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Head of Police Commission slams unvaccinated LAPD officers, ‘dubious’ exemption claims

Entrance of a glass-covered building reflecting other buildings that face it, including the City Hall tower
City Hall tower reflected off LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

The head of the civilian panel that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department denounced in strong terms the resistance to COVID-19 vaccinations among LAPD officers on Tuesday morning, which he called “appalling.”

“I personally find it appalling that the personnel of a department charged with public safety would willfully, intentionally and brazenly endanger the lives of those who they have taken an oath to protect,” Los Angeles Police Commission President William Briggs said.

Briggs also called it “extremely dubious” that more than 2,600 LAPD personnel have legitimate medical or religious reasons to be exempted from the looming vaccination mandate for city employees, as they have claimed.

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“I ask each officer who has yet to receive the vaccine to do so,” Briggs said. “You swore an oath to protect and serve. You need to uphold that oath.”

A recent Los Angeles city ordinance mandates that all employees be vaccinated by next month unless they receive a medical or religious exemption. Some LAPD officers have filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement, and thousands have filed notice that they intend to claim an exemption.

Los Angeles County health officials have identified hundreds of coronavirus outbreaks at police and fire agencies since the start of the pandemic, according to county data.

Briggs made his remarks at the start of the commission’s Tuesday meeting after noting a wave of public comments denouncing coronavirus outbreaks in the LAPD. Dozens of people emailed the commission after The Times reported Sunday that repeated coronavirus outbreaks had struck police and fire agencies across L.A. County since the start of the pandemic, including 37 identified outbreaks accounting for 1,061 cases within the LAPD.

“I hear you,” Briggs told those tuning in to the meeting. “We hear you loud and clear.”

The board of the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers denounced Briggs for his remarks about the exemption claims, calling them “unjustified, bigoted, and reckless.”

“His blanket labeling of religious exemption applications as being ‘dubious’ when they have not even been submitted, let alone evaluated, will have a chilling effect on police officers exercising and expressing their long-held religious beliefs,” the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s board wrote in a statement to The Times. “Mr. Briggs should apologize to all those he has accused of lying without any evidence to back it up and focus his time on reducing what is far from ‘dubious’: the huge increase in homicides, shootings, and street-level robberies plaguing our city.”

In his own remarks later in the day, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that he would not “prejudge” the exemption claims of officers, but direct the department to follow whatever review process city officials establish for such claims.

Moore, who is vaccinated, said he did share Briggs’ frustration and concern that more officers aren’t getting vaccinated because he believes the vaccines will help keep them healthy as well as their families and the public they interact with.

“I follow the science and not the rhetoric and the misinformation, and I believe it’s critical that they do the same,” Moore said.

Moore said that as of Monday, a total of 3,142 LAPD personnel had tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, out of a current total workforce of 12,152 employees.

He said 7,380 — or 60.7% — had been fully vaccinated, compared with the 68% of L.A. County residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated, according to county data. That is an increase from last week.

Moore also said that Officer Frank Partida, a 39-year-old father of two, died Sunday from COVID-19 complications — bringing the death toll from the virus within the department to 11, not including three spouses of LAPD personnel who have also died from the virus. Three department members remained hospitalized Tuesday, Moore said.

Most LAPD officers who have tested positive since June were unvaccinated.

Health officials say vaccines have proved to be safe and effective against serious symptoms from COVID-19, significantly reducing the likelihood that someone who is infected will need to be hospitalized.

After Briggs spoke, Commissioner Steve Soboroff said he had the “utmost respect” for first responders but also believes in the vaccination rules — and hoped those officers who haven’t already been vaccinated would “reconsider.”

“I want to plead to each of them, just to reconsider,” Soboroff said. “Whatever their thoughts are, give it a second look, taking away the anger, taking away the ‘I don’t want to be told what to do,’ taking away what my neighbors or friends at the bar might think.”

Soboroff also urged mask use, saying vaccines and masks are what is “going to put an end to this pandemic.”


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