Villanueva Bound for November Runoff in Bid to Retain Sheriff’s Office

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s bid for a second term will move to a November runoff election against former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna, with the pair jumping to distant leads Tuesday evening according to early ballot results.

Early returns showed Villanueva leading the nine-person field with 30.4% of the vote, while Luna collected 27.9%. Sheriff’s Lt. Eric Strong was a distant third with 12.8% of the vote.

Over the past century, only one incumbent sheriff in the county has lost a re-election bid. That was four years ago, when Villanueva achieved a stunning upset of Sheriff Jim McDonnell, riding to an election victory with strong backing from reform-minded community groups and Democrats.

But over the past four years, Villanueva’s support among those groups has waned as he repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding and policy matters, fought back against claims of “deputy gangs” within the agency, defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and refused to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and department employees.

He has openly criticized “progressive” policies and politicians, most notably District Attorney George Gascón, and assailed movements to “defund” law enforcement agencies.

Those stances, however, have helped solidify his support among many of those working for him, exemplified by his endorsement by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

In a campaign statement, Villanueva’s campaign insists he has worked to restore public trust in the sheriff’s department, pointing to the rollout of body-worn cameras and boosting minimum requirements for new deputies. The campaign also boasts the agency is “the most diverse in the nation.”

“In his next term, Sheriff Villanueva will work to reduce violent crime, compassionately clean up homeless encampments and hold public officials accountable for their actions,” according to his campaign.

Luna argued during the campaign that the sheriff’s department is being “mismanaged” by Villanueva and said he will work to restore trust in the agency. He also touted his position as an outsider with no connections to the sheriff’s department.

“Growing up in East Los Angeles, patrolled by the sheriff’s department, opened my eyes to examples of both good and bad policing, and inspired my 36-year career in law enforcement,” Luna said in a candidate statement.

He said he will work to “modernize” the sheriff’s department and its jail system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and employees.

Strong said his perspectives on law enforcement have been shaped by personal experiences as a crime victim who has had negative interactions with police, and as someone who has had relatives incarcerated or killed by law enforcement. A former Marine and Compton police officer, Strong said he will “move decisively” to eliminate deputy gangs and work with the inspector general and oversight agencies.

He added that he opposes construction of a new central jail, but wants to work to provide alternatives to incarceration to keep people out of the jail system and “break the cycle of addiction, petty crime and homelessness.” He also vows to “put the needs of victims first and take steps to protect them from their perpetrators and re-victimization.”

Six other candidates were also vying for the sheriff’s office, but all were effectively eliminated with the release of early returns, which put the race out of reach.

The other hopefuls were sheriff’s Sgt. Karla Carranza, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo, retired Sheriff’s Capt. Matt Rodriguez, parole agent April Saucedo Hood, retired Sheriff’s Capt. Britta Steinbrenner and retired sheriff’s Cmdr. Eli Vera.

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