LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Nearly 15% of the Los Angeles County jail population is currently in quarantine, Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced today, before shifting gears to argue that the Board of Supervisors should release $143.7 million in funding for supplies he said are needed to keep rescue helicopters in the air and process rape kits.
“The only way we can do that is if they release these funds,” the sheriff claimed during a briefing that was billed as an update on the department's coronavirus response.
The supervisors transferred the monies out of the department's budget last September, citing a $63 million budget deficit and escalating overtime. The board asked the sheriff to come up with a plan to scale back that deficit.
Villanueva said he expected the department to show a reduction in overtime of $11 million for the fiscal year set to end June 30, despite resources required for the Tick Fire, Saugus High School shooting and other unplanned emergency responses.
He warned of dire consequences absent more funding for supplies.
“Critical public safety services will begin to be affected,” the sheriff said.
He said 300 patrol cars that could replace older vehicles were “sitting gathering dust in the lot” and would remain there without additional funds to service them.
The sheriff characterized the department as “robbing Peter to pay Paul" just to keep jails stocked with necessary cleaning supplies.
In addition to the 1,724 inmates in quarantine, 64 are isolated and 26 have tested positive for COVID-19.
Two custody assistants are hospitalized on ventilators, including one reported last week. A total of 51 department employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and 307 are quarantined.
Villanueva said 543 deputies and non-sworn personnel have returned to work after time off because of coronavirus-related illness.
After opening the briefing offering his condolences for those who have lost loved ones, Villanueva shared that his niece Desiree is quarantined in Hemet with symptoms.
“We've already lost over 600 people here in Los Angeles (County),” the sheriff said. “This pandemic has hurt us but it will not defeat us.”
While both violent and property crimes are down significantly versus last year, domestic violence calls are up more than 8% amid state and local stay-at-home directives, the sheriff said.
“Unfortunately, our numbers are ticking up here,” Villanueva told reporters, saying that the data had him concerned.
He urged anyone in need to call 911 and asked neighbors and friends to call if they believe someone is in danger.
As for the budget, it is one of the few levers of authority the board holds over the elected sheriff, and there has been a history of sheriffs long before Villanueva using a public platform to frame the need for additional dollars in dramatic terms.
However, this sheriff and the board have been in a more public and protracted battle than most, including a lawsuit challenging his authority to rehire a deputy terminated for misconduct, accusations about a lack of transparency on both sides, and a recent skirmish over retroactive pay for deputies. In virtually all cases, Villanueva has cited the board's hostility for him and the board has insisted that it bears none and wants to cooperate with the sheriff.
It was not immediately clear whether the sheriff had submitted the budget plan requested by the board back in September, and the county did not immediately respond to a request for comment.