Alex Villanueva vs. Robert Luna: L.A. County sheriff race voter guide

Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, left, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
(Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is behind in a race to keep his job running the largest sheriff’s department in the country. Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna is vying to replace him in November.

In the June primary election, Villanueva received 31% of the vote against a crowded field of challengers. Luna received 26% of the vote, with the remaining votes split among the seven other candidates, all of whom have since endorsed Luna. A recent poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, which was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found Luna has a 10-point lead among likely voters over the incumbent.

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Who are the candidates?

Villanueva is seeking a second term in office. Since his upset victory in 2018, when he ran as a progressive reformer, Villanueva has emerged as a polarizing figure who has been wrapped up in a steady stream of controversies.


He delivered on a campaign promise to kick immigration authorities out of the county’s sprawling jail system and also touts that he rolled out body-worn cameras to deputies at patrol stations. But he’s been criticized for his toxic relationships with other county leaders as well as his hiring decisions and resistance to oversight.

Luna became the first Latino chief of the Long Beach agency when he took the helm in 2014. Under his leadership, the department came under fire for its use of a texting application that permanently erases messages.

Though he’s much less known, Luna has emerged as the front-runner, which suggests the race is turning out to be a referendum on Villanueva.

In public remarks, Villanueva has tried to paint Luna as someone who would be a “puppet” for the county Board of Supervisors, which controls the Sheriff’s Department’s budget. Luna, meanwhile, has criticized the sheriff for being untrustworthy and blamed him for causing the dysfunctional relationships Villanueva has with other county leaders.


Where Villanueva and Luna stand on ‘deputy gangs’

For decades, the Sheriff’s Department has been beset by allegations that gang-like groups of deputies with matching tattoos have run roughshod in several stations, glorifying aggressive policing tactics and celebrating on-duty shootings.

In the past, Villanueva has downplayed the issue, saying problems associated with the groups are often the result of drunken deputies getting into fights. But the sheriff has also taken credit for addressing the problem by transferring deputies to other stations and implementing a policy that prohibits deputies from joining groups that violate the rights of others.

Luna has criticized Villanueva for refusing to identify the groups as gangs, saying the sheriff can’t fix a problem that he doesn’t acknowledge exists.

Los Angeles County has paid out roughly $55 million in settlements since 1990 in civil cases involving allegations that sheriff’s deputies belonged to a secret society, records show.

Aug. 4, 2020

Luna said any policy cracking down on the groups has to come with the proper training and implementation.

“If you write a policy, and you don’t do training, or you don’t hold anybody accountable ... the policy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.


He also called for federal and state intervention and vowed to cooperate with the oversight entities that were put in place to keep the Sheriff’s Department in check.


What Villanueva and Luna have said about homelessness

Villanueva has long touted the Sheriff’s Department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team, a team of deputies that team up with civilian outreach workers to connect homeless people with shelter and services.

Villanueva increased the staffing of the team and grabbed headlines by sending its members out to areas patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department, including Venice and Olvera Street. Critics said his actions amounted to a publicity stunt.

Luna has criticized Villanueva for showing up to the Venice Boardwalk and taking credit for the work of other city leaders and outreach efforts.

“We cannot have a police leader who decides at the last minute to get in front of a TV camera and say ... ‘I’m taking credit for cleaning up a specific block or area’ and not give credit to all the government entities and the non-government entities who are working their butts off to clean the streets,” Luna said.


Past coverage

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna traded jabs Wednesday night during a heated candidate debate co-hosted by the Los Angeles Times.

Sept. 21, 2022

Robert Luna holds a small lead over Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the race for sheriff takes on a strongly partisan cast.

Aug. 21, 2022

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna announced his bid this week to unseat Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Dec. 2, 2021


L.A. Times Editorial Board Endorsement

The Times’ editorial page publishes endorsements based on candidate interviews and independent reporting. The editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.

The L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for statewide ballot measures, elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, L.A. Unified School District board, L.A. county superior court, statewide offices, the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.


How and where to vote

Ballots will be in the mail to all 22 million registered voters in the state no later than Oct. 10. Californians can return ballots by mail, drop them at collection boxes or turn them in at voting centers. They can also cast ballots early at voting centers or wait until Nov. 8 to vote at their neighborhood polling places.

Californians can register to vote or check their status at

Here’s how to vote in the California midterm election, how to register, what to do if you didn’t get mail ballot or if you made a mistake on your ballot.


Follow more election coverage

California voters head to the polls Nov. 8 to vote for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, attorney general, and races for U.S. representative in Congress, state senator and state Assemblymember. Local races include who will be the Los Angeles mayor and L.A. County sheriff. There are seven ballot propositions for voters to decide on the table.

In the November midterm election, California is one of the battlefields as Democrats and Republicans fight over control of Congress.


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