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Deputy Chief Robert Luna named new Long Beach police chief

Long Beach city officials on Tuesday named Deputy Chief Robert Luna to replace Chief Jim McDonnell, who was elected Los Angeles County Sheriff last week.

Luna, 48, has been with the police department for 29 years.  He commanded the patrol bureau and was second-in-command to McDonnell.  He will be the city's 26th police chief and the first Latino to serve in that role.

Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West announced the selection of Luna on Tuesday at police headquarters.

“I truly have a passion for this profession, this city and I absolutely love this police department,” Luna said after the announcement.

Luna said he plans to meet with the community to learn where the police department needs to improve. Last year, the department had a spike in officer-involved shootings compared to 2012. The deaths of several unarmed civilians have cost the city millions in legal settlements.

Luna said police shootings have fallen by about 60 percent this year compared to last year. 

“For how many times we use force … compared to the total amount of contacts, it’s incredible,” he said. “We pay attention to every single one of them but it’s obviously something that’s always concerning when we have an officer-involved shooting.” 

Luna holds Master of Public Policy and Administration and Bachelor of Science degrees from California State University Long Beach. His salary as chief will be $238,000. 

The city began a search on October 28 to replace McDonnell, who was the favorite in the election for L.A. County Sheriff.

McDonnell’s victory was considered likely when he nearly captured a majority of the vote in the primary. His challenger L.A. County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka barely campaigned after that.

City Manager West had signaled that he planned to recruit from the department’s top brass.

“We have such strong internal candidates within our police department,” West said in a statement. “Each and every member of our police command staff are ready today to be chief, giving Long Beach a strong, diverse pool of candidates to pick from.”

Long Beach is the seventh-largest city in California and has a young and diverse population. Data from the 2012 census survey showed the city 41 percent Hispanic, 29 percent white, 13 percent black and 12 percent Asian.  The median age is 33.8, younger than the median in California.

Long Beach, like many Southern California cities, is experiencing record low crime rates. Total violent crime last year (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) dropped approximately 16 percent compared to 2012 and declined 25 percent compared to 2009, according to LBPD crime statistics.

But the police department had a spike last year in officer-involved shootings. In 2013, there were 22 police shootings, including three involving animals and four cases where weapons were accidentally fired. There were only nine officer-involved shootings in 2012.

Darick Simpson, executive director of the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, said Luna is a good choice for the city.

“He’s genuine about listening and genuine about his follow and that’s important,” he said.

Simpson said one of the challenges Luna will face is trying to change perceptions among the city’s youth. He said police and young people see each other as a threat--a serious issue that needs fixed.

“The only way we can do that is to understand where each side is coming from,” Simpson said. 

McDonnell was appointed Long Beach police chief in March 2010 after serving 29 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he rose to second in command.

McDonnell did not attend the announcement Tuesday. Luna said he is on the East Coast visiting family. He and city officials praised McDonnell for his four-and-a-half years of service.

“He is leaving this department, this city in very good shape,” Luna said. 

McDonnell will be sworn in as L.A. County Sheriff on December 1.

This story has been updated.