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LA County Supervisors: I Defunded the Sheriff

But I did not defund the deputies who are needlessly enforcing truancy laws during a pandemic.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (source: Twitter.com)

The rift between the LA County Board of Supervisors and LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva continues to grow amidst a series of scandals that have emerged from the Sheriff’s Office since Villanueva’s unexpected ascendancy.

This has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the County’s budget. Whereas Los Angeles City has protected the budget of the LAPD at the expense of basic services, LA County has demanded a $400 million cut to the Sheriff Department.

This is an unprecedented action by the Board and one to be lauded: policing is typically untouchable in the conservative morass that is LA politics. However, Villanueva’s impossibly bad record has changed the status quo.

Failure after failure from Villanueva, paired with a combative stance towards those who hold his department’s purse strings, means that for the first time in living memory the LA Sheriff’s Department may face a meaningful budgetary contraction.

However, since this is the LASD we’re talking about, they are not handling it well. Rather than considering how a 10% reduction in police funding in LA County could meaningfully increase public safety, Villanueva threw a fit and closed a bunch of offices seemingly at random.

In the County Supervisor’s meeting on Tuesday, the Board highlighted that the Sheriff’s unilateral closures included the Marina Del Rey office, which includes the county Harbor Master. So, rather than think about how to potentially reduce use of force by his department, the Sheriff is just haphazardly cutting off any coordination for service provision at sea right as the County is reopening beaches.

Meanwhile, Sheriff truancy checks continue unabated. Despite classes moving to remote learning and the challenges this causes many families, according to County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl the Sheriff is still knocking on the door of households where students are not logging into classrooms. This is largely happening in the smaller cities of LA County.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva wearing a mask (source: Twitter.com)

Truancy laws cause parents to face significant fines or even jail time in extreme circumstances. These laws were strenghtened in the ‘80s as part of the region’s racist suite of anti-gang laws. Under typical circumstances this is an unnecessary use of law enforcement to approach the real problem of educational inequality.

Typically these cases rarely reach the court; essentially the Sheriff’s deputy becomes an armed threat in response to school absences. During a pandemic it is a wild overreach by law enforcement that will likely exacerbate the already extreme circumstances many families are facing.

This also places vulnerable families in direct contact with law enforcement personnel that have failed to comply with orders demanding they wear masks and are testing positive for COVID-19.

The truancy checks make one thing clear: there is plenty of room to further reduce the Sheriff’s budget. If a $400 million reduction is not enough to get them to stop harassing children during a pandemic, then the County should go further.

Given how the current crisis is affecting local budgets, and how much the Sheriff still hoovers up of what’s left (over $3 billion annually) there’s a lot of space to take from law enforcement in order to fund and preserve social services during this crisis.

Hopefully, the strange new normal at the County makes this sort of move possible.

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