LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The race for Los Angeles County Sheriff just got more interesting, as Long Beach Chief of Police, Robert Luna, has announced his candidacy in the election.

Robert Luna, pictured far left. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)

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Luna, who has been in law enforcement for over 37 years, has been Chief of Police for Long Beach Police Department since 2014. Long Beach is the second-largest city in Los Angeles County, and with that comes a lot of responsibility. Luna is set to retire from this role later in December.

While he may be retiring in this capacity, Luna ensures that his law enforcement career isn’t over just yet.

“I still have a lot of energy, and I love this profession. … What better way of using my experience to help the entire County of Los Angeles.”

Out of a field of more than a half a dozen candidates running against the incumbent, current Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Luna is by far the most-qualified and highest-profile of the bunch.

During his time in office, Luna’s department has seen a decrease in both unnecessary use-of-force incidents and police shootings, according to a story from the Long Beach Post.

According to the biography provided by the Long Beach Police Department website, Luna has vast experience in, “the areas of disaster and emergency preparedness, terrorism and critical incident management.”

He is also a graduate of the FBI National Executive Institute and the FBI National Academy.

Luna has said that his candidacy is focused on making connections with the community, and interacting with people on a more personal level, stating that his childhood and growing up in poverty in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles to an immigrant Latino family taught him how important a relationship between the public and authorities is.

When asked about his primary opponent, Luna didn’t hold back:

“I believe, unfortunately, that this sheriff is running a dysfunctional office. … If you look at the way that he communicates – or maybe better the lack of communication, the lack of relationships – he is negatively impacting public safety in this county, and I could almost argue beyond the county.”

Villanueva’s time in this role has been mired in controversy. Since becoming the 33rd Sheriff in Los Angeles County history, he has clashed time and time again with the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors – often refusing requests to cooperate on many levels, including investigations and most recently refusing to enforce a vaccine mandate on his staff, including many of his deputies.

However, records indicate that the vaccination rate of the Long Beach Police Department, headed by Luna, are just ahead of the numbers for the Sheriff’s Department – 57 percent to 52 percent, respectively.

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Many of his deputies have been accused of being part of “law enforcement gangs,” prompting the adoption of a California Assembly Bill 958, which requires all law enforcement agencies to maintain a policy prohibiting participation in law enforcement gangs.These allegations come despite his removal of nearly 30 deputies for their involvement in an off-duty fight on the first day of his time in office.

In early 2021, a California Attorney General launched a civil rights investigation into the department for a variety of reasons surrounding a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing,” as dictated by Attorney General Rob Bonta’s website.

Villanueva has also been accused of partaking in “political stunts,” including the deployment of his deputies into Venice Beach to confront the homeless problem, which many believe to be out of the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department.

On top of this, he has recently been tied up in a legal dispute with the widowed wife of late-NBA star, Kobe Bryant, ongoing for nearly the last two years, in regards to the handling of the scene of his fatal accident and how his deputies allegedly spread photos to the public – despite a promise of discretion to the widow.

In response, Villanueva created a department policy to ban such actions, like taking pictures of the scenes of accidents.

Villanueva responded to the reports of Luna’s candidacy with an Instagram Live Story, in which he stated:

“Actually I take that as an endorsement that the political establishment wants a puppet sheriff and they have the casting called for as many applicants as possible. … It’s a free country, anybody can run, and I look forward to the debates.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 25, 2021: Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, right, is photographed during a press conference outside the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles with members of local Asian community groups in a show of solidarity and support for the local Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Villanueva called for zero tolerance for hate crimes and incidents in L.A. County. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, Villanueva has been in law enforcement since 1986, when he joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. His initial run for Sheriff was in 2014, when he was beat out by the Chief of Police of Long Beach prior to Luna, Jim McDonnell.

He ran again in 2018, unseating McDonnell, becoming the first person to do so in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in 104 years. He was also the first democratic candidate to take the seat in 138 years.

Since his time in office, Villanueva has implemented the use of body cams for deputies, ended the transfer of undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and most recently, securing a $22 million budget surplus in 2021.

Also included in the running, is Los Angeles Airport Chief of Police Cecil Rhambo, current Sheriff’s deputy Eli Vera – who was demoted from chief to commander almost immediately upon announcing his candidacy – and another deputy in lieutenant Eric Strong, amongst others.

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The elections are not slated to take place until June of 2022.