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Thousands of LAPD employees demand immunization exemptions

Thousands of Los Angeles Police Department employees plan to seek waivers of rules requiring city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to preliminary figures obtained by The Times on Monday.

More than 2,600 LAPD employees have said they plan to seek religious exemptions, while more than 350 plan to seek medical exemptions, according to a municipal government source who was not authorized to share preliminary data.

Under the ordinance, city employees must be fully immunized by October 5, unless they are granted a religious or medical exemption. Employees who benefit from exemptions will be subject to regular testing for the coronavirus, according to the order.

City officials last week pushed back a deadline for employees to apply for an exemption from the vaccination requirement, instead giving workers until the end of Monday to indicate they consider seeking an exemption. By early Monday evening, nearly 3,000 of the 12,311 LAPD employees had done so, and the number could increase before midnight. Preliminary figures were not available for other municipal services.

The numbers show how many employees say they intend to apply for an exemption, but the city has yet to consider those requests. Workers could still choose to be vaccinated after telling the city they plan to apply for an exemption.

The vaccination rate among LAPD employees has hovered at just over 50% for months, lagging behind the general public and raising concerns about the risk to the health of those they interact with on the streets and in the streets. confined spaces such as prisons and courthouses.

Activists have routinely recorded police officers in public spaces without masks, despite a departmental directive to wear them “every time in public or in the workplace.” Ten LAPD employees have died from COVID-19 and thousands have been infected.

In recent days, a group of LAPD employees filed a federal complaint challenging the vaccination mandate, arguing that it violates their constitutional rights to privacy and due process. Employees who sued include people “who could not claim medical or religious exemptions,” as well as people who claim to have natural antibodies to the virus, according to the legal complaint filed in district court on Saturday. American from Los Angeles.

Monday, LA City Atty. Mike Feuer called the trial a “far more political statement than a strong legal argument” and said he was convinced he would fail to overturn the city’s demand.

“It cannot be true that the health of anyone’s child, anyone’s grandmother, anyone in our city could be endangered because they come into the contact with a first responder who has not been vaccinated, ”Feuer said.

Firefighters 4 Freedom, a group opposed to the vaccination mandate, urged unvaccinated employees not to seek medical or religious exemptions, calling them a “trap.” Kevin McBride, the group’s lawyer, argued in a recent letter to LA Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas that “the only reason to require firefighters to seek an exemption is to identify those who oppose to the mandate of the COVID vaccine “for” potential abuse on this issue in the future. “

“The goal (…) is to overturn an unconstitutional municipal ordinance, not to obtain a stay of execution,” Firefighters 4 Freedom wrote in an Instagram post. “Getting any kind of exemption will never make this government overrun problem go away. “

However, exemptions may be easier to obtain than a legal judgment quashing the warrant.

Lindsay F. Wiley, director of the health law and policy program at the American University Washington College of Law, called religious exemptions “an incredibly sensitive area” for employers implementing immunization requirements. The 1st Amendment limits the government’s ability to distinguish between recognized religions and individual beliefs, Wiley said, meaning that an employer cannot simply reject an application because it is not supported by an official d ‘a recognized sect.

Wiley said some employers have looked at whether a worker expresses a religious belief in pursuing an exemption, rather than expressing other types of concerns. But opponents of the vaccination have advised workers how to frame their requests for exemptions to avoid triggering such objections.

“At the end of the day, they’re really easy to play,” Wiley said.

The LA ordinance defines the vaccination requirement as a condition of employment in town, but does not specify what happens if someone refuses to be vaccinated and does not get approval for an exemption. City officials have been in talks with employee unions about how vaccination rules affect workers.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League argued that the city should allow weekly testing as an alternative to vaccination, whether an employee has obtained a medical or religious exemption. In a written proposal, the police union argued that this “strikes an appropriate balance”.

This would violate the ordinance passed last month by the LA City Council, which explicitly states that city employees will not be able to “opt out” of immunization by getting tested weekly, because “the goal is to have a vaccinated workforce “.