Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna touted the advancements that have been made while acknowledging some of the deficiencies in the Sheriff’s Department after his first year in charge during a press conference held on Tuesday.
One of the main points that Luna wanted to highlight was the amount of extra work that deputies have had to take on due to staffing shortages. According to Luna, a Nov. 5 report shows that the department is short approximately 1,200 sworn deputies and 1,600 professional staff members.
Luna said that the department and deputies are still “doing everything they can to serve this community,” mainly through overtime work.
“The people who are working here are taking up that slack,” Luna said. “They are working their tails off. And I recognize that, we recognize that, and we have been working very hard behind the scenes to figure out a way to reduce overtime, because that’s how we’re filling in the gaps.”
Officials with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station recently reported that the station is operating at approximately 70% of its normal staffing.
Those extra hours, Luna said, could be a factor in the eight suicides of department personnel —Luna referred to them as “our family members” — that were reported over the past year.
“That is not acceptable,” Luna said. “One is not acceptable. That hurts us.”
Four of those reported suicides came in a 24-hour span last month, including two who lived in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Part of his solution is to work on employee wellness and increase staffing.
According to Luna, the department has seen 350 deputies graduate from the academy over the past year and he expects another 650 to graduate in 2024.
The extra personnel could help with bringing down the number of retail thefts that have been rampant across the county, Luna said. The joint retail theft task force has already made 229 arrests, delivered 123 search warrants and recovered more than $428,000 in stolen merchandise since its inception, Luna said.
“We want to respond, we want to investigate and we want to hold people accountable,” Luna said.
Luna also said that the department has hired three new psych doctors, bringing the total to 20, and has found funding for a mobile employee wellness trailer that can be sent across the county.
“(This is) one of the toughest jobs in the world,” Luna said. “We want to make sure we’re taking care of our employees. And honestly, a lot of it is fundamental, making sure that when we’re talking about mental health, that we’re openly talking about it, and we tell people there is no shame in raising your hand and saying, ‘I need help.’”
Luna also wants to work on retention. He said he is aware that deputies are leaving the department for other agencies that not only pay better, but also have them doing less work.
“I want to bring people here. I want to keep people here,” Luna said. “But we are losing people to other agencies that are paying a lot better. And guess what, they’re getting paid more and doing a lot less work.”
It isn’t only department personnel for whom Luna wants a greater focus on mental health. He said he wants to see inmates at county jails be placed into the correct institutions depending on their mental illness or other factors.
He used Men’s Central Jail as an example of an aging institution that needs to be replaced with something that “we visualize for the future, some kind of a care campus that looks at treating the mentally ill, the addicted and other special needs along with rehabilitative services.”
“We need to look at moving forward,” Luna said, “because at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to integrate our inmates who are coming to us and put them back in the communities that we all live in. But hopefully, they won’t reoffend. I don’t believe we have the facilities to do that today.”
Mental health is not the only area that Luna wants to advance. The technology available to the department, he said, is not up to modern standards.
According to Luna, when he took over, the department had 79 buses in its fleet, but only 18 were working. He said on Tuesday that 20 new buses have been ordered and those will eventually replace the entire fleet.
Luna went on to say that the dispatch system is 33 years old and there is no jail management system or closed captioning for inmates in custody. The department is also in the process of transitioning to the new Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) that “improves communication between all public safety agencies in the region,” Luna said.
“We have put together an equipment and technology replacement plan, and we’ll be replacing a lot of these items as the year moves forward,” Luna said.
While Luna expressed pleasure with how the department has advanced during his first year in office, he was quick to point out that many of the deficiencies in the department were due to how things were when he took over on Dec. 8, 2022.
One of those deficiencies is the department’s budget, which he said has been a point of contention between the department and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. To that point, Luna said that a chief financial officer has been hired to “professionalize our budget.”
Another deficiency mentioned was the relationships among the different stations across the county and the communities they protect and serve. Luna said that he has instituted a process for “all captains and above” in the department.
“That was to bring back credibility to the process so people can have confidence in their leadership here within the department,” Luna said. “If you remember months ago, you couldn’t turn on the news without seeing a bunch of people running through the stores and grabbing things, and our unit was thinking out of the box, they were creative and they’ve been very successful so far.”
Deputy gangs, while not technically a deficiency, was another point that Luna wanted to hammer on, saying that he is “very serious about addressing” this issue.
According to Luna, there have been “several” members of deputy gangs that have been let go over the past year. He went on to say that there are three ongoing investigations and one of those has involved discipline being handed down, but his focus, while not belittling the issue, was on highlighting the good work that deputies do.
“At the end of the day,” Luna said, “I want to be successful in achieving success in these investigations because, frankly, I’m tired of people talking about the Sheriff’s Department and this gang thing. If we’re efficient and successful in getting rid of that, then we can focus on all the great work that men and women here are doing every day.”
It may have been a day for Luna to show why the department may be moving slower or differently, but he made sure to express that despite all of the challenges, the department is doing its best to answer the calls.
“At the end of the day, we’re still going to respond to 911 calls as quickly and as safely as we can,” Luna said. “We’re still going to maintain our custody staff and our court staff, but there will be other things that we have to reevaluate and even potentially may curtail, at least temporarily.”
To view the full press conference from Tuesday, visit tinyurl.com/4fx25aff.