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Sheriff Candidate Questionnaire: Robert Luna

  • LAist sent all candidates for L.A. County sheriff the following questionnaire. Below are the responses from candidate Eli Vera, an L.A. Sheriff's Commander. Their responses have been published in full, without any editing.

A man in a dark suit and blue tie smiles for the camera. Behind him we see a park and some sort of public monument.
Long Beach police chief Robert Luna, pictured at Hilltop Park in Signal Hill, CA on the day he announced his candidacy for L.A. Sheriff last December.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)

What do you think is the number one thing that needs to change at the Sheriff’s Department and how would you change it? 

The greatest challenge facing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is leadership. The current Sheriff has created chaos and dysfunction that has put our public safety at risk.

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We can do better.

17:59
Sheriff Candidate Robert Luna Talks About His Candidacy

As Sheriff, I will increase public trust, transparency and accountability. I will fix fractured relationships for community stakeholders, the Board of Supervisors, and the Civilian Oversight Commission. I will comply with all subpoenas. And, I will implement reforms to modernize the Sheriff’s Department and our jails to bring us into the 21st century.

Do you think the department needs more deputies? If so, why, and how many more? 

As Sheriff, I will assess the community’s public safety needs and priorities while also conducting an analysis on the current deputy and employee workload. If I find that the staffing and budget do not meet the needs of our community, then I will present my findings with possible solutions to the Board of Supervisors and to our community.

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There have been talks about reducing the Sheriff Department’s budget. While Chief of Police in Long Beach, I was faced with a budget cut and tasked with reducing our workforce. Ultimately, I was able to maintain response times and keep our community safe. In Long Beach, I also collaborated with other departments to create alternative responses. Regardless of the budget that the Board of Supervisors provides me as Sheriff, I am confident that I will be able to meet the needs of the County.

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How would you address the rise in the number of murders in areas patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, which has seen a much higher increase than in areas patrolled by the LAPD?

The people of Los Angeles County are concerned about the trajectory of crime and are looking for a proven leader to keep people safe. As Police Chief in Long Beach, during my tenure violent crime decreased by 6.5% in Long Beach and property crime decreased by 10%.

I am running for LA County Sheriff to protect the safety of everyone in Los Angeles County. As Sheriff, I will address our community’s immediate public safety needs and ensure that the Sheriff’s Department is doing our job.

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To address crime, we must hold habitual offenders accountable for their actions. Law enforcement must implement a data-driven approach, be relentless in investigations, and be surgical with interventions. In addition, law enforcement must coordinate with the DA’s Office to create a plan for habitual offenders, especially for individuals accused of gun violence. Crime knows no borders, and as Sheriff, I will coordinate with the Board of Supervisors, LAPD, and LA County Chiefs to ensure that we are coordinated and successful in our work.

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We must also invest in long-term solutions to reduce crime, including prevention strategies like community engagement and social services. In Long Beach, I created a program called the Neighborhood Walks in a high-crime neighborhood. In the program, officers were tasked to build relationships and trust within the community, this resulted in a decrease in service calls and a decrease in shootings.

I helped develop these modern-day-policing models that have had tremendous success at reducing crime across the country through my executive role on nation-wide law enforcement committees. I have long-standing relationships with federal, state, and regional law enforcement professionals throughout the nation. As Sheriff, I will establish open channels of communication and work in partnership with other offices to address rising crime rates by utilizing best practices and data.

What role should the Sheriff’s Department play in addressing homelessness? 

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Homelessness is the humanitarian crisis of our time. Los Angeles County has the largest unsheltered homeless population in the United States and the status quo is not working. Everyone must contribute to the solution, including law enforcement agencies.

I understand the complexities of homelessness because I worked on homelessness in Long Beach. In Long Beach, I worked with community stakeholders, government officials, non-profit organizations to make sure that all perspectives were heard and accounted for as we worked to address homelessness. We can only work to address homelessness if we partner together and are coordinated in our work.

