San Jose police have the lowest COVID vaccination rates in the region
A group of police officers in downtown San Jose. File photo.

San Jose police hold the lowest vaccination rate among law enforcement agencies within Santa Clara County, including Gilroy, Milpitas, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and the county itself, according to a survey of city employees. But a police union spokesperson has doubts about the survey’s accuracy.

A little more than half of all sworn San Jose police officers completed their COVID-19 shots at the start of the year. But nearly six months later, the ongoing city survey shows vaccination rates for officers and other SJPD personnel have hardly changed.

The rate measured just last week shows that only 58.2% of surveyed SJPD employees reported receiving the vaccine, city spokesperson Vicki Day told San José Spotlight.

But out of 1,161 sworn officers, only 891 responded to the survey. Of those, 651 respondents said they are fully vaccinated. Thus, about 73% of surveyed officers reported being immunized.

San Jose Police Officers’ Association spokesperson Tom Saggau disputes the accuracy of the city’s survey. He said a voluntary survey can’t produce the same results as a mandatory one, which could explain the department’s low vaccination rate. Saggau did not provide a count for how many police union members are vaccinated in time for publication.

“Some (officers) who got the survey could have said, ‘It’s nobody’s business whether I got vaccinated’ and not reply,” Saggau told San José Spotlight.

Since the emergence of COVID-19 immunizations, San Jose has asked its employees to take part in voluntary surveys on their vaccination status—including the city’s police officers. The San Jose Police Department declined to provide internal rates on how many personnel are fully vaccinated.

In an attempt to curb infections driven by unvaccinated individuals, Santa Clara County will require inoculations for its 22,000 employees. Deputies with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office will be subject to the vaccine requirement. The office reports that 71% of its 1,697 workers are already vaccinated.

Because of rising rates of positive COVID-19 infections and public fear over the emerging Delta variant, Day said San Jose is ready to pivot to follow new federal, state and county guidelines and recommendations. SJPD would be subject to any requirements set by the city.

“As we learned of the state and county requiring vaccinations for their employees, we have moved to considering and reviewing the options,” she told San José Spotlight.

Though Mountain View, a city of about 84,000 residents, has yet to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees, immunization rates for its police officers are among the highest in the county at 84%, according to a city spokesperson. The spokesperson did not provide the total number of officers who work for Mountain View in time for publication.

The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety’s approximately 300 police officers, firefighters and other employees within the department have a vaccination rate of 72.5% as of July 16, according to Deputy City Manager Jaqui Guzman.

That’s almost identical to immunization rates for Milpitas Police Department and Gilroy Police Department employees, which sit at 72% and 75% respectively, according to numbers provided by city officials. The Milpitas Police Department employs 112 workers including 80 sworn officers, while the Gilroy Police Department has 104 employees including 65 sworn officers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Santa Clara County has a “substantial” risk of COVID-19 transmission. At least 84.3% of county residents have received a partial or completed dose of the vaccine, per the county COVID-19 dashboard.

Sunnyvale and Gilroy have no plans to require vaccines for workers, but Milpitas is considering a mandate for all employees, including those working in the police department.

“As you can imagine, we need to assess several legal and operational considerations,” said Milpitas spokesperson Charmaine Angelo.

California’s largest city police force, the Los Angeles Police Department, has an immunization rate similar to SJPD—about half of its officers are vaccinated. More than 10% of LAPD’s 12,000-plus employees have tested positive for COVID-19, including 10 workers confirmed to have died from complications of the virus.

The recent death of LAPD officer Becky Strong from complications of COVID-19 “underscores why we must do everything possible within the department to ensure that those members that have yet to be vaccinated get vaccination,” according to a statement given to the Los Angeles Times by William Briggs, the city’s newly appointed police commissioner.

Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said the police union encourages its members to get vaccinated, and advises them to consult with their personal physicians with any questions they may have about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have yet to see any proposed vaccination policy, but we are prepared to meet and confer with the city to discuss any proposals they have and to ensure our members are treated fairly,” Pritchard said in a statement to San José Spotlight.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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