Sheriff Alex Villanueva was continuing Tuesday to assail Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which he calls an imminent threat to public safety that could prompt a mass exodus from a department he says is already woefully understaffed.

“I have repeatedly stated the dangers to public safety when 20% to 30% of my workforce is no longer available to provide service, and those dangers are quickly becoming a reality,” Villanueva said in a statement last week. “We are experiencing an increase in unscheduled retirements, worker compensation claims, employees quitting, and a reduction in qualified applicants.”

The sheriff also sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors last week echoing those concerns. He noted that the department has 1,605 employees with 28 years of service or more, meaning “they could retire without financial consequence.” In that letter, he claimed the mandate could cause him to lose up to 44% of his workforce, repeating his assertion that he will not enforce the mandate for his deputies.

Villanueva has scheduled a late-morning news conference Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles to further rail against the proposed mandate.

The sheriff has said he expects homicide rates in the county will continue to rise as the department’s ranks are depleted, and response times would increase with patrol services declining.

He has also insisted that COVID case rates are on the decline in the county, making a vaccine mandate unneeded.

“With the pandemic waning, there is no justification for your mandate,” he wrote in his letter to the board. “This mandate is like putting up storm windows after the storm has passed.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ratified an executive order in August that required all county employees, including sheriff’s deputies, to register their vaccination status by Oct. 1 on an online portal. The mandate allows for religious and medical exceptions.

Board members have criticized Villanueva, 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.

Villanueva said he is vaccinated and believes in its effectiveness, “but the choice to receive the vaccine is a personal one, and an individual who served the community tirelessly before there was a vaccine should not now be fired because they made a decision about their own body.”

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