Kern County officials this week posted a recruitment video on social media urging Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who are opposed to vaccine mandates to apply for positions with their neighbor to the north.
“Take back your freedom and apply today to work at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office,” the one-minute video says. “You deserve a job that welcomes you, and your values, with open arms.”
The video was posted Wednesday, a day after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved to remove from Sheriff Alex Villanueva enforcement responsibilities for COVID-19 vaccination. Villanueva has repeatedly said he will not fire deputies who refuse to get vaccinated.
The video, which was posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, begins with a screen shot of an article about the board’s motion.
“We’ve seen the headlines,” the text says. “Drive north, we have a place for you. Kern County is built on our strong values and tradition. Kern County is a community that backs the blue.”
Villanueva has criticized the board’s motion as a “politically motivated stunt” and framed it as a move to fire 18,000 county employees — including 4,000 from the Sheriff’s Department — for not being vaccinated. Those numbers could not be immediately verified.
The recruitment video was shared on several Kern County government social media profiles, as first reported in the Bakersfield Californian.
The video includes scenic shots and footage of deputies in a helicopter, as well as footage of Sheriff Donny Youngblood in a parade.
Reached by phone Friday, Youngblood said the video was largely a response to low recruitment and retention numbers among law enforcement officers, in Kern County and nationwide. He has more than 125 deputy vacancies to fill, he said, and homicides in the county last year reached an all-time high.
“I just felt it was an opportunity,” Youngblood said. “We’re not just targeting the unvaccinated. We’re targeting the vaccinated as well.”
Youngblood said he did not know what percentage of the county’s deputies are vaccinated against COVID-19 because the number is not tracked.
About 53% of Kern County’s residents are fully vaccinated, compared with 71% in Los Angeles County and 70% statewide, according to The Times’ tracker.
The sheriff acknowledged that the video was in some way a knock on the neighboring county, noting that unvaccinated deputies in L.A. “responded to every call for two straight years, doing a job that nobody else would do, and now they are threatened with termination because they won’t take a shot.
“I do find that a little bit appalling,” he said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Shiela Kuehl, who authored the motion to relieve Villanueva of vaccination enforcement duties, seemed perplexed by the recruitment video.
“Tuesday’s motion was passed by the Supervisors because we care, and are responsible for, the health of L.A. County residents,” she said in a statement to The Times, “and we are puzzled why any government agency, particularly a public safety agency, would willfully jeopardize the health of residents they are sworn to protect.”
Earlier this week, Kuehl criticized Villanueva’s claims.
“I can see why he wears a big hat, because he pulls a lot of numbers right out of it, most of which can’t be substantiated,” she said during the meeting Tuesday. “We’ve increased the people who work for him; we’ve increased the budget. And in this case, we have an absolute right to say these are our employees, not yours.”
Kern County does not have a vaccination mandate or weekly testing requirement for sheriff’s deputies but does follow Cal/OSHA guidelines, such as requiring coronavirus testing in prison medical wards, according to Ally Soper, the county’s chief communications officer.
Soper said the county has been “extremely proactive” about offering vaccines to anyone who is eligible and wants one, including setting up mass vaccination sites and pop-up clinics and other community-driven efforts.
Like the sheriff, she said the video was primarily about filling open vacancies.
“We’re looking at the different counties across California and we’re seeing, ‘Hey, there could be 4,000 officers out of a job,’” she said. “We’re two hours out of L.A. We simply don’t have the same policy, we have vacancies, and we’d love to fill them with the very best people for the job.”
The recruitment video was shared on social media by several Kern County officials, including Dist. Atty. Cynthia Zimmer and Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop.
Zimmer said her office has a vaccination rate of more than 74%, and she has “long encouraged vaccination.”
“However, I also respect the choices individuals make for themselves,” she said in a statement to The Times. “That Los Angeles County would voluntarily terminate 3,000 trained law enforcement officers based solely on vaccination status is incomprehensible to me, but if that truly comes to pass, Kern County wants to make clear that we have positions available and are hiring.”
Alsop’s post on Twitter included text about the county’s $25,000 signing bonus for lateral transfers.
He said Friday that the video was “not intended to be a criticism” of vaccine policies in L.A. and that viewers of the video “take away what they are wanting to take away.”
“Quite simply, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department is not basing employment decisions on vaccine status, and they have no vaccine mandate,” Alsop said.
In the two days since the video was posted, the county has received “significant interest” from L.A.-area law enforcement personnel and beyond, he said, including submitted job applications.
Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.