Claremont Democrats meet with sheriff candidate Luna
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
The man who would like to be the new sheriff in town paid a visit to Claremont over the weekend to promote his candidacy.
Former Long Beach Chief of Police Robert Luna was the guest speaker Sunday for a special meeting of the Democratic Club of Claremont. He is running against incumbent Al Villanueva for Los Angeles County Sheriff.
The event was hosted by Jim Bawek and Yolanda Moses at their Village home. About 50 people came out to hear Luna talk about his qualifications, the state of the current sheriff’s department, and some of the other big public safety issues affecting the residents of Los Angeles County.
“The reason I am running, three simple reasons: one, I absolutely care about people; I want to make a difference; and I believe we need change,” Luna said.
He knew from the time he was in second grade growing up in East Los Angeles that he wanted to be a police officer. He realized that goal early in life, rising through the ranks in the Long Beach Police Department, culminating with a seven-year stint as its chief.
“Even at a young age I thought if I could ever wear that uniform, I could truly make a difference,” he said. “I always thought differently about policing, and it all went back to my childhood.”
During his years as chief Luna said his department reduced both violent and property crimes, all while increasing officer accountability following the transformation in policing after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“We actually reduced our officer-involved shootings by 33 percent, our uses of force by 29 percent, and our citizen complaints by 30 percent,” Luna said. “So, if anyone in law enforcement tells you that you cannot reduce crime and increase police accountability at the same time, they are wrong. It can be done, and done well, if you are strategic and forward thinking.”
He said the L.A. County Sheriff’s department, the largest in the country, has a serious image problem that he blames on the policies and actions taken by Villanueva. He wants to build a 21st century sheriff’s department by incorporating more integrity, accountability, and collaboration into policing.
“I represent a change to bring us back to where we should be,” Luna said. “So, when I say 21st century sheriff’s department I think about an organization that is forward thinking, that is open to change and considers the community. Which is all of you, all of us as one.”
The core theme of the talk was addressing how mental health issues in the community affect policing. Luna said a big part of that starts with addressing mental health concerns inside the department.
“Do I care about mental health and engaging in the street with our community members because it’s needed? One hundred percent. But what better way of sending that message if in the department, as your sheriff, I make mental health care for employees a top priority?” he asked.
Policing is one of the hardest jobs, Luna said, because there is so much daily trauma. This trauma can be internalized, and if not addressed, can lead to officer misbehavior. Some people in law enforcement have drawn the connection and feel one way to address officer misconduct is to address the underlying causes.
This line of discussion naturally led to the widely reported allegations of gang activity within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Asked about the deputy gangs, Luna said that in his experience 99% of the employees of the L.A. County Sheriff’s department are good people, but “My intent would be to not retain anybody who behaves in that matter.” The first step is to admit that the problem exists.
“The fact that we are saying sheriffs and gangs in the same sentence is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” Luna said. “I acknowledge it. It’s unacceptable. You need policies, but policies aren’t worth anything if you don’t hold people accountable. And any supervisors or managers that are looking the other way should not be supervisors or managers or even in the department.”
If elected he would be open to state and federal officials, including the FBI, investigating the department to determine the extent of the deputy gang problem and would “open every drawer and pull back any curtain” to facilitate that inquiry.
“As the sheriff, civilian oversight is there for a purpose. You need to let them in. You need to cooperate with them. And then if you get a subpoena, comply with it. If I get a subpoena, I am going to testify,” he said.
Another issue is people suffering with mental health struggles at the Inmate Reception Center, also known as Twin Towers. Luna admits more must be done to help those people.
“We cannot just cycle people through there and continue to have the reputation of the worst jail in the country,” Luna said. “I believe as the sheriff I should be in Sacramento and Washington DC to lobby for more beds [at Twin Towers].”
He would like to see the sheriff’s department launch something like the Restorative Engagement to Achieve Collective Health (REACH) program in Long Beach, which is similar to Claremont’s Psychiatric Assessment Care Team. REACH teams, including a public health nurse and a mental health clinician, respond to non-emergency calls for service regarding the unhoused or people having a mental health crisis.
“If I get elected as your sheriff, [REACH] is one thing I am going to be looking at because we absolutely need do things differently,” Luna said. “I have never been a status quo person. I do not accept mediocrity, and what we are doing is the status quo. So, we need a different way of approaching it. And you know if it doesn’t work, let’s evolve and try something else.”