Monterey Park Massacre Brings LA County’s New Sheriff to the Global Stage – Orange County Register

Less than two months after being sworn into office, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna faced a baptism of fire in the Monterey Park shooting that claimed 11 lives and catapulted him onto a global stage.

Luna faced his first test as head of the largest sheriff’s department in the country when he handled the county’s largest mass shooting on one of the region’s most famous holidays. He came out with mixed reviews from pundits who praised him for his competence and compassion on the podium at media briefings but concerned about the five-hour delay in warning the public that a gunman was at large.

After serving as Long Beach police chief for seven years, Luna promised a new era of accountability and cooperation when he easily removed embattled ex-sheriff Alex Villanueva in November.

Luna’s first crisis behind the five-star badge unfolded around 10:30 p.m. Saturday in a ballroom in Monterey Park, where 11 were killed by a gunman who fatally shot himself at a Torrance mall on Sunday. For most of the ordeal, Luna was the face of law enforcement, the go-along for federal, state, and local agencies.

As for Luna’s tactical performance, experts interviewed by Southern California News Group said they didn’t know the inner workings of the investigation, only that the alleged culprit was quickly identified, cornered, and no longer a threat. Some said Luna hadn’t been in the sheriff’s department long enough to get his fingerprints on the operation.

On the podium during press conferences, Luna sometimes stumbled verbally and appeared less than polished, often reading from notes. But experts interviewed by SCNG said Luna appeared thoughtful and commanding.

“Better competent than slick,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. “His behavior showed concern, but not panic.”

Pitney said the public would rather have someone compassionate and reserved than an actor at the helm of the 18,000-strong department.

“Presentation style is not important, what matters is that you do (the investigation) right,” he said.

Pitney gave Luna an “A” for press conferences, although the media often learned from law enforcement sources what was happening before official announcements.

However, Pitney’s praise was tempered by an Associated Press report that the Sheriff’s Department waited until about 3:30 a.m. Sunday to acknowledge that the gunman, later identified as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran of Hemet, was at large foot was.

Knowing his small department needed more resources, Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said he woke Luna with a phone call around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, asking for help. The sheriff’s detectives were already rolling by this point.

In an interview with SCNG on Tuesday, Wiese added that law enforcement didn’t immediately raise a public alarm because they didn’t have a detailed description of the shooter. “We knew it was an Asian male, but that’s about 70% of the community,” Wiese said.

At a press conference on Monday, Luna said he would investigate the reasons for the delay: “When we first started releasing public information, the priority was to get that person into custody. Finally it worked. We’ll go back and look at it like we always do. Nobody is as critical as we are of what worked and particularly what didn’t work and evaluate that and see how long you’ve waited to determine what the public risk was at that point.”

Experts on Tuesday said it was too early to judge Luna about the delay.

“Any evaluation by the sheriff’s office must be preliminary pending the details of the response,” Pitney said. “As soon as you know that an act of violence has taken place, you must report it to the public.”

Jon Fleischman, former spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and editor of online political news website Flash Report, agreed with Pitney that more detail was needed to judge Luna.

“You can create more panic just by saying someone is out there,” Fleischman said. “Part of the process is gathering enough information to come up with something useful. … The time after (an incident) is critical and you’re trying to catch someone quickly. … You can’t be imprecise as a sheriff.”

Fleischman, who estimates he has conducted 3,000 media interviews, gave Luna high marks for his work behind the array of microphones.

“In the midst of a senseless tragedy with many moving parts, it’s not easy to step up to the podium and offer reassurance,” he said. “If you know what you’re saying, it’ll be seen by millions on national television, nobody’s going to be perfect.”

https://www.ocregister.com/2023/01/24/monterey-park-massacre-puts-new-la-county-sheriff-on-global-stage/ Monterey Park Massacre Brings LA County’s New Sheriff to the Global Stage – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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