Long Beach is tapping a top deputy of Jim McDonnell, newly elected to be Los Angeles County's next sheriff, to replace him as the city's police chief, officials announced Tuesday.
Deputy Chief Robert Luna, a 29-year department veteran, will be Long Beach's first Latino police chief. He officially assumes the job on Nov. 21.
FOR THE RECORD
Nov. 11, 12:37 p.m.: An earlier version of this post implied that Jim McDonnell was Long Beach's first Latino police chief. Robert Luna is the city's first Latino police chief.
"I'm honored and humbled," Luna said. "It's a privilege to lead the men and women of this police department."
Luna was chosen by the city manager from a field of four candidates, officials said.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia praised Luna, saying, "above all, has a good heart."
“He has an incredible capacity to lead, a commitment of compassion and understanding of a community and what it takes to be a police officer,” Garcia said. “He has cooperated throughout his entire long service with the community, with the city and with the officers out on the street protecting us every single day.”
Luna's appointment comes after McDonnell, who was a top assistant to former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and a finalist to replace him, sailed to victory Nov. 4 over Paul Tanaka in the race for sheriff by a margin of 75% to 25%.
McDonnell was at the helm for four years.
Luna will take over police protection of a sprawling 52-square-mile city with a population of about 463,000. The department faced heavy criticism years ago as the department struggled with a surge in officer-involved shootings and entrenched gang crime, particularly in the neighborhoods north of downtown and North Long Beach.
Luna grew up in East Los Angeles and, like many other people in his neighborhood, lived under the poverty level.
“But I never knew I was poor,” Luna said. “Everyone was kind of the same, so you couldn’t really tell.”
Luna also grew up in an area that was distrustful of the police.
“It was an 'us versus them' mentality,” Luna said. “Some of my interactions with the police as a young man weren’t very good."
Looking back, Luna said those experiences will help him when handling communities he says remind him of his childhood.
During his time as chief, McDonnell oversaw a significant reduction in violent crime. This October, year-over-year crime was down by about 20%, mirroring a national trend. The reduction came even as the police force shed dozens of jobs, down to about 800 officers from the 1,000 the department had when McDonnell started in March 2010.
Since joining the department in 1985, Luna has worked a number of assignments, including SWAT, homicide and gang investigations. It was a career he never though possible until attending
career day at Long Beach Community College, where he met a sergeant from the Long Beach Police Department.
“To think you dreamed of being a police officer and then to now think you’ve reached the top of an organization you love," Luna said. "I owe the city so much, and what a great way to repay it."
Follow the reporter on Twitter: @LATvives