The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, should it not be able to fulfill its contracts with cities around the county, may be forced to return money to the municipalities it works with, according to Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
In a phone call with The Signal on Thursday, Villanueva said the department may not be able to fulfill its contracts with cities, such as Santa Clarita, due to staff shortages and sheriff’s stations being required to be on patrol for a certain number of minutes.
“They contract by minutes, but if we don’t have enough personnel to do the normal minutes without overtime, that means that less deputies have to work more hours to satisfy the contracts,” said Villanueva. “It’s going to get to the point where we’re going to have to start returning money to the contract cities because we’re unable to satisfy (the contract) — exclusively because of the decisions of the Board of Supervisors.”
Due to budget cuts and a hiring freeze by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the department has already been running understaffed, according to Villanueva. He added that his current staffing levels, between sworn deputies and administrative positions, has been reduced to 72%, and that deputies have seen their possible overtime hours increase from a possible 96 hours a month to 120.
“And now instead of 12 days in a row, now they can work 30 days in a row and this is not a gift, this is just a necessity,” said Villanueva. “So, deputies are burning the candle at both ends and this is just absolutely irresponsible from the Board (of Supervisors).”
“It looks like at some point that there’s going to be less deputies in the field, there’s going to be longer response times, you might see bad decision-making from deputies that are just tired to the bone,” said Villanueva. “And all this negatively impacts public safety.”
The county’s top cop added that this problem could become increasingly worse should the county decide to ultimately let go of approximately 4,000 deputies who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“By April 1, we’re going to be down 927 deputies,” said Villanueva, referencing countywide numbers. “That’s what it looks like.”
The city of Santa Clarita currently has a $27.5 million contract that goes from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. The contract, according to city officials, requires LASD to meet a 98% compliance rate as part of its contractual obligations to each contract city.
“If LASD does not meet the 98% compliance rate, the contract outlines that LASD must reimburse the contract city the amount equivalent to the service hours unfulfilled,” the contract reads.
In response to Villanueva’s comments, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said that public safety continues to be her No. 1 priority.
“I’ve called for a report back on what can be done to expedite sheriff academies so that new recruits can join as soon as possible,” said Barger. “An important first step is to make sure all budgeted positions are filled.”
Barger abstained on the vote to take COVID-19 vaccine mandate enforcement responsibilities away from Sheriff Alex Villanueva earlier this month, but said she has voted to fund overtime to increase patrols and special Sheriff’s Department operations.
“I will continue to do what is within my power to make the communities I represent safer by any means possible,” said Barger.
There are 42 contract cities in all of Los Angeles County that use LASD services.