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At least 160 San Diego police officers could face termination over vaccination mandate

A San Diego Police Department vehicle is parked outside of City Hall.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

At least 160 San Diego police officers could face termination for not complying with the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate unless they abide by the 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% of officers were vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the city’s latest figures. The remainder included 616 officers who reported that they were unvaccinated and 64 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 noncompliant 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 noncompliant employees in various departments, according to the mayor’s office. A breakdown of notices by employee groups was not available Friday.

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

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

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

He said the union will monitor how the city handles the exemption 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 under city policies, and will communicate with employees throughout the process.

Of the city’s 963 firefighters, 80% were vaccinated by this week, according to the city. Almost 140 reported that 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 they interact and to ensure that the city efficiently provides services — some of which have been hindered 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 front-line officers.

The Sheriff’s Department, which employs about 2,600 deputies, 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 will be required to undergo weekly testing, Lt. Amber Baggs, a spokesperson, has said.

About 60% of Sheriff’s Department employees had shown proof of vaccination as of last week, Baggs said.


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