With Los Angeles County residents staying home due to COVID-19, crime is down significantly, but efforts to reduce the jail population by 25% have not kept the virus completely at bay, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday as he announced a custody assistant is on life support.
"We're just praying and rooting for him that he can pull through,'' Villanueva said.
A total of 429 LASD employees are quarantined, 33 have tested positive for coronavirus and 230 have returned to work, the sheriff said.
The number of inmates in quarantine has increased to 676, while 28 more are under medical isolation. However, only 11 have tested positive for the virus, according to Villanueva.
"We've been working deliberately since the end of February putting into place a plan that has slowly reduced the jail population, created defensible space (to quarantine individuals),'' Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a morning briefing. "Right now, it is technically safer inside our jail environment than it is on the streets.''
The sheriff pointed to a much higher rate of infection among smaller jail populations in Cook County, Illinois, and New York's Rikers Island as evidence that his plans are working.
Villanueva claimed to be ahead of requests by both criminal justice advocates and the county Board of Supervisors as his department worked to release more than 4,200 individuals with little time left in their sentences or in custody awaiting trial on low-level charges.
"In the wildest dreams of the ACLU and all of these different groups ... they never would have thought that would have been possible,'' the sheriff said.
The silver lining of stay-at-home orders is that crime is down significantly, with violent crime showing a more than 9% drop and property crimes down more than 15%, according to data provided by the sheriff's department.
However, a decrease in one number had Villanueva concerned.
The database that tracks reports of suspected child abuse and neglect has 1,000 fewer entries for this March versus last March. The sheriff warned that this is unlikely to reflect a recutin in actual abuse.
"When the reporting number is down, that means there are less eyes out there,'' the sheriff said, citing the lack of contact with teachers, coaches and other adults likely to report abuse or neglect.
He urged residents to report any suspicions of domestic or child abuse.
"We do not want to have another Gabriel Fernandez or another Anthony Avalos,'' Villanueva said, citing two young boys who died of abuse. "If you see something, say something.''
While sharing critical law enforcement data, Villanueva couldn't help but comment on friction with the Board of Supervisors, repeating claims that the board has long aimed to discredit him. The sheriff produced a series of communications related to discussions about getting deputies paid leave while quarantined and said he spoke directly to county CEO Sachi Hamai on April 1.
The CEO told him that federal guidelines dictated that pay cover deputies quarantining after April 1 and never mentioned administrative leave, according to the sheriff. Later that evening, she made a public announcement that Villanueva was free to pay deputies for administrative leave.
The board subsequently sent Villanueva a letter saying Hamai had received threats over the pay issue and urging him not to mislead the public.
"Your unwarranted verbal and highly personal attacks on the CEO are inciting misformed members of the public to share dangerous sentiments online. This must stop -- now,'' the letter read in part.
Villanueva countered Monday, "I definitely know the value of communicating truthfully with the public ... the record is very, very clear ... we're going to continue to serve without a beat, regardless of what happens across the street.''
When asked what might end the back-and-forth between his department and board, the sheriff told reporters to ask the board.
Villanueva also urged residents to comply with the public health stay- at-home order, noting an uptick in enforcement and reminding people that fines of up to $1,000 can be assessed for violations.
"The health orders are put in place for your own benefit, please adhere to them. We are looking for voluntary compliance,'' the sheriff said, before thanking most residents for following the orders. "We weather the storm and we weather it together and we'll come out better in the end.''