Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell tonight became the first sheriff's department outsider in more than a century elected to lead the county institution. Commanding nearly 76 percent of the vote so far, McDonnell's victory was declared a done deal by various local news outlets.
The well-liked cop who once vied for the Los Angeles Police Department's top job only to end up working for victor William J. Bratton will take the reins of the L.A. Sheriff's Department Dec. 1.
As expected, he trounced foe Paul Tanaka, the onetime second-in-command of the sheriff's department whose tenure paralleled some of its darkest days, including a federal investigation, a slough of inmate beatings, and allegations of gang-like deputy cliques, one of which Tanaka has had to deny belonging to.
Tanaka has admitted he's the subject of a federal investigation, and his campaigning has been almost nonexistent save for a last-minute television commercial.
The man who also serves as the mayor of Gardena has been criticized for his alleged failure to get the county's jails under control despite a decade's worth of allegations that some inmates have been needlessly beaten.
A jail probe culminated in 18 indictments for the department last year, and there are a grand total of 21 sheriff's employees facing charges.
McDonnell's role will to be to get the department past this episode and earn the trust of the public again. Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, which was a chief critic of the sheriff's department under former top cop Lee Baca, said:
Today Los Angeles County residents made history. They elected an outsider to lead the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Their vote is nothing short of a mandate for reforming the department. We look forward to working with Sheriff McDonnell to bring about the much needed changes that voters deserve and that justice requires.
McDonnell's work won't be limited to reform, however. The day-to-day operations of the LASD are as complex as those of some small armies.
And that's what McDonnell has inherited—the self-proclaimed “largest sheriff's department in the world,” which has more than 17,000 employees and depends on a budget of nearly $3 billion. His deputies police more than 130 distinct communities that span the 4,084 square miles of county turf.
The man with the Boston accent has presided over a Long Beach department that has not been without criticism and controversy, particularly when it comes to officer-involved shootings, including this one.
But McDonnell is seen as a new-school cop in the mold of Bratton, a champion of the statistics-driven policing program known as Compstat, and a stickler for officer professionalism.
He almost whipped Tanaka outright in their primary election, earning 49 percent of the vote, just short of the 50 percent plus one that he would have needed to avoid this day.
So you could say he has a mandate to clean house.
UPDATE at 9:08 p.m. on Nov. 4: McDonnell all but declared victory in a speech before supporters at the J.W. Marriott at LA Live downtown.
“A long campaign journey is now finally and thankfully over,” he said shortly after 9 p.m.
McDonnell said he hoped to “help move the LASD beyond the past challenges.”