For weeks, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized the county’s employee vaccination law, saying he would not force his deputies to get vaccinated.
This is in stark contrast to the position of Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, who agreed to enforce the city’s vaccination regulations.
And this can be seen in their vaccination numbers. About 53% of the 16,070 sheriff’s department officers, both jury and civilian, received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 74% of the 12,143 LAPD officers, according to figures released by each agency.
Villanueva made strong statements that the mandate would trigger a massive exodus, telling reporters on Tuesday that about a hundred more employees retired last year than a year earlier, and that 238 more employees are moving to other agencies or changing careers. These figures include departures that occurred before the district mandate was put in place.
But he did not provide any concrete evidence that employees quit or retired early due to the vaccine demand, other than saying, “People are unhappy with the vaccine demand. The fact that we are seeing a surge is attributed to the vaccine mandate. ”
Villanueva, who said he is vaccinated, has called on department staff to get vaccinated but does not believe they should be fired for refusing because it should be a personal choice.
On Tuesday he told reporters that “the collective risk does not justify this kind of invasion.”
According to him, 15 sheriff’s department employees have died from COVID-19.
Public policy experts say mandates across the country have been effective in vaccinating employees, even among groups that have resisted, and that the sheriff’s “weak” attitude is contributing to the decline.
“Some of the statements are actually in many ways just getting attention and trying to focus it around personal freedoms, when in fact its organization is an important component of social life and interaction and really shows that it is not a personal choice – it is a choice that influences on other people, ”said Richard Carpiano, professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside. “He really ignites anti-vaccination moods.”
The sheriff’s position is part of his broader strategy of adopting increasingly conservative positions, which are widely seen as an attempt to create a new political base as he approaches re-election.
On Monday, Villanueva appeared on Fox News, telling anchor Tucker Carlson that the mandate would leave MPs out of the department, and that homicide rates in turn would rise and response times would increase.
“Your priorities are so precisely placed in the right place,” said Carlson, known for his strong conservative views and inflammatory comments. He later added, “Dude, why didn’t you run for governor?”
In a statement Tuesday, Los Angeles County Inspector Janice Khan called on Villanueva to ensure that her mandate is fulfilled.
“COVID was the No. 1 killer of law enforcement officers across the country last year,” Khan said. “Instead of realizing the Los Angeles County vaccination mandate (as any other county has done successfully), it is putting its deputies and the public they face face to face every day at unnecessary risk. What we need from the sheriff now is leadership, at least once.
Supervisor Catherine Barger said in a statement that Villanueva “will not enter into dialogue with me to find a solution.”
“I strive to support and listen to the rank and file of our sheriff to deal with the obstacles and obstacles they face so that we can reach a solution,” she said.
County officials rejected Villanueva’s claims that the mandate was causing a massive exodus. Jesús Ruiz, a Los Angeles County spokesman, said officials have not seen an increase in the number of retirements or layoffs among jury staff since the policy went into effect.
“There has been no increase in dropout rates,” he said, saying officials had compared data for the last year with data for this month when the vaccination policy was in place. “The dropout rate from the LASD over the past year has been slightly lower than the county overall.”
He said that nine sheriff’s officers retired in October, “which does not count as a large number.”
Officials send notifications to employees who have not yet implemented the vaccination policy. They have 45 days before they face a five-day suspension and 30 days after that before they face dismissal, Ruiz said.
Last week, 1,843 sheriff’s officers applied for an exemption from the vaccine for medical or religious reasons, and 2,327 were not vaccinated. Another 3,444 sheriffs did not report their vaccination status, a county spokesman said.
Villanueva’s rebelliousness in the face of a vaccination order was in stark contrast to the position taken by Los Angeles Police Chief Moore.
Moore, who is not elected as Villanueva but appointed by the city, has announced for months that he will follow the vaccination regulations imposed by the city after negotiations with the police union and other collective bargaining units.
On Tuesday, he told the Civilian Police Commission that Los Angeles police are preparing to begin enforcing city rules, even if that means the suspension of hundreds of officers, including by creating contingency plans for return patrols and other shifts.
Moore said he had a meeting Tuesday morning with department heads where he explained how they would manually deliver vaccination notices to every officer or civil servant who remains unvaccinated or has refused to grant the city their vaccination status.
These notifications will mostly be delivered in the next two days, Moore said, although some officers on extended leave or injuries may not receive them as quickly.
The notifications will indicate that officers are reporting their vaccination status if they have not already done so, and begin filing and paying for routine COVID-19 testing within 48 hours and until they either get vaccinated, which is what they should done by December, or they won’t receive a medical or religious exemption.
Officers who fail to comply with reporting and testing requirements will be suspended from duty pending disciplinary action and possible dismissal, while civil servants will be withheld wages pending disciplinary review.
It was unclear on Tuesday how many LAPD officers might end up being removed from office, but the number assigned to receive notice represents a significant percentage of the force, which this week stood at 9,473 jury officers and 2,670 civil servants.
Of these, more than 400 LAPD staff, most of whom are jury officers, did not inform the city of their vaccination status as of Tuesday, and more than 2,000 more are seeking release. Moore said it was impossible to predict how many of them would continue to deny their status or abandon the new testing regime after receiving notifications, but he hoped there would be few.
“I continue to hope that all of these employees will be vaccinated or enter into an agreement with those who intend to apply for tax exemption,” said Moore.
Nonetheless, Moore said that in the event that large numbers of officers are released from duty, “contingencies” are already being worked out, including plans to possibly cancel leave, extend working hours and reshuffle the missions of officers who remain on duty.
“We will monitor the results of servicing these notifications. [and] have unforeseen circumstances to provide the necessary personnel in critical positions, ”said Moore.
To date, over 3,200 LAPD employees have contracted COVID-19 and at least 11 have died. Over the past week, a dozen officers have contracted COVID-19. Two were hospitalized as of Tuesday, while 80 staff remained at home recovering.
Some officers have sued the city over the sanctions, and the police union is suing over its deployment, including requiring unvaccinated employees to pay for their own testing before being vaccinated or receiving an exemption request.
Times staff writer Luc Money contributed to this report.