Villanueva could do what decades of police reformers could not: Place limits on L.A. County sheriff’s deputies and order them out of patrol cars to work in support of police work. (Sheriff Lee Baca, a Republican, could not be reached for comment. L.A. County supervisors on Tuesday did not immediately return a call for comment.) And if, as Sheriff Baca’s critics say, he really does view the force as a cash cow for county coffers, he could use his power to strip deputies of their office allowances. But he has yet to do this, and, so far, has only been criticized for his deputies’ use of force.
Sheriff Baca has also been the target of a broad and sometimes vicious attack from conservatives in the U.S. Congress in recent weeks that has come to resemble attacks from outside the Beltway. Those groups have included the National Rifle Association, led by longtime gun control advocate and former Republican House member Howard “Buck” McKeon. On March 20, three days after the killings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, McKeon led a press conference condemning the “senseless murders” and “the white supremacist ideology that inspired them.” The conservative group Concerned Veterans of America is also on board with the effort to take down Sheriff Baca, citing “overwhelming evidence” that his deputies have engaged in excessive use of force, and that Baca is “not an unalloyed good cop” but a “cowboy cop” who is using power to help his political career. And, in case that wasn’t enough to drive Baca into the arms of the gun lobby, the National Association of Police Organizations, a group of police unions, has also joined the crusade over Baca’s use of force and his refusal so far to release the names of those deputies who are accused of misconduct.
None of this has had much impact on Baca, who is still running for reelection in November. And his power still seems undiminished.