As Super Bowl nears, 2,500 LAPD and sheriff's employees out with COVID-related issues

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LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 06: LAPD officers, family and friends attend the funeral of Los Angeles Police Department Officer Valentin Martinez, the agency's first sworn employee to die of complications from the COVID-19. The social distance memory service was held at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills' Hall of Liberty this morning. Martinez was a 13-year veteran of the department and is presumed to have contacted the virus on duty. He was 45 when he died on July 24, 2020, leaving behind his mother, Maria Martinez, his siblings and his domestic partner, Megan Flynn, who is pregnant with their twins. Los Angeles on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
LAPD officers, family members and friends attend the funeral of Officer Valentin Martinez, the department's first sworn employee to die of complications from COVID-19. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

With Super Bowl events just a few weeks away, COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, with about 2,500 personnel either home sick or quarantining due to the coronavirus.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday that the virus is having a “substantial impact on our deployment,” as about 1,300 of his staff are out. Meanwhile, about 1,200 sheriff’s personnel are out.

Moore said there has been a surge in breakthrough cases among vaccinated staff, and those now account for half of all those infected among his sworn and civilian personnel, despite 83% of the staff being vaccinated.

“What we’re following very closely is this impact on our deployment numbers as we approach the Super Bowl week of celebration and events here,” Moore said.

Moore added that “we are looking at contingency planning" as the department monitors the number of personnel who are currently out of work due to the virus.

Initially, numbers showed the new Omicron variant had surged through unvaccinated staff faster than those who are vaccinated. But as the numbers of those testing positive for the virus rose, it began infecting those vaccinated as well. On Jan. 1, 22.2% of LAPD personnel testing positive were vaccinated, compared to about half now.

Moore said some of the 1,300 employees who are out are caring for family members.

"You can absolutely see the surge in this pandemic and this variant, where over a four-week period, we had just under 2,000 of our personnel become COVID-positive,” Moore said. The LAPD employs about 12,200 sworn and civilian personnel.

Moore said the surge in the department is beginning to plateau, reflecting trends in the wider community. He said the department has not had to take other measures to combat decreased staffing levels due to COVID-19, including the cancellation of days off or vacations, but that "those levers are still very much available to us."

“Obviously, this is something that we would want to avoid if possible," Moore said. "But we will look over the next 10 days very carefully to see [the] recovery of our personnel back to a full-day capacity so that we meet the needs of this coming period.”

He said since the pandemic began, 5,083 sworn and civilian personnel have tested positive for the virus. In the recent surge, infections among sworn personnel have far outnumbered civilian personnel.

Moore did not say how many of the 83% of vaccinated staff had received an additional booster shot that federal health authorities have said has proved statistically to reduce the likelihood of infection and severity of the virus' impact.

Meanwhile, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has seen a similar surge. As of Tuesday, it reported 1,204 personnel quarantined, including 845 sworn department members, had been infected.

While the LAPD has initiated termination proceedings against unvaccinated personnel who did not seek a religious or medical exemption to being vaccinated, Sheriff Alex Villanueva repeatedly has blasted the county’s vaccine mandate for employees. He has said he won’t force his deputies to get vaccinated and warned that the mandate would trigger a mass exodus from the department.

Early this month, Moore appeared with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas to reassure residents that the agencies were still filling patrol shifts and responding to fires despite the increasing numbers of ill and quarantining officers, firefighters and paramedics in the city. At that time, there were just over 500 LAPD personnel out.

COVID-19 was the leading cause of death last year for law enforcement officers in the U.S., with 301 dying from virus-related causes, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum. At least 10 LAPD officers have died after being infected.

As of last week, on average, an LAPD officer sidelined with a coronavirus infection is missing 20 days of work and a civilian employee is missing 33 days, according to Det. Meghan Aguilar. Officials noted that average includes some personnel with long-term COVID-19 cases who have spent months recuperating.

While the NFL's Super Bowl is at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Feb. 13, many of the events running up to the game take place in Los Angeles.

"Everything is going to be here for two solid weeks," Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, told the group during its meeting Tuesday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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