Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a statement on Friday that 30% of the Department’s 18,000, or roughly 5,400 employees, are no longer available to work due to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors vaccination mandate for all county employees that went into effect during the beginning of the month.
While many are dropping out directly due to the policy, others are taking the mandate as a justification to retire or to put in worker compensation papers. Replacement workers, already hard to come by due to having to fill a large number of open positions due to so many employees already retiring due to hitting the minimum retirement year level.
According to Villanueva, the mass number of people leaving is leading to worse response times, higher homicide rates, lower solve rates, and generally fewer numbers of law enforcement officers on the county level.
“We are experiencing an increase in unscheduled retirements, worker compensation claims, employees quitting, and a reduction in qualified applicants,” said Sheriff Villanueva in the statement. “As a result, homicide rates will continue to rise, response times will increase, solve rates will diminish, arrests will decline, patrol services will significantly decline, and patrol stations will close.
“Compounding this issue is the fact my department is experiencing a mass exodus of employees who are retiring early. I currently have 1,605 employees that have 28 years of service or more. This mandate would certainly expedite many of these employees’ decision to retire.”
In early October, Sheriff Villanueva refused to comply with the County mandate, as he did not want to lose a large number of staff due solely to vaccination status. Despite still not complying, 30% are currently out, with Villanueva saying that he could lose as much as 44% if he follows the mandate.
Sheriff’s Department staffing at major risk due to vaccination mandate
The Sheriff has remained adamant about the vaccine being up to personal choice rather than enforcement due to Department mask and COVID-19 testing policies already in effect. While Villanueva himself has been vaccinated, as has the majority of the Department, the decision over it being a personal health decision has nonetheless rattled many in the Department. The Sheriff has warned that, if the mandate stays in effect, the County will be looking at worse conditions. Already, some rises have been noticed due to the sudden short staffed situation, such as a 23% rise in aggravated assaults and a 44% homicide rise.
“In the near future, unless something changes, the ‘defunded’ and ‘de-staffed’ Sheriff’s Department will no longer be able to sustain the staffing levels required to maintain public safety at the status quo,” added Villanueva. “My personnel already wear masks and would submit to routine COVID-19 testing, so termination makes no sense.
“This mandate is like putting up storm windows after the storm has passed. As the sheriff, I can firmly tell you this mandate will create a pandemic of chaos within our county resulting in tragic losses.”
While some efforts are in place to reverse the mandate for County employees, such as a current lawsuit in LA County Superior Court, experts note that the Board of Supervisors would likely not allow the mandate to be removed without a major fight.
“They just put their political reputations on the mandate for county employees,” Annie Soto, a COVID-19 law researcher, told the Globe on Friday. “They made this law. And for another elected official, who has faced calls for resignation earlier this year, to be the one of the main forces in challenging and possibly eliminating it? That would be too much.”
“It is, in the end, a health issue, but there is so much more at stake here besides COVID spread. That’s why LA employees, Chicago employees, New York employees, everyone, has been fighting this.”
LA County Board of Supervisors President Hilda Solis responded to Villanueva today noting that “He has been an obstacle to ending the pandemic by publicly denouncing the unanimously ratified mandate on social media. Since then, I have heard from constituents, including within the sheriff’s department, expressing disappointment with the sheriff and calling for the enforcement of the mandate as they want to stay healthy and protect their loved ones from this virus and its variants.”
Court decisions on the County mandate are expected to be heard soon.
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