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Criminal Justice

LA Sheriff Villanueva Sticks To His Claim About A Possible Mandate-Driven 'Mass Exodus' Of Deputies

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, in a brown uniform with a dark tie, speaks into a microphone at a podium. He has a badge and single strip of medals colored blue, red and white  on his chest, and a Sheriff's Department patch on his left shoulder.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
(Kyle Grillot for LAist)
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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Tuesday stood by his claim that thousands may leave his department rather than follow the county mandate to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Villanueva told a news conference he’s basing his claim largely on the fact that nearly half his deputies have either stated they are not vaccinated or have so far refused to reveal whether they are. But there is no indication those deputies will end up defying the mandate and leave or be fired.

The sheriff also pushed back against the idea that unvaccinated deputies are transmitting the disease to the public. “I have yet to see any contact tracing data that points to the deputies infecting anybody,” he said.

Only about 40% of the department's deputies are confirmed as fully vaccinated, according to data provided by the county CEO's office.

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The sheriff argues getting the shots should be a personal choice and the county should instead offer deputies regular testing for COVID-19.

The consensus of the medical and public health community is that vaccination is not just about protecting yourself, it’s also about protecting everyone with whom you come into contact — and sheriff’s deputies come into contact with a lot of people.

As further evidence to support his argument, the sheriff cited an increase in deputies filing for retirement — 617 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 compared with 515 in the previous year, a nearly 20% increase.

Villanueva conceded that uptick could be related to frustration with protests against the police, but added the vaccine mandate “could just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

I have yet to see any contact tracing data that points to the deputies infecting anybody.
— Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Asked why so many deputies don’t want to get vaccinated, he said, "A lot of this is driven by people who just don’t have faith in the vaccine, some of it is driven by political ideology, some of them might be irrational, some people might have legitimate reasons why they don’t trust the vaccine. In this profession which tends to be dominated by people who have a more conservative leaning, this is what you might expect."

The sheriff lashed out at the Board of Supervisors for imposing the mandate, accusing it of “worshipping wokism.” He asked, “What is achieved by trying to impose a mandate that you physically can't impose without losing a huge segment of your workforce?”

Villanueva's stance earned him an interview on Fox's "Tucker Carlson Tonight" Monday.

Noting that COVID-19 has been the “number one killer of law enforcement officers nationwide this past year,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement that Villanueva’s refusal to enforce the mandate “is putting both his deputies and the public they come face-to-face with every day at unnecessary risk. What we need from the Sheriff right now is leadership, for once."

What we need from the Sheriff right now is leadership, for once.
— County Supervisor Janice Hahn
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Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement that “[i]t’s unfortunate that the Sheriff won’t engage in dialogue with me to figure out a solution. I am committed to supporting and listening to our Sheriff's rank and file to get to the bottom of what barriers and obstacles they are facing so we can reach a resolution.”

Villanueva warned last week of an “imminent threat to public safety” caused by a “mass exodus” of thousands of deputies and civilian personnel from his department who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I could potentially lose 44% of my workforce in one day,” Villanueva wrote in an open letter to the Board of Supervisors. The sheriff said he cannot enforce “reckless mandates that put public safety at risk.”

The county is currently sending notices to employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination policy, saying they have 45 days from the date of the notice to register as fully vaccinated, according to a statement from the office of County CEO Fesia Davenport.

After the 45 days have passed, employees who have not demonstrated proof of full vaccination or requested a medical or religious exemption will get a five-day suspension and have 30 days after they return from suspension to come into compliance, the statement said.

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