Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna was sworn in Saturday as Los Angeles County’s next sheriff, capping a hard-fought campaign that led to the ouster of incumbent Alex Villanueva.
“Today I stand before you wearing this brand-new uniform — and now I have a badge to go with it — with an incredible amount of respect, because it’s the same uniform worn by those deputies who patrolled the neighborhood where I grew up,” Luna said, adding that when he played cops and robbers with other children, he always wanted to play the cop.
Saturday’s ceremony at the county Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles was attended by Luna’s family, current and former city and police officials from Long Beach and LA County officials including four of the five county supervisors, with only Holly Mitchell absent.
Luna promised to be open to different approaches to tackle what he acknowledged was a rising tide of crime in the county.
“There can be no sacred cows,” Luna said. He said the sheriff’s department has succeeded over the years “because it has never been afraid to innovate. … So we must look at policies sand strategies that have succeeded in other places and not be afraid to bring them here.”
Luna implored the public to defend “good policing,” while at the same time recognizing the need to hold law enforcement accountable.
“But even as we make mistakes, we can and we must keep the public trust,” he said.
The new sheriff said he will focus on three overriding principles:
— Integrity. “It’s about living up to the law enforcement code of ethics, doing the right thing even when no one is looking.”
— Accountability. “If crime goes, up, that’s on us. … We owe you the community a plan to reduce crime.”
And, in a veiled shot at Villanueva — who was frequently assailed by Luna and other elected officials over his contentious relationship with the county Board of Supervisors:
— Collaboration. “We will fail if we take an `us versus them’ attitude,” Luna said. “We cannot do that. We need less polarization and more partnerships, and we will do that.
“We are going to fix problems, not affix blame.”
Luna also mentioned the need to eliminate deputy gangs and improve conditions in jails.
Before Luna was sworn in, outgoing Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who was elected to Congress earlier this month, spoke on behalf of his longtime colleague, praising his handling of civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, along with Luna’s character.
“Robert’s core values are rooted in collaboration, in strength, and in kindness,” Garcia said. “… Luna is going to be one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.”
Luna’s first official day on the job will be Monday. The East Los Angeles native spent 36 years with the Long Beach Police Department, becoming chief in 2014.
He has a master’s degree in public administration from Cal State Long Beach, and lives in that city with his wife, with whom he has two adult children.
His victory in the Nov. 8 election marked only the second time in roughly a century that an incumbent lost a re-election bid. The first time occurred four years ago when Villanueva defeated then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
Luna this week announced the appointment of April Tardy, chief of the sheriff’s department’s Central Patrol Division, as his interim undersheriff, making her the first woman to hold that position in the agency’s history. He also named Jason Skeen, currently the commander of Personnel Command, as his interim chief of staff.
Tardy and Skeen are both 28-year department veterans.
During the campaign, Luna accused Villanueva of ignoring the issue of deputy gangs within the department and of cultivating a hostile relationship with the Board of Supervisors. Villanueva deflected such criticism, saying his battles with the board show he is a fierce defender of the department and its deputies, and insisting that he had gone to great lengths to attack and ban alleged deputy cliques in the agency.
Villanueva posted a farewell message on Facebook on Friday, noting several accomplishments during his term.
“Four years ago, against all odds, I became the 33rd Sheriff of Los Angeles County. And as Sheriff, I promised that I would Reform, Rebuild and Restore the greatest and largest Sheriff’s Department in the nation. Four years later, I am proud to say that with the support of the sworn and professional staff, together we were able to meet challenges head on, and deliver on that promise,” Villanueva’s message said.
“I am proud we reformed the jails by prioritizing safety for all, and as I promised during my campaign, we removed ICE from the jails. And as the COVID-19 pandemic began, we took proactive steps to prevent the spread of the virus in our custody facilities, becoming a model for custody facilities nationwide.
“I am proud we protected the First Amendment rights of thousands of peaceful protesters,” the outgoing sheriff continued. “While doing so, we were able to identify and detain those who were using the protests as a cover for riotous actions. And during the Civil Unrest of 2020, there were no deaths, no looting, and only minor injuries in areas where our deputies were present.
“… We redesigned LASD.org and put the entire department online. The Body Worn Camera program was a commitment during my campaign, and a cornerstone of my Transparency Promise. Every deputy on patrol now has a body cam, and we were able to accomplish this feat at a fraction of the initial estimated cost, saving taxpayers millions.
“We also expanded or service to the community by hosting over 100 Town Halls, expanding the Homeless Outreach Services Team, launching Operation Homebound, Operation Safe Travels, the Marijuana Eradication Task Force, the Wage Theft Task Force, and our Hometown Heroes recruitment program.
“It has been an honor to serve as your Sheriff and I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished as a department over the last 4 years. And I urge you to continue to work together with the community, our leaders, and elected officials to ensure our great Department provides the transparency, accountability, and service the good people of Los Angeles County deserve.”