With Los Angeles County residents staying home due to COVID-19, crime is down significantly, but efforts to reduce the jail population by 25% have not kept the virus completely at bay, Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said as he announced that a custody assistant is on life support.
“We’re just praying and rooting for him that he can pull through,” Villanueva said Monday.
A total of 429 LASD employees are quarantined, 33 have tested positive for coronavirus and 230 have returned to work, the sheriff said.
The number of inmates in quarantine has increased to 676, while 28 more are under medical isolation. However, only 11 have tested positive for the virus, according to Villanueva.
“We’ve been working deliberately since the end of February putting into place a plan that has slowly reduced the jail population, created defensible space (to quarantine individuals),” Villanueva said during a morning briefing. “Right now, it is technically safer inside our jail environment than it is on the streets.”
The sheriff pointed to a much higher rate of infection among smaller jail populations in Cook County, Illinois, and New York’s Rikers Island as evidence that his plans are working.
Villanueva claimed to be ahead of requests by both criminal justice advocates and the county Board of Supervisors as his department worked to release more than 4,200 individuals with little time left in their sentences or in custody awaiting trial on low-level charges.
“In the wildest dreams of the ACLU and all of these different groups … they never would have thought that would have been possible,” the sheriff said.
The silver lining of stay-at-home orders is that crime is down significantly, with violent crime showing a more than 9% drop and property crimes down more than 15%, according to data provided by the sheriff’s department.
However, a decrease in one number had Villanueva concerned.
The database that tracks reports of suspected child abuse and neglect has 1,000 fewer entries for this March versus last March.
“When the reporting number is down, that means there are less eyes out there,” the sheriff said, citing the lack of contact with teachers, coaches and other adults likely to report abuse or neglect.
He urged residents to report any suspicions of domestic or child abuse.
“We do not want to have another Gabriel Fernandez or another Anthony Avalos,” Villanueva said, citing two young boys who died of abuse. “If you see something, say something.”
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