Chief: Cecil Rhambo is locking up endorsements to challenge Sheriff Villanueva. Courtesy photo

Positioning himself as the polar opposite of controversial L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo has gained the backing of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The politics of the two career law enforcement officers sharply differ.

While Villanueva believes the Sheriff’s department needs more authority and independence to effectively tackle crime, Rhambo feels there is a need to embrace oversight from outside the department.

Rhambo has billed himself as a pro-reform and pro-transparency candidate. He vows to produce results on crime and homelessness using community policing methods and increased collaboration with public agencies and nonprofits.

“As Sheriff, I know Cecil will work with the Board of Supervisors, the Citizens Oversight Commission and the Inspector General to root out corruption, end deputy gangs and bring real and lasting reform to the department,” said Kuehl in her endorsement. “He is the absolute best choice for Sheriff.”

In 2018, when Villanueva used a coalition of democratic supporters to become the first challenger to unseat an incumbent in over a century, he too touted a platform of reform and transparency.

Villanueva did take early action to end a county jail contract with ICE, but his alliance with liberal politicians and their agenda did not prove to be enduring.

The Civilian Oversight Commission and the LA County Democratic Party called for Villanueva to resign in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Both groups criticized his department for a lack of accountability and failure to introduce meaningful reforms or take action on police brutality.

Villanueva has taken an adversarial attitude to several elected democrats, including the mayor, supervisors, and city councilmembers. In an Aug 4. town hall meeting, Villanueva referenced supervisors 46 times, accusing them of ignoring rises in violent crime, lacking transparency, being unresponsive, lacking oversight, and failing to create rapid housing options for unhoused individuals.

Rhambo, on the other hand, is actively courting and gaining the support of democratic officials. Kuehl’s endorsement comes on the heels of other notable endorsements including California State Controller Betty Yee and Los Angeles County Democratic Party Vice-Chair Sergio Carrillo.

“I am deeply encouraged by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s confidence in my ability to restore public trust in the Sheriff’s Department,” said Rhambo. “She recognizes my four decades of diverse public service as the foundation needed to bring about real reform, and positive, lasting change in the Sheriff’s Department that the people of L.A. County need and deserve.”

According to his campaign website, Rhambo’s approach to departmental change focuses on ending sheriff gangs, embracing oversight, and refusing to reinstate fired officers under any circumstances.

Rhambo is half-Black half-Korean and grew up in Compton, where he served stints as the Captain of Compton’s Sheriff patrol contract and the City Manager. He has worked in law enforcement for 33 years across several roles, including assisting in creating the Shooting and Force Response Team and later leading the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Bureau.

Although the 2022 election is still 15 months away, the race for Sheriff is already a crowded one. Villanueva has voiced his intent to run for reelection, while Sheriff’s Chief Eli Vera, Sheriff’s Lt. Eric Strong, Enrique Del Real, and April Saucedo Hood have also thrown their names into the ring.