Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna came to the City of San Fernando to garner more support of his race for Los Angeles County sheriff against incumbent Alex Villanueva.
On Sept. 30, in a small courtyard next to the Valley Mission Medical Group, Luna met with a small group of supporters and residents from the City of San Fernando.
After giving some of his background growing up in East LA and his journey through the Long Beach Police Department, Luna compared himself to Villanueva, saying that one of the biggest contrasts between them is that he doesn’t blame other people for his problems, unlike his opponent, who he said blames the county Board of Supervisors for not giving him enough funding or the district attorney for not prosecuting cases.
“It’s not healthy, it’s not a strategy,” Luna said. “We have to have leaders — whether you’re talking about a mayor, a police chief [or] a sheriff — who, when crime goes up, it’s me who has to tell you what my plan is, and the plan is not to blame other people.”
Luna also said he believes the multiple reports of “deputy gangs” in the department — cliques of officers with matching tattoos and names such as Executioners and Grim Reapers that are accused of promoting brutality and racist profiling. He also criticized Villanueva for defying subpoenas and oversight committees.
Villanueva has faced a number of scandals since taking office in 2018. He allegedly directed a cover-up of an incident when jail guards knelt on a handcuffed man’s head for three minutes (which was captured on camera) and lied about when he first saw the footage; he claimed it was months after the incident, although a former advisor to Villanueva claims it was days.
Luna also talked about increasing police accountability, saying that his department has reduced officer-involved shootings by 33 percent, uses of force by 29 percent and citizen complaints by 30 percent.
“If anyone in law enforcement ever tells you that you cannot reduce crime and increase police accountability at the [same] time, tell them to come and talk to me. We did it in Long Beach,” he said.
However, in an analysis by Knock LA, the Long Beach city attorney’s office reported that the city has paid out more than $31 million between 2014 to 2020 to settle 61 excessive force and wrongful death lawsuits against the police department.
Luna continued, saying that he believes that much of the sheriff’s misconduct stems from untreated mental health issues, such as PTSD, and that he will increase mental health services for his employees.
Luna also said that he believes that law enforcement is the wrong tool to use when responding to calls involving people who are mentally ill and/or homeless. He talked about new the Restorative Engagement to Achieve Collective Health program (REACH), which sends out a public health nurse and LA County mental health clinician to respond to calls dealing with homelessness, addicts and the mentally ill instead of police.
“[Hypothetically, if] I have somebody acting violent, then the police should go … but we need an alternative response,” Luna said. “That’s the only way this is going to work.”
Currently, Luna seems likely to win the election for county sheriff next month. In a recent poll by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Luna had a 10-point lead among likely voters, at 36 percent, compared to Villanueva’s 26 percent.