More than a quarter of staff in the United States' largest sheriff's department could lose their jobs for refusing to comply with Covid-19 vaccine mandates, the sheriff said Tuesday.
Just half of Los Angeles County Sheriff employees are fully vaccinated, a month after local rules came into force requiring that they get the shot or potentially face the sack.
The reluctance is a common theme among law enforcement personnel across the United States, where skepticism over vaccines is rife, despite solid scientific evidence of their safety and efficacy.
"Imagine what would happen if every one of these (people) were terminated," Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a press conference in Los Angeles.
"What would the department look like?"
"Sadly," he said, the executive order is "actually disrupting our ability to provide public safety services." Villanueva called for the mandate to be dropped.
Villanueva -- who faces re-election next year -- said less than 52 percent of his staff -- including civilian personnel -- were fully vaccinated.
That figure falls to 43 percent among police officers alone.
"A lot of this is driven by people who just don't have faith in the vaccine. Some of it is driven by a political ideology. Some of might be irrational. Some people have legitimate reasons why they don't trust the vaccine.
"In this profession, which tends to be dominated by people that have more conservative leaning, this is what you expect," he said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the sheriff department's 16,000 staff, said in August that all employees had to register their vaccine status.
Board members have criticized Villanueva, accusing him of failing to show leadership and not encouraging his deputies to be vaccinated.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said Tuesday that Villanueva should fall into line.
"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.
"What we need from the sheriff right now is leadership, for once."
Vaccine mandates and other disease mitigation strategies, like masks, are a political flashpoint in America, with Republicans generally opposing them, citing personal freedom arguments.
The attitude is particularly entrenched among law enforcement officers, despite the toll Covid-19 has taken on police forces.
Some 258 police officers have died from coronavirus in 2021 -- five times the number who have been shot dead, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks deaths in the line of duty.
New York City last month ordered all police officers to get jabbed, or face losing their jobs.
In the third-largest US city, Chicago, several thousand officers face being placed on unpaid leave after refusing to disclose their vaccine status.
Los Angeles Sheriff's department is responsible for law enforcement in an area where around 10 million people live.
More than 63 percent of the county's general population is fully vaccinated, according to figures from the Los Angeles Times.