Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva challenged the county’s leaders on Nov. 2 to open public debate over vaccine mandates, citing a possible loss of up to one-third of sworn personnel by the end of the year.
Typically, the department loses 500 to retirement and another 300 to injuries each year. So far, 655 employees have filed paperwork to leave the department.
This year, the department could lose 1,000 to voluntary retirement and injury claims, Villanueva said. An additional 3,137 sworn personnel, which includes patrol deputies and detectives, and 1,048 staff could be fired for not getting vaccinated.
Villanueva, who oversees the largest sheriff’s department in the country, with about 18,000 employees, announced earlier this month that he wouldn’t enforce the county’s vaccine mandate in his agency.
A COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees has caused many at the department to leave, Villanueva said. Under the mandate, employees had to be fully vaccinated by Oct 1.
By Nov. 2, 57 percent of the sheriff’s department was fully vaccinated, according to Villanueva. Of those, 43 percent of sworn staff were vaccinated. Sixty-seven percent of the professional, non-sworn staff were vaccinated.
Villanueva said sworn staff could easily leave the county to work in surrounding counties that don’t require COVID-19 vaccines, such as San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, Ventura, or Kern. Many of the department’s personnel live in the surrounding counties because of the high cost of living in Los Angeles County, he said.
Los Angeles was unique in the nation regarding the mandate and the “defund the police” movement, Villanueva said.
“The only one entity that is steadfast in defunding in the entire nation is the LA County Board of Supervisors,” he said. “They have a very weird group of people that are in charge. They worship at the altar of ‘wokeism’ and they don’t understand that their own community is saying ‘no.’”
The sheriff said he thinks more department personnel would get vaccinated if the department could pursue a voluntary system.
Villanueva showed photos of stadiums filled with cheering, unmasked fans and talked about people eating in restaurants without masks.
“Again, how many people are eating at a restaurant, but then you’re worried about a cop that may or may not show up at your door on a call for service?” Villanueva said.
Residents have asked sheriff’s operators not to send unvaccinated deputies to respond to their calls, according to the department’s information bureau.
“We’re not mandating that the public gets a vaccine. We have to deal with the public unvaccinated, vaccinated. With COVID, without COVID,” he said.
Villanueva said the vaccine issue needed to be aired publicly. However, the public has been excluded from the decisions because county supervisors continue to hold meetings over the internet, in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, an act passed in 1953 that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in local legislative meetings held by city, county, or legislative bodies, the sheriff said.
“Everything they’re doing is a violation of the Brown Act, because they’re deliberately excluding the public from participating fully from airing all of the motions and all of the decisions the board is making, which are being made behind closed doors, behind plexiglass, and you don’t really need to know why,” Villanueva said. “And this is what’s going on right now.”
Facts and science don’t support the vaccine mandate, he said.
“Something’s going on. Something’s rotten and we need to fix it.”
The decision by Los Angeles County to include population equity questions, such as sexual orientation, in the system that documents COVID-19 vaccinations among employees made more employees hesitant, the sheriff said.
Los Angeles County responded to the sheriff’s comments on Nov. 2, saying it hadn’t seen an increase in early retirements or resignations among sworn staff in the sheriff’s department since the vaccination policy took effect, according to a county spokeswoman.
A review of attrition data from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 20, 2021, was compared to Oct. 2021, when the vaccination policy was implemented. There has been no increase in attrition, according to the county.
The department’s level of attrition over the past year has been slightly lower than the overall county rate.
There were nine sheriff department retirements in October, which is not considered a high number, according to the county.
“It is our hope that all department heads will support this important public health measure to keep their employees—and the public—safe. That means encouraging their employees to join the more than 90 percent of county employees who have already registered in the system, and the more than 77 percent who are fully vaccinated,” said county spokeswoman Brenda Duran.