A civilian oversight board for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department voted Tuesday to condemn a logo used by the agency’s East L.A. station that a previous sheriff ordered removed in 2015.
The badge, displayed in several places across the station, features a helmet and boot surrounded by the words “Fort Apache” and “Low Profile.” Below the image is a slogan, “siempre una patada en los pantalones,” Spanish for “always a kick in the pants.”
Some East L.A. residents, like Nicole Rojas, say it’s a culturally insensitive reminder of a painful past.
“It’s representation of what has historically, traumatically invaded us as a people,” Rojas said at Tuesday’s Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission meeting. “Its a very offense logo, and it needs to be removed.”
Three years ago, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell retired the insignia, along with other similar markings inside the station. But once he took office, Sheriff Alex Villanueva reinstated the logo at the East L.A. station he was formerly assigned to.
Neal Tyler, undersheriff under McDonnell, told the LAist the previous administration’s concern was the connotation that deputies were in conflict with the community they policed — like the U.S. Army outpost depicted in the 1948 film “Fort Apache.”
“Words have power. Symbols have power,” Tyler told the website. “It does matter whether our symbols and our communications are civil and respectful.”
But now, the department is adamant that the design has no negative undertones.
“I think they’re looking upon it as symbol of oppression, but it’s far from that,” current Undersheriff Tim Murakami told KTLA. “It came out of the East L.A. riots, when deputies were told to maintain a low profile. So it’s kind of a mockery — that’s why the helmet was on the boot… . There’s lot of historical meaning behind it.”
But in an interview with the LAist, activist Carlos Montes said the ties to the 1970s Chicano protests is exactly where the problem lies.
“There was no question to us what ‘Fort Apache’ meant,” he said. “They were in an outpost in the middle of the desert among the savages, the savage Mexicans, the savage Chicanos. So they had to have a fort to defend themselves.”
Speaking on KTLA after Tuesday’s vote, Sheriff Villanueva said the department would “remove the term Fort Apache from the logo in deference to the concerns from the Apache Nation.”
“Every station has their own unit logo, and there’s 23 of these logos throughout the department,” Villanueva said. “It’s just the same as the Army has Rangers, Green Berets. The Dodgers, they have minor league teams, every one has their own individual logo. So the logo itself, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
It’s unlikely that will satisfy residents who have deeper issues with the badge.
Brian Williams, executive director of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said the fact that it offends people in the East L.A. community is cause enough for it to be stripped.
“We know there’s some historical significance, there’s some sheriff’s deputies who believe this really is more about esprit de corps,” Williams said. “But when we balance the equities between the sheriff’s — who are public servants — and the message it sends to the community, we think it weighs in favor of the community and it should be removed.”
After Tuesday’s approval of a resolution calling for the controversial symbol’s removal, the measure now heads to county Board of Supervisors for further action.