By Ashley Orona
CUDAHY — The East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station hosted a virtual town hall meeting Jan. 7 to discuss public safety amid rising COVID-19 cases and how budget cuts will impact services provided to the community.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Capt. Richard Mejia and Cudahy Mayor Jose Gonzales were present. The town hall lasted an hour and primarily consisted of the hosts answering pre-submitted questions by residents.
The town hall is one in a series that are being led by Villanueva this month across the county in hopes of establishing a stronger presence in communities amid growing criticism of law enforcement following national outcry that began last May when a Black man, George Floyd, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
The county Board of Supervisors have cut the Sheriff’s Department’s budget by about 8% cut, a $145 million reduction in the 2020-21 budget. The cuts came after the pandemic-related economic slowdown and the “defund the police” movement last summer.
The Sheriff’s Department announced it will be reducing or eliminating units due to the budget cuts in areas such as gang enforcement, special victims bureau and mental health evaluations teams. The cuts also will impact contracts that provide law enforcement services to 42 contract cities, including Cudahy.
The contract between the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station and the city of Cudahy calls for the deployment of two units in early morning hours, three units in the day shift, and three units in the night shift. Budget cuts have reduced one unit from patrolling the city twice a week and response times to increase from 34 to 40 minutes for routine calls, according to Mejia.
Mejia said that if only two units are available for the day and one of them is called to make an arrest that would leave one unit to patrol the entire city which he believes is not enough. The city of Cudahy is the second smallest city in the county, but has one of the highest population densities of any incorporated city in the United States with a population of 23,569.
“We can’t effectively have just one deputy patrol the entire city of Cudahy,” Mejia said.
In order to mitigate tensions between communities of color and police, the Sheriff’s Department is no longer recruiting officers out of state and only hiring within L.A. County. The department also has begun to prioritize hiring individuals from the communities it serves, believing that individuals who grew up locally will have a better understanding of social issues in the community and how to interact with people, Villanueva said.
“I have so many deputies vested in this community,” Mejia said. “We have two deputies that were raised in Cudahy [and] a couple others that were raised in neighboring cities.”
Villanueva confirmed that the department will not be giving citations to businesses or individuals that do not comply with county or state COVID-19 health orders. The Public Health Department will be the ones enforcing businesses’ compliance with protections and on educating individuals on the importance of wearing masks to mitigate the spread.
The Sheriff’s Department will primarily focus on enforcing “superspreader events.” These events are gatherings of people where a single infection spurs a large outbreak among attendees. Weddings, large family parties and underground parties are a few examples of regular events that turn into superspreaders. Those in violation can be arrested or cited for violating health orders.
“We’re asking for everyone’s voluntary cooperation cause this pandemic is serious business and not going away,” Villanueva said. “We need to do our best to be good to each other and wear those masks.”
Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.