In Long Beach, I worked with the Guidance Center to create an innovative jail clinician program to deal with habitual offenders. The Long Beach Police Department offers a “Clinician in Jail” program providing specialized mental health counseling with the goal of breaking the cycle of incarceration. Case management and diversion programs must be offered on our streets, in our jails, and also in our courtrooms.

As Police Chief, in Long Beach, I partnered with others to create a multi-disciplinary team comprised of the Police, Fire and Health Departments, and a local non-profit mental health service provider and the Prosecutor’s Office to comprehensively address public safety requests while finding long-term and permanent solutions that get people the help that they need while reducing recidivism. I support the creation of a multidisciplinary team to respond to non-life-threatening emergencies. These alternate responses free up our deputies to respond to crime.

It is crucial that we partner with other department and non-profit partners because to truly address homelessness, we need a well-trained team of social service providers and housing navigators to get people off of the streets. I look forward to working with other organizations and departments to partner with and create similar alternate-response programs.

And, just as I will work to create accountability and transparency within the Sheriff’s Department, I will advocate for additional accountability and transparency of our partners who receive public resources to address homelessness. We must make sure that the County, LAHSA, and service providers are doing the work that they are being paid to do.

Do you believe secretive deputy subgroups or “gangs” exist inside the Sheriff’s Department and if so do you think they are a problem? How would you address this issue?

The reports are clear that the LA Sheriff’s Department has a perpetual gang problem - and this is unacceptable. I will not only get rid of gangs within the Sheriff’s Department, I will also change LASD’s culture to ensure that gangs do not resurface in the future.

Any employee, no matter their rank within the Department, will be terminated if they are found to have ties to a deputy gang. I will utilize Early Intervention supervisory warning systems to monitor employee behavior. I will bring in outsider partners including federal and state intervention and the Civilian Oversight Commission to conduct their own research on gang activity within the Department. And, I will not only hold the employees accountable, but I will hold their supervisors and management accountable for allowing unethical behavior.

As Sheriff, I will ensure that deputies and employees are performing their jobs effectively, empathetically, and constitutionally within the Department. I will create Department-wide standards that emphasize the law enforcement code of ethics to serve and protect. And, I will only promote employees to management positions who exemplify these values.

And, I will reform LASD’s culture and policies to support the wellbeing and safety. This includes providing mental healthcare, and creating peer counseling and mentoring programs. And, just as importantly, I will work to reduce any stigma associated with mental health care to ensure that all deputies take full advantage of these services.

I am the only candidate running from outside of the Sheriff’s Department, and it takes an outsider to be able to make these changes and root gangs out of the Sheriff’s Department.

Do you support responding to calls involving people who appear to have mental health issues or are otherwise acting erratically with unarmed clinicians instead of deputies? How would you improve how the department deals with people with mental illnesses, absent an increase in funding from the Board of Supervisors?

Currently our law enforcement agencies are often our de facto mental health service providers - this needs to change. We need to get people out of jail cells who belong in hospitals, and we need to leave mental health care work to the mental health care professionals. This way law enforcement professionals are able to focus on what they do best - keep the public safe.

We need to reform and modernize our policing policies and practices to meet the demands of the 21st century. As the Sheriff, I will advocate for a community-based system of care so that law enforcement does not need to respond to non-life threatening situations including emergency calls regarding individuals with mental health needs.

I look forward to being a partner to help create alternative responses to address non-life threatening emergencies if no crime has been committed, so that my deputies can focus on keeping our neighborhoods safe. I will support the creation of multi-disciplinary teams, diversion programs, and mental health programs on our streets and in our jails. I will work with government partners, labor, community based organizations, faith-based institutions, academics, and community stakeholders to assess the needs of the community and identify next steps.

