Editorial: What Sheriff Luna is up in opposition to as he takes over the troubled division
Robert Luna, who simply accomplished his first week as Los Angeles County sheriff, was elected largely to revive the sense of order and confidence that characterised the division by way of a lot of the 20th century.
That period of stability started after the Board of Supervisors engineered the ouster of the final of the Wild-West-era sheriffs, John C. Cline, and put in legal professional, deputy Supreme Court clerk and USC soccer coach William I. Traeger within the Nineteen Twenties. When Traeger left for Congress, the board picked his undersheriff, Eugene Biscailuz, then Biscailuz’s undersheriff, Peter Pitchess, after which Pitchess’ undersheriff, Sherman Block. These had been division insiders, mentored and anointed by their predecessors, embraced by county supervisors and confirmed by the voters with little dialogue or controversy, serving multiple-term tenures.
And then got here Lee Baca in 1998, who went to federal jail twenty years later for obstruction of justice. Followed by outsider Jim McDonnell, who tried to wash up Baca’s mess however was ousted after a single time period by Alex Villanueva, who managed to maintain himself and his division within the headlines — and never in a great way — all through his single time period.
Luna’s problem is thorny. Like McDonnell, he’s a Sheriff’s Department outsider — a former Long Beach police chief — and can face the identical skepticism from the ranks of greater than 9,000 deputies. The division has an inner tradition of suspicion, exacerbated by a decentralized, station-based construction that has performed a task in fostering deputy gangs. It has change into a tradition, Capt. Britta Steinbrenner mentioned at a candidate’s discussion board in January, of “self-survival and backstabbing.”
Luna has to retain the assist of the Board of Supervisors, which workout routines monumental authority over the division’s price range. The board is correctly backing a “care-first” strategy to public issues of safety that requires reassigning some conventional legislation enforcement duties to unarmed clinicians and social staff. The latest supervisor, Lindsey Horvath, made her mark on the West Hollywood City Council by serving to to guide a transfer seen by many deputies as a blatant instance of “defunding” by lowering sheriff presence within the small metropolis and reallocating funds to “security ambassadors.”
Meanwhile, Luna has to revive public confidence that evaporated throughout Villanueva’s time period, work out what to do with the decrepit and harmful Men’s Central Jail, dismantle deputy gangs, make good with cities and companies who contract for sheriff patrols, and struggle crime that jumped after COVID lockdowns had been eased in 2020.
Many of those duties are in battle with each other. Luna is aware of that. It doesn’t appear to hassle him.
“I’m all in,” he instructed The Times editorial board final week. “I’m completely committed. And I think the people here” — his high workers, and by extension the entire division — “are as well.”
We take him at his phrase, and L.A. County residents ought to as nicely, however not within the deferential 20th century trend. Luna himself famous at a candidates discussion board earlier this yr that “the world has changed around us” and there will be no return to a establishment which will by no means have served Los Angeles County residents all that nicely.
For instance, every of these multidecade sheriffs efficiently pressed the supervisors to maintain increasing jail capability, they usually saved them full. Men’s Central Jail grew to become a breeding floor for deputy gangs and for unwarranted violence inflicted on inmates who had been typically there as a result of the county lacked the foresight to construct psychological well being and substance-use remedy clinics that may higher serve them, and the general public at giant.
The Board of Supervisors in 2019 noticed the foolishness of continuous on the identical course, scrapped plans for a substitute jail and dedicated to its care-first program. But Men’s Central Jail nonetheless stands, and continues to be almost full.
At the January forum, the candidates had been requested whether or not they would assist changing Men’s Central Jail with a brand new, fashionable jail. Each candidate had indicators that mentioned “Yes” on one aspect, “No” on the opposite. Every candidate held up the “Yes” signal however one. It wasn’t Luna. He mentioned “Yes” to a brand new jail.
Later, he instructed The Times editorial board that he was studying extra every day in regards to the scenario and was open to ripping down the getting old jail and changing it with remedy as a substitute of jail beds (the county has a number of different jail amenities). That’s good to listen to. Luna is not any pushover, however he seems to be a person who listens.
On the identical day he was elected, L.A. County voters additionally handed Measure A, which permits a supermajority of the Board of Supervisors to take away the sheriff for trigger. It modifications the political dynamic concerning impartial sheriffs, however in a way, it doesn’t change all of it that a lot. Recall that the board ousted a sheriff within the Nineteen Twenties, and appointed or anointed lots of the successors. The job requires cooperation, and Luna seems to know the right way to interact with out giving in.
He opposed Measure A, however he took the vote “as a reminder to us that none of us are above the law.” It’s what occurs, he mentioned, when the general public loses religion.
Luna is available in on a wave of goodwill and, after Villanueva, reduction. Restoring public religion is an efficient subsequent step, however that may imply not merely restoring the Sheriff’s Department, however reworking the jail-centered group of a long time previous into a contemporary and accountable part of a broader public security and care-oriented county system.
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