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The Guardian reports that a sheriff’s department in southern California is encouraging law enforcement officers who oppose vaccine mandates to “take back [their] freedom” and apply for jobs with the department.

The Kern county sheriff’s office released a video last week inviting applications from deputies within Los Angeles county, where officials passed an order that could lead to the termination of thousands of county workers who haven’t received the Covid-19 vaccine or provided a religious or medical exemption.

Drive north, we have a place for you – Kern county is a community that backs the blue,” the minute-long ad says as country singer George Strait sings The Weight of the Badge, a song paying tribute to police.

Covid-19 vaccination rates inside the LA sheriff’s department have lagged far below that of the public with just 54% of workers fully vaccinated, despite a vaccination mandate for county employees. Last week the county board of supervisors moved to shift vaccine mandate enforcement power away from LA county Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Villanueva, who has criticized mask orders and said he will not fire workers who refuse the vaccine, said such an act could lead to more than 4,000 unvaccinated deputies losing their jobs.

The sheriff’s office in Kern county, a deeply conservative expanse located immediately to the north of Los Angeles, responded with its video the next day. “So take back your freedom, and APPLY today to work at the Kern county sheriff’s office. You deserve a job that welcomes you and your values, with open arms.”

The battle over vaccine mandates for law enforcement in southern California highlights the divide over Covid health rules across the state. Vaccination rates continue to lag in more rural and conservative regions of California, where 70% of all residents are vaccinated.

Kern county doesn’t require vaccinations for its workers. Its sheriff, Donny Youngblood, said in a press conference on Friday that he doesn’t know how many of his department’s deputies are vaccinated. Just 52% of Kern county residents are vaccinated, compared to 70% of LA county residents, according to the New York Times.

“There’s a substantial number of deputies that already work here that aren’t vaccinated,” he said. “I have no idea [how many] and don’t care,” Youngblood said at the press conference.

Though vaccination rates among law enforcement across the state have trailed behind the statewide rate, Youngblood said Kern county specifically wanted to target LA deputies. “The reason we reached out specifically to LA is there will be 4,000 deputy sheriffs if this were to happen that have real families have real children have real bills that could be unemployed because they refuse to take the vaccination.

As Los Angeles County residents face rising crime and rising numbers of homelessness, Sheriff Alex Villanueva is speaking out against what he describes as a political push fueled by police activists to lay off 4,000 department employees of the sheriff who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“This is nothing but a power grab by the board. And it’s shameful, and it’s going to harm public safety,”