Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna leads in the polls against incumbent Alex Villanueva in the race for Los Angeles County sheriff. 40% of voters said they’ve chosen to support Luna, while 32% said they are voting for Villanueva, according to a recent UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles County sheriff manages over 9,000 sworn deputies who are required to attend and successfully complete law enforcement academy training, and more than 7,000 non-sworn members, totaling to the largest sheriff’s department in the country. “It’s a very large number of people that are represented in that office and therefore one of the most powerful positions in Southern California,” Kamy Akhavan, the executive director of USC Dornsife’s Center for the Political Future, said.
Controversy marres Villanueva’s four-year tenure as Los Angeles County sheriff. Running in 2018 with the promise of bringing transparency and fostering accountability in a department that has faced numerous officer misconduct scandals, the sheriff quickly shifted gears once in office.
Villanueva is accused of using his authority to investigate a reporter who exposed one of his deputies for kneeling on an incarcerated person’s head. Opposers also say that he’s failed to improve the quality of life in L.A. County jails.
Leonard Baker, an L.A. resident and voter, criticizes the sheriff’s abuses of power. “Mr. Villanueva is out of control and hasn’t been accountable,” Baker said. “Robert Luna doesn’t really set off any bells for me, but he’s the lesser of two evils, so to speak.”
Los Angeles Board Supervisor Holly Mitchell commented on Villanueva’s contentious relationship with the board.
“I would hope that [Villanueva] would take a long, hard look at actions and policies of his department before continuing to complain that this board is defunding said department,” Mitchell said in an interview with the L.A. Times.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved nearly $50 million in settlements for several lawsuits alleging misconduct by sheriff’s deputies. These lawsuits come from the families of five victims who had been either killed or injured by sheriff’s deputies under Villanueva’s rule.
Villanueva is skeptical of the timing of these settlements, which were released just a week before the election. He criticizes them as being part of a political move.
“Each and every case that we’re involved with where the outcome is not good – somebody either dies or is severely injured – each one is tragic in and of itself,’’ Villanueva said during a news conference. “But to exploit the tragedy for political gain is equally upsetting.’’
Luna focuses on developing his anti-Villanueva frame while concentrating his campaign on regaining the trust of both Angelenos and the county offices that collaborate closely with the sheriff’s office. In press interviews, Luna has used his strong relationship with the board as a positive factor in this election and has stated his intentions to make a difference in L.A. County.
“Luna has been portraying himself as someone who can get along with all the other parties [the sheriff needs] to get along with,” Akhavan said.
During the September debate between both candidates, Villanueva accused Luna of being a puppet for the Board of Supervisors – whom Villanueva has consistently clashed with.
In a typically non-partisan position, political affiliation has become a major point for voters to consider in the 2022 elections.
The two candidates have a stark partisan difference in voter support, with 65% of Republicans supporting Villanueva and 50% of Democrats behind Luna. Los Angeles County is primarily blue, with more than half of voters registered as Democrats.
Despite receiving more than double the campaign contributions than Luna, Villanueva remains behind in the polls.
“The chaos around the current sheriff needs to end, and there’s no one better suited to that than Robert Luna,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said. “He’s calm, collaborative, collected…always trying to do the right thing.”
Another South L.A. voter, Raymond Velasquez, claimed Luna’s outsider status as a primary reason for his endorsement of the candidate.
“He’s not coming from the sheriff’s department. He’s coming from an outside agency, the Long Beach Police Department,” Velasquez said. “I think that’s what the sheriffs need, someone from the outside to come inside and really clean the sheriff’s department out.”