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At least 160 San Diego cops could be fired over vaccine mandate

City employees were required to show proof of vaccination or request an exemption by last week

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San Diego Police Department

By David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — At least 160 San Diego police officers could face termination for not complying with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate unless they abide by the city’s rules within the next 30 days.

City employees were required to show proof of vaccination or request a medical or religious exemption by Wednesday of this week. The City Council, in a pair of 8-1 votes Monday, moved forward with imposing the mandate despite an impasse with the police union.

About 65 percent of officers were vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the city’s latest figures. The rest included 616 officers who reported they were unvaccinated and 64 officers who hadn’t provided their vaccination status.

Some 454 officers requested an exemption, according to the city. That means that, as of this week, at least 160 officers were unvaccinated and did not request an exemption.

They — and all other non-compliant city employees — will receive a notice that will give them until Jan. 3 to comply, take a leave of absence, retire or resign. If they don’t comply, the city will terminate their employment.

The city on Thursday prepared about 1,200 notices to distribute to non-compliant employees working in various departments, according to the Mayor’s Office. A breakdown of notices by employee groups was not available Friday.

Among all employees, the city has received about 1,000 medical and religious exemptions, including around 250 since a day before the deadline. Most of the requests — 965 — were religious exemption requests, according to the city.

The number of exemptions among officers tallied almost 170 last week — meaning an additional 280 or so officers requested an exemption in recent days. Most requests from officers asked for religious exemptions.

Jack Schaeffer, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said he hopes as few officers as possible leave the Police Department. He said it is possible some of the officers who did not comply are in the process of getting vaccinated.

As for the exemption requests, he said the union will monitor how the city handles the requests.

“Are they going to reasonably accommodate (officers’ requests) or are they just trying to kick them out the door?” he asked.

Mayor Todd Gloria’s office has said the city’s Human Resources Department will review requests on a case-by-case basis under state and federal law, as well as city policies, and that the city will communicate with employees throughout the process.

Of the city’s 963 firefighters, 80 percent were vaccinated as of this week, according to the city. Almost 140 reported they were unvaccinated, and nearly 50 had not provided their vaccination status. A total of 81 firefighters requested an exemption.

Gloria has said the mandate is a necessary step to protect employees and the public with whom city staffers interact and to ensure the city efficiently provides services — some of which have been impacted by the pandemic.

Nationwide, COVID-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths last year, killing 182 officers, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In San Diego County, at least two sheriff’s employees have died of COVID-19.

Few law enforcement agencies in the county have a mandate in place for their front-line officers.

The Sheriff’s Department, which employs about 2,600 deputies in jurisdictions across the county, will require employees to show proof of vaccination or request an exemption by Dec. 12. Employees who request an exemption or don’t share proof of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated and required to undergo weekly testing, Lt. Amber Baggs, a spokesperson, has said.

About 60 percent of employees had shown proof of vaccination as of last week, Baggs said.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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