Sheriff Alex Villanueva continued Tuesday to assail Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, claiming more than 4,000 sheriff’s department employees are facing possible termination, the vast majority of them sworn deputies.
Speaking at a downtown Los Angeles news conference, the sheriff said that as of Tuesday morning, 51.7% of the department’s roughly 16,000 employees are fully vaccinated. Among sworn personnel, however, the figure is only 42.8%, while it is 67.2% among professional civilian staff.
Countywide, 80% of eligible residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 72% are fully vaccinated.
Villanueva estimated that 4,185 personnel are facing possible termination due to failure to meet the county mandate, with nearly 3,200 of those people being sworn personnel, a number he compared to the size of the agency’s entire patrol division.
“Imagine what would happen if every one of these (people) were terminated,” he said. “What would the department look like.”
Villanueva also rattled off other statistics showing that 102 employees have filed for early retirement, 238 have given notice that they are leaving the department and more than 300 have submitted workers’ compensation claims.
The sheriff claimed that the departures were a direct result of the vaccine mandate. Asked how he knew that the mandate was directly responsible, he said, “That’s the information we’re getting from our employees.”
“People are not happy with the vaccine mandate,” he said. “The fact that we’re seeing the uptick, we’re attributing that to the vaccine mandate.”
The sheriff has repeatedly criticized the mandate, while insisting that he is personally vaccinated and believes the vaccines are safe. But he lashed out at the Board of Supervisors — which whom he has repeatedly clashed on various issues since taking office — accusing them of enacting the mandate without considering the consequences in terms of losing public safety personnel.
He also claimed that there are 1,605 sworn personnel who have more than 20 years of service, meaning they could retire immediately.
The Board of Supervisors ratified an executive order in August that requires all county employees, including sheriff’s deputies, to register their vaccination status on an online portal. The mandate allows for religious and medical exceptions.
Board members have in turn criticized Villanueva on the issue, accusing him of failing to display leadership in the department by encouraging deputies and employees to get vaccinated. Board chairwoman Hilda Solis said the sheriff was acting more like an “obstacle” instead of working to educate employees about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
In a statement Tuesday, Supervisor Janice Hahn urged Villanueva to enforce the vaccine mandate
“The number one killer of law enforcement officers nationwide this past year has been COVID,” Hahn said. “Instead of implementing L.A. County’s vaccine mandate — like every other county department has done successfully — he 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.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger called the county’s mandate “an important part of our commitment to keep the public safe from a deadly virus.”
“It’s unfortunate that the sheriff won’t engage in dialogue with me to figure out a solution,” she said in a statement. “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. Ultimately, we all share a commitment to public safety.”