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Sheriff Robert Luna: ‘I’m going to be recognized as a sheriff who follows the law’


When Sheriff Robert Luna took office in December, he inherited a beleaguered department prone to scandal and confusion.

There were trials, investigations, consent decrees and “gangs” of deputies to contend with, not to mention repairing the discord created during the tenure of his grisly predecessor.

“Unfortunately, there are broken relationships that need to be mended,” Luna told The Times last year. “Sometimes,” she added, “how you approach government makes a big difference.”

As true as it is, the steady stream of problems he faces has barely slowed down: Last month, the ACLU asked a federal judge hold the county and sheriff in contempt for failing to fix deteriorating conditions in jails. Two days later, the Civil Oversight Commission published a scathing report detailing the history of gangs within the ranks of the department. A week after that, questions arose about whether Luna’s second-in-command, Deputy Sheriff April Tardy, has a tattoo signifying loyalty to a “gang” of deputies.

All this to say: there’s nothing easy about being Los Angeles County Sheriff. Last week, on his 99th day in office, Luna sat down with The Times to talk about his first few months in office and how he plans to move forward. Here are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Los Angeles Times: When you took over a few months ago, you took over a department that had come under much criticism. Did he encounter any irregularity when he entered, something that offended him as a public servant?

Constable Robert Luna: As the new guy, I had my priorities of what I wanted to at least start my tenure. But when I got here, that changed a bit because I realized that organizational stability was just as important as anything else I was working on. Part of the stabilization strategy was to be different from my predecessor. That’s not to say he was wrong or right. But I told everyone, “Hey, we’re looking forward, not back.” So that immediately set a different tone.

At the same time, we had different people come up to us and say, “Hey, we think this was happening, we think that was happening.” And if we find there’s something that even smacks of criminal, all bets are off, that’ll go straight to the proper authorities. I’m going to be recognized as a law-abiding sheriff.

THE T: About two weeks ago, the Civil Oversight Commission published a report on the “gangs” of deputies and how to eradicate them. Are there particular things in that report that you consider to be of the highest priority?

RL: One that comes to mind, and I don’t know if I can say that this is my top priority, but it’s up there, is the policy around tattoos and emblems. I think that’s something that we can look at and work with our labor partners and try to figure out: Where have we been, where are we today, and where do we need to go next?

THE T: But don’t you know what that policy will look like?

RL: Not yet. Because if I did, I’d be getting ahead of myself. I’m going to get people’s opinion before I write this in black and white. It’s going to be several, several weeks. If we want it to be long-term, we have to get it right.

THE T: One of the things in the news recently was the sheriff tattoo. Have you asked your other higher command staff if they have tattoos?

RL: There were questions raised. We were very careful how we asked them. And there are legal aspects related to tattoos. In general, and you might laugh about this a bit, the question goes something like this: If we promoted them and the LA Times found out that we promoted them, what story would they talk about? ? What will come out of you?

Now, have I asked everyone if they have a tattoo? I have not. I would like to know? Yes. And I think as the processes move forward, we’ll figure out how to do that together as we go along.

THE T: The Civilian Oversight Commission report also suggested that gang symbols should be removed from stations and jails. Are you aware of any that are out there now and have you discussed plans to test whether they exist or remove them?

RL: The new policy will address tattoos and symbols. It’s all together. As we go, they are together. Eventually, through the meeting and consultation process and legal investigation, we may have to separate them. But as much as we talk about tattoos, I don’t think you can have one conversation without having the other.

THE T: The Los Angeles Police Department recently banned public displays of the Thin Blue Line flag. Is that something you’ve also discussed as part of that policy?

RL: I think when you talk about emblems, it gets complicated when you allow some and not others. I know it’s a controversial topic within law enforcement. I’ll just tell you this: you won’t see a flag here with a blue stripe, not in my office.

THE T: In the past, he has spoken publicly about the poor conditions at the Inmate Reception Center. Do you have any plans to help solve that?

RL: I’m looking at all the options. As you know, the ACLU is taking legal action and I don’t blame them for doing so. There are some unacceptable conditions there. We want to do everything we can to improve them. At the end of the day, my vision, our vision, is that we need improved facilities. The facilities we have are not conducive to our client and inmate population in 2023.

THE T: One of the recommendations in the Civil Oversight Commission report was to assign new deputies to patrol rather than start them in jails. Is it something you are exploring?

RL: I am taking all the recommendations we were given very seriously. But if it’s very different or unique from anything we’ve done before, I have to look at history (and ask) why is that so? Sometimes you get the answer: “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” That is not a good answer.

Coming in here as an outsider, people were saying, “How are you going to change that culture?” Well, for things that need to be changed, you want to change them for the right reason. But you also want long-term change, and how do you make long-term change? You make a long-term change by finding out what happened, how we got there, and then involving the people who work there. And then we make the change together. And what I’m finding is that there are a lot of people here, most people, who are great people who want to see change.

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