Vaccine Policy in Los Angeles County Aims to Pressure Sheriff

Vaccine Policy in Los Angeles County Aims to Pressure Sheriff

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion on Tuesday that could lead to the termination of thousands of county employees who have not gotten vaccinated or received a medical or religious exemption.

The motion, which passed by a vote of 4-0 with one abstention, would shift power away from department heads who may not be enforcing the county’s existing vaccine mandate, and give it to the county’s director of personnel.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, author of the motion, said it was primarily aimed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whose 54 percent vaccination rate is the lowest of any of the county’s 36 departments and whose leader has openly refused to enforce the county’s vaccinate mandate.

“It is ironic,” Ms. Kuehl said, for the chief law enforcement officer “to say we’re not going to obey the rules but we are going to arrest you if you don’t obey all the other rules.”

The vote in Los Angeles County comes days ahead of a Feb. 11 vaccination deadline for police, firefighters and other public employees in New York City. Employees there who are not in compliance by Friday may be terminated.

Ms. Kuehl in Los Angeles said the county was “weeks” away from firing anyone in the sheriff’s department because employees there had not formally gone through the county’s five-step process of warnings and suspensions that are required before termination.

Still, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who tried to rally public opposition to the motion, said on Tuesday it would lead to the termination of 4,000 unvaccinated deputies.

“This is nothing more than another politically motivated stunt by the Board, which has no bearing on public health, but will definitely harm public safety,” Mr. Villaneuva said, who called the vote a “suicide pact.”

Of the county’s 100,000 employees, 83 percent were fully vaccinated as of Monday. Another roughly 15 percent have not been vaccinated, are seeking an exception to the mandate, or have not registered their vaccination status with the county, according to data provided by Los Angeles officials.

As of Monday, more than 5,000 exemptions had been requested and nearly 2,400 were approved and about 2,500 were pending.

Many of the county’s departments have vaccination rates of 85 percent or higher, according to county data. County supervisors select the heads of each department, except the sheriff, who is elected publicly.

Ms. Kuehl said Covid-19 is “the greatest killer of law enforcement in the country and certainly in our sheriff’s department.” Therefore, she said Covid-19 was a threat to public safety, not vaccination mandates.

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