LA officers sue over vaccine mandate as police across California threaten to resign

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), employees sued to get Covid-19 vaccines. They claim that the LAPD has created a hostile work environment for the unvaccinated, and that the mandate violates their civil rights.

This lawsuit is just one of many aggressive challenges to mandated vaccines made by officers and police unions across California. Some have threatened mass resignations as a result of new rules. This comes at a time when law enforcement officers remain unvaccinated at an disproportionately high rate.

LA’s vaccine mandate stipulates that city employees must be vaccinated before 20 October, unless they have been approved for a medical or religious exemption.

Over the weekend, six LAPD officers claimed in a federal lawsuit that that policy and its implementation violated their rights to “bodily integrity” as well as constituted “coerced treatment.” According to the complaint, officials threatened to fire thousands of officers if they refuse to give the jab.

This lawsuit is being brought in amid heated debates about employer vaccination mandates in America. These have escalated after Joe Biden announced that the government would temporarily require employers with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated.

California and the federal government have mandates for public sector workers since months. However, some cities have imposed stricter requirements. Employees must be vaccinated. They cannot submit to regular testing.

LA sued the city, police chief, and other officials alleging that weekly testing is excessively intrusive. The suit claims that officers were not given sufficient time to request exemptions after the Monday deadline.

This suggests that officers should be able submit antibodies to prove their immunity, given the high rates of infection in the department. Masks and other “nonpharmaceutical” interventions are also necessary to allow unvaccinated officers safely perform their duties. In the past, however, it has been repeatedly documented that officers don’t wear masks while on duty, even indoors, or in close proximity to civilians.

William Gude, an activist from Los Angeles, said that while the majority of LA believes in vaccinations and wears masks, there are some first responders who don’t. Gude has also filed complaints against police officers who have not worn masks. “The lawsuit reflects department culture.”

A spokesperson for the LAPD declined to comment on Monday’s suit, but stated that 47% of LAPD employees were fully vaccinated as of September 3rd, and that 54% of them had received at least one dose. These figures are significantly lower that the rates in the general population of Los Angeles County, where 76% have received at least one dose. Covid has claimed the lives of 10 LAPD officers, one of whom was killed last month during Delta outbreaks in the agency.

A Guardian investigation revealed that the vaccination rates for police and correctional personnel in California were significantly lower than those in their local communities. The Guardian has received records from the California Highway Patrol (CHP), which is the largest US state police agency, showing that only 47% of employees were certified vaccinated as of mid-August.

LA isn’t the only California city where law enforcement organizations are fighting against vaccine requirements. San Jose’s police and firefighter unions oppose a similar vaccine policy to LA. They fear that it could cause worker shortages. Monday’s statement from the city spokeswoman stated that 82% of the sworn police officers were vaccinated. This is roughly in line to community rates. The city also consulted union leaders when developing the policy.

According to the San Diego police union, 45% of its employees said they would rather be fired than follow the city’s vaccination requirements. This resistance comes just weeks after an anonymous post on an online forum that was allegedly written in San Diego by an officer became the subject of national attention. “Myself and another God-fearing Patriot from this Department are building a coalition cops who will stand for our God-given liberties and are willing to take all the risks,” wrote the author. He also stated that they refuse to be tested or vaccinated.

LA officers sue over vaccine mandate

LA is not the only California city where law enforcement unions are fighting vaccine requirements. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

San Diego spokespeople stated Monday that approximately 50% of officers were certified vaccinated by last week and that the city was looking into whether this officer violated city policy.

California prison guards, which have one of the lowest law enforcement vaccination rates in California, despite close contact with vulnerable residents, are now subject to new strict vaccination requirements.

Christina Ramirez is a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), biostatistics professor, and public health expert. She said that she wasn’t surprised by low police vaccination rates. She explained that some other first responders, such as nurses, opposed mandates, pointing to high levels of infection last year. She noted that infection has been shown to increase immunity. However, the CDC still recommends vaccination. LAPD reported last month that nearly 1,600 employees were unvaccinated, but they had “natural immunity” to infections.

Experts in legal law have stated that vaccine mandates are generally legal as long as religious and medical exemptions are included. Courts have also upheld policies. Officials from the health sector also pointed out that vaccine mandates are in place for other infectious disease.

Mike Feuer, LA’s city attorney, stated that he was confident that the city would prevail in the legal battle. He added: “It cannot happen that anyone’s child’s health, any grandma’s health, or anyone in our city’s life could be at risk because they come in contact with a first responseer who hasn’t been vaccinated.

Vickie Mays, UCLA professor of psychology, health policy and management, stated that mandates can help increase vaccination rates. She also said that doctors might resist medical exemptions that weren’t justified.

She said that low police rates would likely increase distrust in police officers in communities of color. It’s not a matter of if they will shoot you, but if they have to confront you, it’s not a matter if they shoot you. It’s not a question of, “Will they shoot you?” If they aren’t vaccinated, does that increase the risk of infection? It’s not uncommon for a Black man to walk down the street, and then the next thing you know it is fighting with the police.”

She said, “Are your true commitment to protecting and serving? If science suggests [vaccination] would make a great way of serving… but you are deciding you don’t want it to be done?”

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