Sheriff's Race Could Favor Outsider

By Kim Baldonado
|  Tuesday, Jun 3, 2014  |  Updated 7:12 AM PDT
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The hotly contested race for Los Angeles County sheriff features several candidates hoping to lead the massive department, all of whom have sought to distance themselves from former Sheriff Lee Baca. Kim Baldonado reports from Monterey Park for the NBC4 News at 6 on Monday, June 2, 2014.

Kim Baldonado/Beth Slepp-Paz

The hotly contested race for Los Angeles County sheriff features several candidates hoping to lead the massive department, all of whom have sought to distance themselves from former Sheriff Lee Baca. Kim Baldonado reports from Monterey Park for the NBC4 News at 6 on Monday, June 2, 2014.

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In the race for LA County Sheriff, history has already been made and more could be made tomorrow.

"I don't think anyone who's voting can remember -- one -- an election where there was an open seat and -- two -- it was a huge advantage to be an outsider," said Jessica Levinson, from Loyola Law School.

One of the outsiders is also one of the front runners.

Jim McDonnell is police chief for the city of Long Beach and a former LAPD veteran.

If elected, it would be the first time in 100 years, the LA County Sheriff did not come from within the department. The leading insider is Paul Tanaka, former sheriff Lee Baca's second in command.

"This is a big deal we have a contested Sheriff’s race," Levinson said.

It's also a big deal because the department is so big.

The LA County Sheriff oversees more than 9,000 deputies who patrol 42 cities and unincorporated areas, in addition to all county courthouses, community colleges, public transit and the county jail system, which is currently under federal investigation for allegations of corruption and abuse.

For years the ACLU has been talking about problems in the jails, primarily excessive use of force in the jails and a pattern of illegal treatment of inmates, said Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, the court-ordered monitor for conditions at all LA County jail facilities.

He says it's up to voters to decide if reform will come from within the department or from an outsider.

"What's great this year is that voters have that choice,” Eliasberg said said. “Traditionally this is a job where the sheriff handed down and anointed his successor.

The candidates may be different, but they're all trying to distance themselves from former Sheriff Lee Baca and the federal investigations which forced him to resign.

"There still are allegations out there that are pending, there are still corruption probes, Paul Tanaka, one of the candidates, is still under federal investigation," Levinson said.

If no one receives a majority of the votes tomorrow, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates in November.

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