And, as Sheriff, I will do my part to ensure that our deputies are trained for the complexities to appropriately respond to mental health calls. I will promote a culture within the Sheriff’s Department that promotes a reverence for life and well-being for everyone that we encounter, especially those suffering from mental health issues, substance use, or homelessness. In Long Beach, I worked with the Guidance Center, a local community-based organization, to create training videos on how police officers can identify signs of mental illness, efficiently de-escalate situations, and keep everyone safe. It is imperative that LASD deputies have the same training on de-escalation tactics as well as how to identify and interact with individuals with mental health issues.

Do you think the department needs to change how and when deputies conduct traffic stops? What about bicycle stops? 

One of the reasons that I joined law enforcement was to change the way law enforcement interacts with marginalized people of color. As a youth, I was personally stopped by law enforcement and on multiple occasions, I was not treated respectfully. I understand the concern that many people, especially by people of color, have with law enforcement.

Traffic stops and bicycle stops within the Department need to be evaluated because there is public perception that these stops are often unconstitutional. And, we need to find a balance between respecting peoples’ constitutional rights and public safety.

To do this, we need new policies, training and accountability that promotes a reverence for life and does not overemphasize traditional enforcement activities such as stops.

Do you think there is a way to reduce deputy-involved shootings and, if so, how?

Yes, it is possible to reduce deputy-involved shootings. And, I know this because as the Long Beach Police Chief, our department saw a 50% decrease in officer involved shootings and a 56% decrease in citizen complaints alleging excessive force.

Through serving on the Executive Board of the Major City Chiefs Association, I was exposed to the best law enforcement policies being practiced throughout the nation, and they proved successful in Long Beach.

We reduced officer involved shootings in Long Beach by focusing on new policies, training, and accountability. I re-examined our use of force policies in partnership with working with the community, we created alternatives that emphasized a reverence for life and de-escalation. I created a culture of extensive accountability in Long Beach that reviews pre-shooting, shooting, and post-shooting conduct. We increased accountability by enforcing the use of body-worn cameras, early intervention management programs, and enhanced deputy training. I also worked to create the Office of Constitutional Policing to rethink traditional policing in a manner that implements equity, justice, and constitutional public safety.

As Sheriff, I will ensure that all deputies and employees are performing their jobs professionally, empathetically, and constitutionally within the department.

Six years ago, the Sheriff’s Department signed an agreement with the federal government to improve conditions for jail inmates. But a recent monitor’s report found inmates with serious mental illnesses continue to suffer in isolation and with little treatment. The monitor also said cells were overflowing with garbage, and filth was spread on the walls, with a pile of razors abandoned in one hallway. How would you fix these problems?

The status quo is not working. It is imperative that we improve the conditions for inmates and employees in our jails. The Sheriff’s Department has a duty to be intentional about a reverence for life and the well-being of our inmates.

People who need a hospital bed should not be in a jail cell. And, I will work to connect individuals with serious illness to the resources that they need.

As Sheriff, I will bring the Department into full compliance with the consent decrees that the Department signed with the federal government. We will be as transparent as we can be, cooperate with oversight, get community input, and share reports with the community to build trust and accountability.

We will work with national experts on management practices, culture, personnel, use of force requirements, discipline, and oversight to make us a model custody facility.

Why do you think Black people are arrested by the police at three times their share of the population? Does the department have a role in addressing this?

As a young Latino boy growing up in East LA, both my family and I experienced inequities. I am very cognizant of racial inequities, and I believe that historically law enforcement has systematically treated communities of color differently, and specifically the Black community. We must do much better.

To reduce discrimination, profiling, and unnecessary arrests it is critical to hire law enforcement personnel who know and understand the people within our communities. Throughout my tenure as Chief of Police, I worked at every opportunity to ensure our police department reflected the diversity of our communities including in recruitment, hiring, and promotions. As a result, when I left the Long Beach Police Department, it was the most diverse it has ever been.

I also directed mandatory training on cultural competency, racial sensitivity, and implicit bias for all LBPD employees. These trainings include human relations, racial profiling, cultural awareness, procedural justice, and history classes on law enforcement past interactions with marginalized communities.

