By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) – Several law enforcement agencies across California are pushing back against vaccine mandates, claiming that the requirement will impact public safety due to staffing shortages.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference at the Hall of Justice building last week, where he claimed that enforcing the county’s mandate requiring their workers to be fully vaccinated would cause an “imminent threat to public safety.”
The sheriff told reporters last week that currently, 4,185 people employed by the sheriff’s department are at risk of termination if they do not comply with the mandate — 3,137 of whom are sworn officers.
The sheriff has publicly defied the county’s mandate for weeks, and in a statement on social media Oct. 28, claimed the vaccine mandate is causing a “mass exodus” from his department. He claimed that the associated staffing shortages would lead to slower response times, fewer arrests and the closure of patrol stations during a time when homicides are up 44% and aggravated assaults are up 23%.
“I have repeatedly stated the dangers to public safety when 20%-30% of my workforce is no longer available to provide service, and those dangers are quickly becoming a reality,” Sheriff Villanueva said.
According to an executive order ratified by Los Angeles County in August, all county employees were required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. Those who have not done so were told to be fully vaccinated within 45 days or risk a five-day suspension. Employees will then have 30 days to comply with the order or face termination, county officials said.
During last week’s press conference, Sheriff Villanueva reported that 51.7% of the department’s personnel are fully vaccinated, including himself, and 1.7% are partially vaccinated. The department is the largest in the country, employing more than 10,000 sworn deputies and 8,000 civilian staff.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn rebuked the Sheriff’s defiance toward the mandate on Twitter last week, saying that “the number one killer of law enforcement officers nationwide this past year has been COVID.”
“Instead of implementing L.A. County’s vaccine mandate (like every other department has done) he is putting both his deputies and the public they come face-to-face with every day at unnecessary risk,” Ms. Hahn said in a statement. “What we need from the sheriff right now is leadership, for once.”
Sheriff Villanueva — while perhaps one of the most vocal — is not the only law enforcement official in Los Angeles County who is pushing back on current mandates. Some Los Angeles Police Department officers are currently suing the city over its vaccine mandate. In addition, the police union is suing the city over the rollout, which includes a requirement for unvaccinated officers to pay for their own COVID-19 tests.
Outside of Los Angeles, several other law enforcement agencies across the state have raised similar concerns over how vaccine mandates could impact staffing and public safety.
In September, San Diego city officials backed down on a Nov. 2 deadline for city employees to be fully vaccinated, moving the date to Dec. 1. The additional time allows labor negotiations with the San Diego Police Officers Association to continue over whether unvaccinated workers will be fired, suspended or required to be tested weekly.
In a statement, the SDPOA Board of Directors called the city’s vaccine mandate a “heavy-handed approach” that could threaten the strength of the department. The POA is urging the city to avoid a “public safety crisis” caused by officers leaving the department by choosing other alternatives to a vaccine mandate, such as a weekly testing requirement.
“The result of such a mass departure would be devastating to our department and the safety of all San Diego citizens,” the SDPOA told The Center Square. “Compounding this issue is the fact that these officers will remain unvaccinated, meaning the city will be creating a public safety crisis while making no impact on the public health crisis.
“We ultimately believe our city’s leaders should not create a public safety crisis when there are many alternative choices available — including the requirement of testing for those who remain unvaccinated, as many agencies throughout the county, state, and country have implemented — that would easily avert such a crisis.”
Meanwhile, the San Jose Police Officers Association reached an agreement with city officials on Oct. 1 that gives all employees the option to be tested twice weekly instead of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
The city initially required all employees, including officers in the San Jose Police Department, be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. Only those with medical or religious exemptions were allowed to be tested weekly. Under the new bargain, employees can undergo twice weekly testing and serve the equivalent of a week-long suspension.
Mercury News reported in September that the city could have lost nearly 140 cops if the mandate remained in place — a prospect that helped fuel the city’s decision to offer an alternative route. Since the deal was struck, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that the number of unvaccinated cops is now in the single digits, as many either got the shot or obtained an exemption.
In other departments across the state, however, several police officers have been placed on administrative leave for not complying with vaccination mandates.
In San Francisco, about 70 employees from the police department were placed on leave Nov. 2 after failing to meet the vaccination deadline set for Nov. 1. Of those 70 employees, 54 were sworn officers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.