San Jose cops threatening to ignore vaccine mandate is 'huge, huge problem'

The city of San Jose and the union representing its police department are in ongoing negotiations to avert a serious shortage of officers.

Nearly 150 officers have said they won't comply with the city's new vaccine mandate that goes into effect on Oct. 1.

"It’s a huge, huge, problem," said Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association. Countered Mayor Sam Liccardo, "This is a problem we’re going to work out. And we have time to do it."

The two sides agreed there’s a serious impasse. But the solution has so far proven elusive.

At the start of October, all city workers must be vaccinated against COVID as a condition of employment.

Liccardo said it’s a matter of public safety in the face of the delta variant.

"Fundamentally we know the only path through this pandemic is following the science and that means everybody’s got to get vaccinated," Liccardo said.

But some city employees are ready to leave their jobs over the issue.

"I resigned on Sunday," said Dave Gutierrez, a career South Bay peace officer.

But he said after 27 years as both a full-time San Jose cop and then reserve officer, he walked away Sept. 19 over the mandatory COVID inoculation.

"My morals and values are a lot more important to me than money," said Gutierrez. "They’re not testing vaccinated people. Which we all know vaccinated people can still contract the virus."

The president of the police officer’s union said upwards of 140 officers, out of a force of 1,100, are prepared to follow Gutierrez’s lead, if the city refuses to consider weekly testing as an alternative to vaccinations.

"The impacts are catastrophic," said Pritchard. "The people that are gonna suffer are the citizens." Added San Jose State University Justice Studies Professor Greg Woods, "They are not overstating the case. This is the time that the POA needs to be able to find common ground with those public health policies in the best interest of public safety."

The mayor said negotiations will continue and that the deadline will not trigger automatic mass terminations.

Keep up with the latest by downloading KTVU's news app and subscribing to our newsletter

"Our first priority is to respond to that 911 call. And we’re gonna do everything we can to keep everyone on board," said Liccardo.

The mayor said 84 police officers have applied for exemptions for medical or religious reasons. And double that number of city employees, out of 7,530, have done the same. Ninety-one percent of the fire department is vaccinated and 85% of the San Jose Police Department is vaccinated.

The mayor’s office and SJPOA said negotiations will continue for the rest of the week and into next week if need be.

There’s a rally at 11 a.m. on Friday at San Jose City Hall where attendees will assert employees’ right to not be forced to get vaccinated as a condition of employment.