Governmental responses to the COVID-19 outbreak have varied across the country, but Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is taking a new approach: release incarcerated criminals and discourage law-abiding citizens from purchasing firearms.
In a press conference on Monday, Villanueva told reporters that his department is doing everything it can to protect the incarcerated population while also discouraging LA County residents from purchasing firearms.
“We’ve been doing quite a bit to minimize the impact of our custody population,” he said. “Our population within our jail is a vulnerable population just by virtue of who they are and where they’re located. So, we’re protecting that population from potential exposure.”
“Buying guns is a bad idea,” he continued, later in the press conference. “You have a lot of people now who are at home, normally they’re not, cabin fever sets in, you got a crowded environment, weapons are not a good mix.”
The county has so far reduced the incarcerated population by over 600 from 17,076 people in custody on February 28 to 16,459 on March 16.
They’ve done so using a variety of strategies, Villanueva said. They’ve released inmates who have less than 30 days left on their sentence, and they’ve kept the population from rising by directing officers to “cite and release everybody they can.”
They’ve reduced the number of arrests in the county from 300 per day to 60 per day, and they’ve raised the aggregate bail amount to book from $25,000 to $50,000.
“Anything under that amount we can cite and release, even warrants,” Villanueva said.
Crimes that come with a bail of less than $50,000 include, according to the 2020 LA County Bail Schedule:
- Concealed weapon on person or in vehicle;
- Possession of a loaded firearm;
- Concealable firearms, ownership or possession by felon, addict; outstanding warrant
- Unlawful possession of ammunition;
- Assault with deadly weapon, other than firearm;
- Assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury;
- Theft of automobile;
- Indecent exposure
- Involuntary manslaughter;
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Crimes at the $50,000 mark include:
- Assault with a firearm;
- Second degree robbery;
- Vehicular manslaughter;
- Battery with serious bodily injury;
- Arson, other property;
Villanueva’s comments haven’t had the desired effect. According to the Los Angeles Times, residents are purchasing guns and ammunition in record numbers, many of whom cite fear of social unrest as a reason for their purchases.
The news that the LA County sheriff’s office is doing everything it can to keep criminals on the streets is unlikely to calm those fears.