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Tavis Smiley moderates public safety forum on sheriff’s election

Tavis Smiley (290866)
Tavis Smiley

Incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his challenger in the Nov. 8 election, former Long Beach Chief of Police Robert Luna, were featured in KBLA Talk 1580’s first Public Safety Forum held Monday at The Gathering Spot.

KBLA is gearing up for its election coverage of heated races making news and at this forum, moderated by Tavis Smiley, radio hosts Dominique DiPrima, Angela Reddock-Wright and Nii Quartelai asked several questions of the candidates.

Luna has served in law enforcement for 36 years, most recently as police chief in Long Beach, the second largest police department in the county. He mentioned that a number of Democratic clubs throughout the county have endorsed his candidacy.

“There’s a reason for that,” he said. “They’re looking at my background, they’re looking at my performance and they’re looking at my opponent and my opponent’s background. And it was so simple to see what choice to make.”

When asked why all five members of the Board of Supervisors had endorsed his opponent, Villanueva stood his ground.

“I think that is a sound endorsement of my candidacy,” Villanueva said. “Because the political establishment, they recruit their own, they groom their own to fit right in. And, oh, he’s going to fit right in. Absolutely nothing is going to happen, and that would be the biggest tragedy right there. I stir the pot.”

Smiley had decided to feature the candidates for LA County’s head Sheriff in separate, one-hour forums, so that they could not interrupt or talk over each other.

“I believe that a police department or sheriff’s department will not be successful if they are not partnered with the community,” Luna said, noting that property crime in Long Beach had been reduced by 10%. “We started to pay officers overtime to get out of their vehicles and engage with the community.

Luna mentioned that growing up in East LA, he once found himself face down on the hood of a police car. He said that the traffic stops of Black and Brown people is the old way of policing and he would turn that culture around if he is elected sheriff.

“Fear of police has to change,” he said, noting that under his watch there has been a 50% reduction in officer-involved shootings.

Villaneueva said that the department has undergone a number of internal changes — including getting rid of what he called the “good ole boy system.” He said 19 of the executives were dismissed. He agreed that the sheriff’s department has to work with the community.

“The  ideology of today, I think we’re on the right path, because In the past there used to be this whole warrior mentality,” Villanueva said, noting that he has fired people for using excessive force. “We have to move from an enforcement concept into an engagement concept.”

When it comes to employment diversity, both candidates bragged about their achievements.

“When I left the Long Beach Police Department, 25% of my commanders were Black. I helped to coach and mentor them,” said Luna. “Could I have done better? One hundred percent. And those are the learning lessons that I take with me as I move to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

Villanueva noted that his department provides equal opportunities and inclusive policies now.

“Those inclusive policies are a big boost to morale,” he said, noting that he went through some racist experiences when trying to advance in the force, despite his experience, expertise and education.

“So when I took over as sheriff, my number one goal, internally, was to make sure that the people in the department now do not have to go through the same experiences that I went through,” Villanueva said. “Right now, my division chiefs, four of them are African-American. I have 91 female African-American sergeants.”

When asked about the systemic racism in the sheriff’s department and the supposed gangs within the force, both candidates made it clear that they were not personally members of any gang or had any affiliation with the Oath Keepers or any racist group. But gangs are an issue when it comes to the members of the department.

“We hire from the human race,” Luna said, noting that administrators have to acknowledge those challenges and adapt to a new culture of policing. “We have a lot of work to do in law enforcement. We have to listen, we have to address it, we have to modify our training.”