Villanueva says proposed budget cuts ‘hurt public safety’

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Los Angeles County’s proposed budget cuts to the Sheriff’s Department — meant to address a $935 million shortfall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — is a threat to public safety, according to a statement issued Saturday by Sheriff Alex Villanueva. 

“The budget cuts announced by county CEO Sachi Hamai are targeted specifically to hurt public safety in Los Angeles County, while sparing virtually every other function of county government from any reductions,” Villanueva said in a prepared statement. 

The statement is the latest salvo in a contentious back-and-forth debate over the last few months between Hamai and Villanueva. 

His comment follows Hamai’s revised 2020-21 countywide $34.9 billion spending plan released Thursday, which called for “across-the-board” cuts of 8% and the elimination of 3,251 positions, of which 2,596 are already vacant, and 655 potential layoffs. 

Specific to the LASD, the proposal plans for more than 400 layoffs and to slash $162 million from its budget of $3.3 billion. 

Officials have stated the suggested cuts are largely due to sales tax revenues sharply declining amid an economic crisis brought forth by COVID-19. 

“These cuts come at a time when jails were depopulated of over 5,000 inmates in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Villanueva. “Now that restrictions are lifting, violent crimes, such as murder, are on the rise across the county and other metropolitan areas, such as New York City and Chicago. Now is not the time to cut vital law enforcement services. That should be the last thing cut.” 

The 2020-21 plan looks to eliminate the Safe Streets Bureau, a gang enforcement unit; Parks Bureau; Special Victims Bureau, which investigates sexual/physical abuse of children, rape and human trafficking cases; Community Partnership Bureau, Fraud and Cybercrimes Bureau and Major Crimes Bureau, as well as “drastically” reduce custody operations and Mental Health Evaluation Teams, said Villanueva. 

Hamai said the proposed spending cuts do not look to condemn any county departments. 

“These proposed cuts are not intended to penalize any department, or to diminish the importance of their work,” she said. “Rather, these curtailments are part of an equitable process of cost reductions that will affect all county departments.” 

Villanueva said Hamai and the county Board of Supervisors have embraced the Defund the Police movement in cutting LASD funding, while “the bloated county bureaucracy remains virtually intact, which should always be the first to suffer reductions.”

The sheriff has previously accused the county of underfunding LASD by $400 million and, most recently, has accused the county of withholding $30 million for the department’s planned body-worn cameras. In March, Villanueva also called the Board of Supervisors’ vote that replaced him with Hamai as the chief of emergency operations a “power grab.” He was recently subpoenaed by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to testify about his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in county jails.  

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