Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva warned of an “imminent threat to public safety.” There could be a “mass exodus” of thousands of deputies and civilian personnel from his department who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He estimates as much as 44% of his workforce could be gone in one day, The LAist reports.
“I could potentially lose 44% of my workforce in one day,” Villanueva wrote Thursday 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 that 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.
If they do not comply at the end of 45 days and have not requested a medical or religious exemption, they will have a five-day suspension and then 30 days to comply.
The Sheriff’s Department — the largest in the country — employs approximately 18,000 people. About half are sworn deputies.
The department spokesperson Deputy Alejandra Parra said the 44% projection is “based on what we are seeing unfolding within the organization currently.”
The department is “unsure of the exact vaccination rates at this time due to incomplete FULGENT registration data,” she said. FULGENT is the system the county has set up for employees to declare whether they are vaccinated or wish to request a religious or medical exemption.
James Wheeler, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs union, issued a statement agreeing with Villanueva that the “potential loss of thousands of deputies is alarming and will result in a devastating impact to public safety.”
Wheeler argued that as the union continues to negotiate with the county over its policy, “any disciplinary action that results in the termination of employees is simply not a prudent approach as a solution to this issue.”
One of Villanueva’s challengers in next year’s election quickly condemned the sheriff’s statements.
“This is yet another example of Villanueva’s failed leadership and why change is growing more urgent at the department,” said LAX Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo, who was once an assistant sheriff.
The sheriff is also getting pushback from members of the Board of Supervisors. They want him to stick up for them instead of his men and women.
The sheriff is vaccinated and supports the vaccine. However, he supports the freedom of his staff to choose what they inject into their bodies.