Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna wasted no time before criticizing Sheriff Alex Villanueva in the first one-on-one debate for the top law enforcement position in Los Angeles County.
"I believe the department, right now, is dysfunctional," Luna said.
Villanueva defended his record against Luna as the debate turned into a back-and-forth between the two candidates. Both are vying for voters' support ahead of the November election for Sheriff of Los Angeles County.
The virtual event was hosted by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association and moderated by Fox 11.
"When I ran four years ago it was to reform, rebuild and restore the Sheriff's Department and we have done exactly that," Villanueva responded.
The incumbent also criticized Luna, who recently retired as Chief of Police for Long Beach, claiming there was a "failure of leadership" during the civil unrest in 2020. Villanueva added that the Sheriff's Department helped secure Long Beach as well as other districts.
"We actually managed to secure all of the county areas under our jurisdiction [and] kept them safe," Villanueva said. "Then we went so far as [to] secure Long Beach, Santa Monica, the Fairfax district."
The candidates were also asked about a recent L.A. County Board of Supervisors vote that approved a measure asking voters in the fall to grant them the power to fire the Sheriff.
"The Board of Supervisors, their goals and aspirations [are] to control all of county government," said Villanueva. "They do not want to have an independently elected Sheriff who can make their own independent decision."
Luna said that the Board would not have approved the measure if there was not a "rogue sheriff" in office.
"The bottom line is we have a Sheriff that's not holding himself accountable," he said. "He's not complying with subpoenas."
The two candidates did agree on the role of the Sheriff as the top law enforcement official in the county.
"The Sheriff is the No. 1 law enforcement person in the County of Los Angeles," Luna said. "Even though LAPD directly patrols your neighborhood, the Sheriff's [deputies] oversee the courts. They oversee the jails, the custody operations."
While they agreed on the Sheriff's role, Luna and Villanueva clashed on the department intervening in the homeless crisis, specifically, addressing the incident where deputies cleaned up encampments on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in June 2021.
"As the top law enforcement official in the county, my responsibility doesn't end in the limits of my jurisdiction," Villanueva said. "I set foot on Venice because Venice Boardwalk was literally falling apart."
Luna rebuked the Sheriff's response and claimed that the Sheriff was not "fully engaged" in fixing the homelessness crisis.
"Just because you show up on the day of the cleanup wearing a cowboy hat, doesn't mean you were actually fully engaged in fixing it," he said.
Villanueva claimed that his presence at the boardwalk "made a difference" and said that Luna would rather "eat his own liver" than taking such actions.
Ultimately, Luna said that he is the one who can repair the broken relationship between county officials and the department. Whereas, Villanueva said he has the support of the L.A. County residents, which in his opinion, is the most important relationship.
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