build our way out of this problem.” In his opinion, LA needs more facilities for treating mental health instead, and pointed out that two large medical facilities in LA are currently sitting empty due to a “lack of political will on the part of the governor and the LA County Board of Supervisors.”

Villanueva claimed billions of government dollars were being funneled into various nonprofit organizations to get the unhoused into housing, but that these groups are basically ineffective with “high-paid directors” that overcharge for their services.

Villanueva touted two of his special units with the skills to respond professionally to mentally and/or physically impaired individuals, an apparent counter to the “defund the police” movement the sheriff has railed against.

In June 2020, Villanueva denounced the LA County Board of Supervisors for cutting the LASD budget by $145.4 million, claiming they had embraced the racial justice-fueled “defund the police” movement—though at the time, all county departments were cut due to reduced tax revenues from the pandemic.

“Defund the police” is a slogan that means transferring money from armed first responders to specially trained social and psychology workers to de-escalate situations involving impaired persons. Advocates for “defunding” point to instances where armed responders have killed people they were sent to help; according to ABC 7, LASD deputies have killed a deaf/autistic person, someone suffering from schizophrenia and a man having a mental health crisis so far in 2021.

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LASD Lieutenant Deedrick (left) of the sheriff’s department homeless outreach team, with a sign language interpreter (right)

Villanueva introduced Lt. Jeff Dietrich, who supervises the LASD’s homeless outreach team, which was assigned Malibu as part of its mission since January—focusing on making homeless camping in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones  “no go” areas. Dietrich remarked that the Malibu homeless he deals with tend to be chronically homeless, averaging 11.5 years, and “difficult to engage and connect with.”

The second group of professionals dealing with impaired individuals consists of Mental Evaluation Teams. LASD has 33 teams of two, each consisting of a specially trained deputy and a mental health clinician, that respond to “crisis incidents”—with the majority of impaired individuals they encounter placed on 5150 holds (detention of mentally disordered persons for evaluation and treatment).

Detective Lopez from the Lost Hills Station gave an update on the “Dan Blocker incident”—the Aug. 29 assault where a transient man attacked a man fishing with his family at Dan Blocker Beach with a machete, severely injuring him. She said the victim had “major damage to his left shoulder and left thumb,” from the machete, but had luckily picked up a stick to defend himself and was “able to block multiple strikes and finally get a hold of the hand grip on the machete.” A second transient got the machete away from the victim and hid it in the bushes. LASD arrived, the victim was taken to UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital and charges were filed.

Villanueva commented that the same transient, Richard Franck, had pulled a knife on a deputy last April and charges were filed, but reduced to a misdemeanor by LA County District Attorney George Gascon—another local leader with whom Villanueva has publicly clashed.

“Someone willing to pull a knife on an on-duty police officer and the DA doesn’t want to do his job,” he said. He stated that 5,932 cases had been rejected by the DA’s office this year because “they didn’t conform to his new set of directives.”

A video of the one-hour Malibu event can be viewed on the Lost Hills Sheriff Station Facebook page.

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