Robert Luna is sworn in as L.A. County's new sheriff, replacing controversial predecessor

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 3, 2022 - - Celines Luna, from left, pins the badge on her husband Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna as his children Asher Luna and Cesie Alvarez look on during the swearing-in ceremony at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration Board Room in downtown Los Angeles on December 3, 2022. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Celines Luna, from left, pins the badge on her husband, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna, as their children Asher Luna and Cesie Alvarez look on during the swearing-in ceremony at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

During his swearing-in ceremony Saturday, Sheriff Robert Luna vowed to lead with a spirit of integrity, accountability and collaboration, eager to mark a new era for the department following four years under the leadership of his controversial predecessor.

"I want to thank the voters of Los Angeles County for electing me as the 34th sheriff," he told the crowd, "and entrusting me with a very clear mandate to bring new leadership and accountability."

Because the Saturday ceremony at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration was something of a formality, Luna will officially take office at noon Monday, replacing Alex Villanueva.

Previously a police chief in Long Beach, Luna — whose record on diversity in that department emerged as a common criticism from his opponent during the campaign — ultimately sailed to a decisive win over Villanueva, whose tenure marked a particularly chaotic time for a department long accustomed to tumult.

On Wednesday, Luna announced that one of his first moves will be to appoint department veteran April Tardy as the agency’s undersheriff, marking the first time in the department's history that a woman will hold the job. Tardy is also Black, which is particularly significant given the long history of racial bias in the Sheriff’s Department.

Early Saturday, a group of deputies waited in line outside the county Hall of Administration to get into the swearing-in ceremony that began at 11 a.m. As they chatted, catching up with one another, a man in a suit approached, smiling.

"New chapter today," he told them. "We'll see how it rolls." Several deputies nodded.

During the ceremony, Robert Garcia, the outgoing mayor of Long Beach, spoke about working alongside the new sheriff during Luna's time as police chief. He was a collaborative, strong and kind leader, said Garcia, who was recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Garcia then pivoted to look at several members of the Board of Supervisors, who had very publicly clashed with Villanueva.

"You are about to receive Long Beach's best," he told them. "A leader that is going to work with you."

"We'll take him," Supervisor Janice Hahn whispered aloud, smiling.

Cesie Alvarez, Luna's daughter, later addressed the crowd, saying that although she'd originally counseled him against campaigning for sheriff — he deserved time off to relax, she told him — she quickly realized he was the ideal person for the job.

He's an attentive listener, who eagerly takes her sometimes overly emotional calls, she said, the type of person to attend church every week, studiously taking sermon notes, and who, on a frenzied election night, noticed she hadn't eaten lunch and made her a turkey sandwich.

"My dad is a really good dude," she said, noting that he hated when she called him dude. He nodded.

A few minutes later, during the official pinning of his new badge, his wife, Celines, stood beside him, clipping the broach onto his tan uniform.

"Ouch!" Luna exclaimed, wincing and then smiling. "Just kidding."

After a judge swore him in, Luna offered brief remarks. He began by recognizing the recruits in Academy Class 464, several of whom were injured when an SUV veered into a wrong lane during a training run last month.

"Just absolutely heartbreaking," he said. "Please keep them in your prayers."

He then told the crowd that he was incredibly honored to be standing before them in the sheriff's traditional tan-and-green uniforms, saying it reminded him of memories from his boyhood in East L.A. and how much the deputies he'd seen patrolling back then had inspired him.

"When my friends played cops and robbers, I always chose to be the cop," he said.

"We need to defend good policing," he continued, “but I understand, in order to do that it is our responsibility to call out bad policing."

Luna said he'd made mistakes through the years, including during his time as police chief, but he'd owned up to them.

"I’m not afraid to tell people I’ve screwed up, and I'll continue to do that," he said, adding that the department had work to do.

"We must eliminate deputy gangs," he said, referring to groups of deputies, which have existed in the department for decades and long been accused of using violent, intimidating tactics.

While Luna didn’t take any questions from the media during the Saturday ceremony, he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with The Times earlier in the week. His top goals, he said, were reducing crime, addressing homelessness and restoring the public’s trust in the department.

In the days since he was elected, Luna said, he’d spent time meeting with the department’s top watchdog, Inspector General Max Huntsman, as well as the five members of the Board of Supervisors and Dist. Atty. George Gascón — all of whom had publicly strained relationships with his predecessor.

“There are, unfortunately, fractured relationships that need to be fixed,” he said. “Sometimes, the way you approach governing makes a huge difference.”

Luna said he was committed to addressing pervasive issues within the department, adding that he’d already begun having discussions with some outside agencies about investigations into deputy gangs. He intends to offer “full cooperation” to the agencies he’s spoken with, he said, but declined to cite the agencies by name.

“We’re going to sit down with them, and I want to know: Have there been any impediments whatsoever?” he said. “Is anyone resisting giving you records, for example?”

The department’s leadership structure has turned over several times in recent years. Luna is now the fourth person in the top job since Lee Baca resigned eight years ago, during a federal corruption probe that led to a prison sentence.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.