Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks Tuesday at a news conference to address vaccine mandates.
CNN  — 

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva warned Tuesday of a possible public safety threat due to a “mass exodus” of deputies from the department and blamed the county’s vaccine mandate.

Villanueva accused the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors of poor policy-making and pointed to an executive order issued by the chair of the board in August that required all county employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no later than October 1.

Days after the county deadline, Villanueva said he wouldn’t enforce the mandate.

“I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5, 10% of my workforce overnight on a vaccine mandate,” Villanueva said last month.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employs about 16,000 people in the nation’s most populous county, just over half of whom are vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the department.

On Tuesday, Villanueva said only about 42% of the department’s sworn personnel have been vaccinated and 3,137 deputies are at risk of termination due to the mandate.

And, the sheriff said, many unvaccinated deputies are voluntarily leaving the department to escape the vaccination requirement.

“Had (the Board of Supervisors) not talked all this nonsense about the mandate, I probably would have gotten better results at getting my employees vaccinated over time,” Villanueva said.

According to Villanueva, the department typically sees just over 500 retirements each year, but that number is up to just over 600 in the past 12 months.

Coupled with an additional 238 employees leaving the department for reasons other than retirement, Villanueva said the departures are “disrupting our ability to provide public safety services to Los Angeles County.”

But the Board of Supervisors said Villanueva’s numbers are flawed and there has been no increase in attrition since the vaccine mandate was implemented.

The numbers presented by Villanueva on Tuesday compared October 2019-2020 to October 2020-2021. The Covid-19 vaccine mandate for county employees went into effect October 1 of this year.

“The LASD level of attrition over the past year has been slightly lower than the overall County rate,” the Executive Office of the Board said in a statement to CNN. “There were nine LASD retirements in October, which is not considered a high number.”

Villanueva could not provide an exact number of employees departing as a direct result of the vaccine mandate, but said the trend is being gleaned from employee exit interviews.

“While there’s a negative thing going toward law enforcement in general, this could just be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the sheriff said, acknowledging that there may be other reasons at play when it comes to losing staff.

Villanueva’s criticism of the vaccine mandate comes as Covid-19 has become the leading cause of death among law enforcement, despite it being among the first groups eligible to receive the vaccine at the end of 2020.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Villanueva’s vocal opposition to the mandate is putting his staff in danger.

“Instead of implementing LA County’s vaccine mandate (like every other County department has done successfully), he is putting both his deputies and the public they come face-to-face with every day at unnecessary risk,” Hahn said on Twitter.

During his news conference, Villanueva noted he is vaccinated and prefers to “lead by example,” rather than through mandates.

“Instead of being an obstacle,” County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said, “I encourage the Sheriff to work with us and help provide education and outreach to those who remain unvaccinated, so we can ensure their safety and the health of those around them, and finally put this pandemic behind us.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger promised to support and listen to the department’s rank and file to “get to the bottom of what barriers and obstacles they are facing so we can reach a resolution. Ultimately, we all share a commitment to public safety.”

CNN’s Sarah Moon, Anna-Maja Rappard and Kelly McCleary contributed to this report.