L.A. Sheriff to Revive Controversial Highway Drug Team

Anyone who supported Alex Villanueva for L.A. County Sheriff because they thought he was the more progressive candidate in the race has got to be feeling pretty incredulous these days. He has already reinstated fired deputies, come out against department reforms, and been lambasted by the Inspector General. Now, he’s reviving a highway drug program that critics say targeted minorities along the I-5.

Villanueva told the Los Angeles Times he will soon be deploying specialized officers to the highway area just north of Santa Clarita. Just as before, they’ll be trying to clamp down on the movement of drugs across L.A. County. But this time, the sheriff says they will follow the rules. In other words, they'll no longer be targeting Latino drivers. 

“Maybe they started with the best of intentions, but over time they got ... a profile that had too much of a component that was constitutionally impermissible,” Villanueva acknowledged.  “So we need to restart and go back to what’s allowable.”

As County News reported previously, an L.A. Times investigation found that 69% of drivers stopped by the deputies were Latino. Importantly, Inspector General Max Hunstman later concluded that the program was fundamentally problematic and “inherently built to violate the constitutional rights of a vast number of people passing through the I-5 Freeway.”

Interim L.A. County Inspector General Rodrigo Castro-Silva will now be working closely with the team to develop a set of clear guidelines.

“There needs to be better accountability and there has to be auditing of video and comparing that to the reports of the deputies,” Castro-Silva said. “There has to be much better training — they recognize that. They are open to working with our office on implementing these recommendations."