LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Wednesday said his department’s budget has "flatlined" compared to the County's overall budget in recent years.
In a news conference Wednesday, Villanueva made the announcement and laid out budget bullet points on a screen illustrating his comments.
He said that the percentage of the sheriff’s department’s budget compared to the overall county budget has shrunk from a high of as much as 11.7% in fiscal year 2012-13 to 8% this fiscal year 2022-2023.
“That is very alarming,” he said.
He said that the department is a skeleton operation and dropping steadily. Budgeted positions when he first took over as sheriff in 2018 were at 18,300 compared to 17,237 today, he said.
“This is called defunding for people who don’t want to understand that,” he said. “There’s no other way around it.”
The news conference came as Villanueva is vying for a second term as sheriff against former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna in a November runoff election.
In a stunning upset, Villanueva beat then-incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell four years ago with support from reform-minded community groups and Democrats.
But over the past four years, his support has dropped. He's clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding. He's fought back against claims of "deputy gangs" in the department. He has defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and refused to enforce the county's COVID-19 vaccination mandate among deputies and employees.
A County Chief Executive Office spokesperson didn't immediately reply to a request for comment, but a County CEO fact sheet from Sept. 19 said that the Board of Supervisors has not defunded the sheriff’s department.
"The Sheriff—not the Board of Supervisors or the County’s Chief Executive Office—has the responsibility and authority to decide how to use the Department’s currently approved $3.6 billion budget. Making the tough fiscal, personnel and programmatic decisions are part of the job—as they are for every County department head.
"In fact, the Department's total budget allocation from all sources, including state and federal funding, has increased by more than $1 billion since 2011, despite a slight drop in funding during the first year of the pandemic,” the fact sheet said.
The department’s budget grew from $3.35 billion in fiscal year 2018-2019 to $3.63 billion in fiscal 2022-2023, the fact sheet said.
In a statement outlining the 2022-23 supplemental budget, the County CEO said that the budget "reflects the need for criminal justice reform and public safety, and includes allocations to increase the size of LASD’s staff and budget."
"Budgets of all County departments shift over time to reflect the priorities of the Board of Supervisors and the public we serve," the statement reads. "The budget for the Sheriff’s Department is no exception. Changes in allocations and staffing in recent years have several causes, including pandemic-driven staffing reductions that affected multiple departments; transfer of responsibility for medical care in the jail system to the Department of Health Services, rather than LASD; and the transformative efforts underway to fully realize the Board’s Care First, Jails Last vision, which includes alternatives to incarceration, expanding community-based mental health care, and youth development services, among other investments to improve our system of justice."
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a statement from the County CEO's office. (Oct. 5, 2022)