McDonnell brings more than 40 years of public safety experience to the school’s Safe Communities Institute, which advances public safety solutions. He is the first person to serve in senior executive leadership roles in the three largest policing agencies in Los Angeles County: the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD); the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD); and the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD).
McDonnell began his career with the LAPD, where he served for 29 years and held every rank up to first assistant chief of police. He worked a wide variety of assignments, including homicide, gangs, organized crime, vice and patrol operations. Early in his tenure there, he played an integral role in developing the framework for community policing that would make the LAPD a thought leader in community policing strategies. He retired from the LAPD in 2010 to become chief of the Long Beach Police Department, where he served for almost five years.
In 2014, McDonnell was elected as the 32nd sheriff of Los Angeles County, putting him in charge of the largest sheriff’s department in the U.S. with more than 18,000 employees and an annual budget of roughly $3.3 billion. Before his arrival, the agency had been shaken by scandal and, during his four-year term, he was able to restore public trust, institutionalize systems of accountability and work effectively with federal, state and local agencies to combat human trafficking and terrorism, among other regional challenges.
As sheriff, he also inherited the nation’s largest jail system, which had come under a federal consent decree due to a pattern or practice of inadequate mental health care and excessive force in violation of inmates’ civil rights. His administration was able to restore a culture of professionalism and respect, thereby substantially changing it to one considered a model for large jail systems.
McDonnell has close ties to the USC Price School, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration and serves as a member of the school’s Board of Councilors. He previously obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. He’s also a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and has completed executive education programs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.