LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has long been arguing that his department is understaffed, but a federal report shows it has more sworn officers than the national average.
Villanueva held a news conference Wednesday to emphasize what he called the "defunding" of his department by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors since he took office.
He presented chart after chart, showing how his agency's percentage of the overall county budget has been declining.
"We're down to 8.3% of the county's budget. That is very alarming," Villanueva said. He then compared the budgets of sheriff's departments in surrounding counties, using their percentage of the net county cost.
"Orange County, their sheriff's department is 25% of net county cost," Villanueva said. "Riverside, 38%. San Bernardino, 22%. Ventura, 32%. And we're down to 16% here in L.A. County."
Villanueva says those numbers have left his department understaffed. He's consistently said that law enforcement agencies across the country average 2.5 officers per 1,000 residents, but that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department has fewer than one officer per 1,000 people.
"We're operating at 0.9 cops per 1,000 residents, Villanueva said. "We have basically a skeleton operation."
But a review of the federal statistics he's referring to shows that Villanueva's staffing numbers are dramatically higher than he has been saying.
According to the latest U.S. Department of Justice report on local policing efforts, local law enforcement agencies across the country average 2.3 sworn officers per 1,000 residents in areas with populations more than a million people. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department has roughly 10,000 sworn officers covering about 3 million residents, which puts its ratio at more than three officers per thousand people, a number higher than the national average.
When confronted with the inconsistency, Villanueva incorrectly said that the national average he was referring to did not include sworn officers assigned to jails, special operations and other non-patrol duties.
"Officers on patrol, the national average is 2.5 cops per 1,000 residents," he said, contradicting the Justice Department statistics.
With the Nov. 8 election just weeks away, Villanueva finds himself behind in the polls. A poll released by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed challenger Robert Luna, the former Long Beach chief of police, leading with 36% of likely voters backing him. Just 26% said they plan to vote for Villanueva.