San Diego police union asks judge to allow officers to record vaccine exemption meetings

The union argued that officers should be able to record any time they're interrogated as part of an employer investigation

By Alex Riggins
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — The union that represents San Diego police officers has asked a judge to allow its members to record meetings aimed at determining the validity of unvaccinated officers' requests to be exempted from the city employee COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

According to the union, the first such meeting was called off because of a dispute over whether an officer would be allowed to record. Subsequent meetings were also postponed after city officials argued officers did not have a right to record the exemption request meetings.

A San Diego Police Department vehicle is parked outside of San Diego City Hall on June 23, 2020 in San Diego, California.
A San Diego Police Department vehicle is parked outside of San Diego City Hall on June 23, 2020 in San Diego, California. (The San-Diego Tribune)

In response, the San Diego Police Officers Association asked a court Wednesday to make a ruling allowing officers to record the vaccine exemption meetings, arguing that officers have that right under California's police officer Bill of Rights Act.

The union argued its officers should be able to record any instance when they're being interrogated as part of an investigation by their employer.

"Since part of the function of the exemption meeting is to probe the veracity of the law enforcement officer's request for a religious or medical exemption, these meetings are an interrogation of an officer who is under investigation," union lawyers argued in a petition filed in San Diego Superior Court.

The union argued that its position is "bolstered by the fact that unvaccinated (officers) ... will be terminated if they do not receive an exemption from the city."

In its petition to the court, the union asks Judge Timothy Taylor to issue an injunction directing the city to refrain from denying officers represented by the union the right to record audio of the meetings, and to make a determination that the officers have such a right under California's Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act.

A spokesperson for the city's Human Resources Department did not respond Thursday to an emailed request for comment, and it was unclear if the city had filed a response with the court as of Thursday evening. It was also unclear whether the City Attorney's Office would represent the city and Julie Perez-Rasco, the city's human resources director, who is named as a respondent in the petition.

A spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Mayor Todd Gloria's office declined to comment on the injunction request because it is a pending legal matter. Attorneys for the police union, and the police union president, did not respond Thursday to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

The union tweeted a press release Wednesday that read: "The desire for transparency and the protection of workers' rights should be a guiding principle for city officials and this administration."

As of Jan. 5, nearly 490 police officers had requested exemptions to the city's vaccine mandate, including 478 for religious reasons and 10 for medical reasons.

Exemption request meetings between personnel from the city's Human Resources Department and individual officers were supposed to begin Dec. 29, according to the union's court filing.

But during the first of those meetings, which were being held virtually, a representative for an officer made it known that the officer intended to audio record the meeting, according to the court filing. City representatives ended the meeting and canceled others that were scheduled in order to determine if they would allow recordings.

According to the union, Perez-Rasco asked the officer's representative for legal justification for recording the meeting. The representative sent a letter to the city Jan. 3 outlining the legal reasoning.

According to the union, Perez-Rasco informed the officer's representative in a Jan. 7 email that the city did not believe that California's police officer bill of rights applied to the exemption request meetings and would not allow officers to record them.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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