Hundreds of unvaccinated San Diego police officers as city prepares to impose warrant

Brandon Gibson knows how serious COVID-19 is. He conquered the disease two months ago.

“It kicked my ass,” he said.

Still, he left the San Diego Police Force earlier this month after 10 years because he’s not ready to get the shot, a looming condition of employment for city workers.

“I’m not an anti-vaccine,” Gibson, 45, said in a recent interview.

He appreciates science, he said, but worries about serious side effects – which health officials say are rare – and doesn’t agree with the city’s mandate.

“It really violates our freedoms,” he said. “It’s my body; it’s my choice.”

So he resigned.

It will soon be clear that Gibson will be an outlier among the 1,982 base officers of the San Diego Police Department. Wednesday is the deadline for all city employees to show proof of vaccination or request a religious or medical exemption.

According to city figures, around 60% of officers were vaccinated as of November 17.

Mayor Todd Gloria will ask city council on Monday to move forward with the mandate, which the city announced in late August, despite a standoff with the San Diego Police Officers Association over the requirements.

“The way out of this pandemic is through vaccines – and the city of San Diego will lead by example,” Gloria said in a recent statement. “With City employees interacting regularly with members of the public, this vaccination mandate becomes even more necessary – not only to protect the public, but also to protect our municipal workers. “

During months of negotiations, the police union called on the city to give employees the opportunity to be tested instead of being vaccinated, to consider progressive discipline in the event of layoffs, to commit to finding reasonable accommodation for exemption requests and to put in place an appeal process for any refused request.

And over the past month, law enforcement officials, firefighters and their families have staged rallies against the warrant on at least two occasions.

The city has not moved. According to the city, an alternative testing was not in the best interests of the safety of employees and members of the public with whom they interact; progressive discipline was not appropriate because employees had enough time to decide whether to get the vaccine; the city is legally bound to assess requests for exemptions on a case-by-case basis; and employees will have the opportunity to meet with the city to discuss proposed accommodations or denied requests.

As of November 17, the city had received 249 requests for exemptions, although a breakdown by employee groups was not available last week. Only seven were requests for medical exemptions; the others asked for religious exemptions.

After Wednesday’s deadline, the City will send employees who are not in compliance notice of termination, which will give them 30 days to comply, take unpaid leave, retire or resign. Otherwise, the city will terminate their employment.

“At the police department, we hope that all of our unvaccinated employees will find a way to stay employed, either through vaccination or reasonable accommodation in the city,” Deputy Chief Paul Connelly told the city advisory board. on police-community relations at a recent virtual meeting. “I think it is evident that any loss of our valuable employees will negatively affect our staffing levels and in turn affect our ability to meet the expectations of the community to serve them effectively and efficiently.”

Connelly said department heads have had “many discussions” about how to deal with “any loss” of officers.

“It’s just hard to predict how many (officers) we could lose,” he said, “so we have different levels of what we would do depending on how many officers we could potentially lose.”

The police department referred questions about its emergency plans to the mayor’s office.

Courtney Pittam, the mayor’s press secretary, said Gloria has worked to make the city a competitive and desirable employer for police and firefighters by investing in academies, salaries and pensions. She noted that 47 recruits had started the police academy earlier this month, with 46 more expected to graduate in January. Within the San Diego Fire Department, 16 recruits completed academy earlier this month and 33 are expected to graduate in March.

“This shows that even with the proposed vaccination mandate, we continue to attract both police and firefighters to service our city,” Pittam said.

She added that the city was exploring options such as overtime, shift changes and incentive pay to retain and attract police and firefighters.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to make sure residents are safe and can access public safety services,” she said.

Jack Schaeffer, president of the police union, said he believed the department would lose officers to law enforcement with looser vaccination rules, undoing years of recruiting efforts that have filled chronic vacancies.

Gibson, who was a member of the police service’s special operations unit and on-call sniper for the SWAT team, said he knew “quite a few” officers who, like him, recently resigned. , although he was unable to share an estimate.

“I lost track,” he says.

Many officers, he said, are considering law enforcement jobs outside of the state.

As for Gibson, who opened fire three times during his career with the SWAT team – no one was hit twice; the third, he and another sniper shot dead an armed fugitive – he said he planned to offer private gun training courses.

“I hadn’t planned this,” he said, adding that he planned to stay in the force for another 10 years.

“I’m moving away from a pension,” he said. “It’s a bad financial decision, but the money is not going to bend my principles.”

He said he thinks of the officers he left in the force.

“I’m sorry for the police officers who always try to do the job with fewer numbers,” he said. “They’re out there in smaller numbers, behind the ball when it comes to call waiting and call wait times.”

Few of the law enforcement agencies in the county have a mandate in place for their frontline officers.

The sheriff’s department, which employs about 2,600 deputies in county jurisdictions, will require employees to show proof of vaccination or request an exemption by December 12. Employees who request an exemption or do not share proof of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated and subject to weekly testing, spokesperson Lt. Amber Baggs said in an email.

Baggs said 60% of employees presented proof of vaccination last week.

Elsewhere in the county, the Chula Vista Police Department reported that 74% of its officers were vaccinated. National City said 68% of its police workers, including non-sworn personnel, were vaccinated. Carlsbad and El Cajon declined to provide figures, and other agencies did not answer questions about their latest vaccination rates.

In October, Oceanside set its vaccination rate at 43%; La Mesa at 45%; Port police at 70%; and Coronado at 74%.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in the line of duty across the country last year, killing 182 officers.

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