Under my leadership, the Long Beach Police Department implemented community-based policing in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood in Long Beach. The Neighborhood Walks program prioritized relationship-building as a tool for crime prevention. This program prioritized relationship building over arrests, and ultimately resulted in a decrease in service calls and a decrease in shootings.

And, under my leadership, the LBPD entered into a MOU with the Center for Police Equity, which is a national organization that looks at police training and management practices to work to address racial inequities. As Sheriff, I will bring in outside experts to improve management practices to ensure that the LASD is serving communities of color the best that they can.

I look forward to continue to advocate for criminal justice reform, decrease racial profiling, and working with County partners to improve our management practices and build public trust and legitimacy within communities of color.

How would you approach your relationship with the Board of Supervisors?

One of my top priorities as Sheriff is to rebuild the fractured relationships between the Sheriff’s Office and the LA County Board of Supervisors. I plan to work in partnership with the Board of Supervisors to protect public safety.

As the Long Beach Police Chief, I have a seven-year track record of having productive conversations with the Long Beach City Council, Mayor, and City Manager. I always viewed my relationship with my counterparts in Long Beach as a collaborative partnership. I believe that when you sit down at the table and have a conversation in good faith, you can always come up with a solution. For this reason, I have the support of the Long Beach City Council and Mayor Robert Garcia.

Unlike the current Sheriff, I will be open and collaborative on discussions regarding the budget and the creation of new programs. Effective public safety is based on community engagement, public trust, and a public safety continuum made up by groups including government agencies, non-profits, and faith-based organizations.

Will you comply with all subpoenas and requests for records issued by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General? 

Absolutely. As Sheriff, I will address all outstanding subpoenas and public records act requests. On day one, I will immediately comply with the outstanding subpoenas that the current Sheriff has not complied with.

What will you do to improve transparency at the Sheriff’s Department?  Specifically, how would you make the department more responsive to Public Records Act requests under Senate Bill 1421, which requires law enforcement agencies to release information about deputies who were involved in shootings and serious uses of force, and/or were found to have lied or committed sexual misconduct on the job?

As Sheriff, I will rebuild the fractured relationship that the Sheriff’s Office has with the LA County Board of Supervisors, the Civilian Oversight Commission, the media, and other community stakeholders.

As Chief of Police of Long Beach, I have experience building trust with and being held accountable by community members and elected officials. I am the only candidate in this race with experience running a large police department, and I have been held accountable by the public.

As Police Chief it was important for me to build transparency, accountability, and trust with the public because of this I worked to create Long Beach’s Office of Constitutional Policing. I also utilized technology, including body worn cameras, and an early intervention program to strengthen public trust. As a result of these tools and programs, we saw an increase in public trust in the LBPD. From 2016-2021, on average the use of force incidents in Long Beach were down by 28%, citizen complaints were down by 30%, and citizen complaints alleging excessive and/or improper force were down by 56%. As Sheriff, I will use similar tools to earn public trust.

As Sheriff, I intend to fully comply with SB1421. In Long Beach, I developed a specialized unit to receive and comply with Public Record Act requests. As Sheriff, I will continue to uphold the law in all matters including SB1421.

Will you enforce the county’s vaccine mandate with deputies? There’s a lot of resistance in the department to vaccination; what steps would you take to get more deputies vaccinated?

As a law enforcement executive manager, my main priority is the safety and wellbeing of my employees and community members. I will follow science and medical experts to guide me to ensure the best outcome for our employees, including enforcing vaccine mandates.

As Chief of Police of Long Beach I made it a priority for all staff to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. And, as Sheriff, I will have the same goals.

Do you support the recall of District Attorney George Gascón? If so, why?

No, although I don’t agree with all of DA Gascon’s policies, I do not support the recall of any elected official unless they have committed a crime or violated the integrity of their office. As Sheriff, I plan to work in good faith with any elected official that the people of Los Angeles elect.

Learn about the rest of the candidates in our guide to the sheriff’s race .

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