Villanueva addresses LASD coronavirus emergency operations

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has rolled out a new voluntary participation program for coronavirus testing for Sheriff’s Department employees.

During a Monday news conference, Villanueva confirmed four LASD employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those, one is assigned to the court services division, one to east patrol division and two are assigned to custody division.

“As of 9 a.m. seven LASD employees were tested, and we’re just waiting on the test results,” Villanueva added.

Any employee who is showing symptoms and meets the criteria for the virus is being told to self-quarantine, where a supervisor or medical personnel will then go to their location to provide testing for them.

“This is designed to ensure the employee workforce is able to serve the needs of the county,” he added.

Villanueva has also collaborated with Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile of L.A. County’s Superior Courts to reduce some deputies’ in-court operations, which will allow for the redeployment of some deputies to support county law enforcement, helping to enforce social distancing.

In addition, Bruce Chase, assistant sheriff in the custody division, announced 191 inmates are in quarantine, while one inmate has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Overall, our efforts have been ongoing since the beginning of the month to try and safely depopulate,” Chase said. “We’re concentrating on trying to release lower-level offenders … in order to maintain sufficient space for serious and violent offenders so that we can keep them safely in our custody and balance the combination of safety for the detained population and safety for the community.”

Villanueva then addressed the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday board agenda, where the supervisors plan to vote on the removal of Villanueva as the county’s head of emergency operations, a move that he believes will impact public safety and public health.

“We’re in the middle of a global, public health crisis, and this is not the time for the five Board of Supervisors to take away their attention from getting county residents enough COVID-19 testing kits to flatten that curve,” he said. “If you’re asking the public to stay home, cooperate with authorities, the same applies to the Board of Supervisors. They need to remain focused on this united front against the spread of the coronavirus so that together we can save lives … We have to be united in this fight and not be distracted by politics, because that has no place in the fight against this deadly disease.”

However, officials from Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office, whose 5th District represents the Santa Clarita Valley, on Thursday said the move has been in the works since November of last year due to a report about the county’s response to the November 2018 Woolsey Fire, which burned for two weeks, killing three people and destroying 96,949 acres.

“This precipitated from the Woolsey Fire and a need to re-identify how the county responds to emergency situations,” Michelle Vega, a spokeswoman for Barger, said in a previous Signal interview. “It kind of took a more holistic view of the county’s response to any crisis.”

Vega said Villanueva’s office was part of the working group that had created the ordinance, and that it was not in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The item had to be completed in 90 days after it had been first introduced in November and was on the docket for the March 17 supervisors’ meeting that was canceled due to the order restricting gatherings, Vega added.

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