The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has seen a severe shortage of department staff and the impact of defunding amid a consistent rise in crime.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference on March 9, stating that public safety has been a priority in LA County, but that has changed in the last few years.
“We’re now in a strange place in the department’s history, the 172 years that we’ve been in operation, the board of supervisors, even though they disagree with the sheriff, on every single budget year after year, there was an agreement that public safety is a priority for the supervisors reflecting the will of the people,” Villanueva said. “But in the last few years since I’ve taken office, that has changed radically.”
According to Villanueva, the County budget has continued to steadily rise, but the Sheriff’s budget has not had the same relative growth. During 2018-2019, 11.85 percent of the County’s total budget was devoted to the Sheriff’s Department. Now it’s shrunk to 8.9 percent and falling. Net County cost continues to rise, but the Sheriff’s is decreasing, LA County decreased 16 percent.
“Because our budget and hiring is frozen, the vacancies are starting to mount now,” Villanueva said. “While they’re [Board of Supervisors] starving our department, of the funds necessary to keep our deputies out there patrolling the streets, keep detectives working handling their caseloads which are getting bigger and bigger, this again falls on the shoulders of the board.”
As of Feb. 27, there are 783 sworn vacancies in the department and the number is expected to grow to over 927 by April 1 due to personnel retiring.
“Deputies, Sheriffs, Sergeants and Lieutenants, these are critical positions,” Villanueva said. “These are the positions that staff patrol stations, courts and jail facilities, detective facilities…all of these are first responders and work directly in maintaining and improving public safety and handling crises as they arrive.”
Villanueva said amongst the consequences of the defunding of the department; deputies are working multiple shifts. Deputies are allowed to work 12 days in a row, but now the number has increased to 30 days due to the department simply not having the personnel to meet its needs.
“All these things that are absolutely incomprehensible that they’re doing in the face of the struggles of the community that is suffering and our ability to actually provide the public safety, the community is being impaired directly by the decision of the Board of Supervisors,” Villanueva said. “This is unsustainable at any level.”
In October 2020, Villanueva said 22 positions had been removed from lab positions, which include crime lab assistant director, chief photographer, four crime lab technicians, and more.
Villanueva said that the 94 percent increase in crime scenes and evidence that has to be collected and processed are backlogged.
“Imagine being a victim of crime or relatives of victims of crime; they don’t see their cases progressing satisfactory, why? Because of lack of personnel,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva said Board Supervisor for first district Hilda L. Solis, second district Holly Mitchell and third district Sheila Kuehl are the fundamental three that are assisting in the hiring freeze and defunding the Sheriff’s department.
Villanueva ended the conference with a call of immediate action from the supervisors not to wait to release the freeze.
To watch the press conference, visit the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on YouTube.