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Are local cops getting vaccinated? It depends on the police department

Menlo Park is one of two Midpeninsula agencies that doesn't track whether officers have gotten the vaccine

The Menlo Park Police Department hasn't been tracking how many of its employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

If an officer pulls you over during a routine traffic stop, there's plenty to worry about. It could be an expensive fix-it ticket or a citation, but it could also be that the officer approaching your window declined to get the COVID-19 vaccine and is putting you at risk.

Police departments throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are encouraging officers to get vaccinated, but the results vary widely from one department to the next. Some agencies are publicly touting high rates, while others are struggling to get their cops to get the shot. And for some departments, there hasn't been any effort to track vaccination rates, making it a mystery just how many are immunized.

Law enforcement employees in the Bay Area have had access to the COVID-19 vaccine since January, placing high on the priority list as first responders who interact with the public on a daily basis. But the early access hasn't necessarily led to higher vaccination rates among sworn officers, particularly among those working in county jails.

The Menlo Park Police Department hasn't been tracking how many of its employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

On the high end is the Mountain View Police Department, which reports that 83% of its sworn officers had received the COVID-19 vaccine as of May 10. By comparison, about 73% of residents above age 12 in Santa Clara County have received the vaccine. For non-sworn personnel in the department, the vaccination rate is over 90%.

For the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, it's been more of a challenge. Among those working in the jails, only 476 sworn officers (59%) had received the vaccine as of May 11, up from 53% in early March but still well below the county average. The rate improves to 67% among enforcement officers outside of the custody setting.

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The low vaccination rates among jail staff have raised alarm bells for county supervisors, who worry that widespread immunization is critical to protect those who are incarcerated. A total of 427 inmates have contracted COVID-19 while in custody since the pandemic began, averaging one to two active cases at a time in recent months, while 243 employees of the sheriff's department have contracted the virus. The sheriff's office does not disclose who has been vaccinated, and does not give different roles to correctional officers based on their vaccination status.

At a May 4 meeting, county Supervisor Joe Simitian questioned whether more could be done to improve the persistently low vaccination rate among jail guards, or if the leadership at the sheriff's office was content to "live with" the low number of deputies opting to get the shot.

"I just think both in terms of the health of our jail population, the health of our employees and the potential liability, this is an issue that we can't just keep kicking the can down the road on," Simitian said.

Assistant Sheriff Timothy Davis said the department is making a concerted effort to improve the vaccination numbers. He said they are in constant communication with staff, providing informational emails, weekly meetings, town halls and even a video that sought to dispel some of the concerns about the vaccine.

"The sheriff's office is very pro-vaccine, and we will continue to work on efforts to increase those numbers," he said.

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There has been more success next door, where the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office reports that 133 of the 188 sworn staff working in jails have been vaccinated, or just over 70%. That number could be even higher, as the data only tracks those who received the vaccine through the county health system, said Rosemerry Blankswade, spokeswoman for the agency. The vaccination rate among all 502 officers at the sheriff's office was not immediately available.

Menlo Park and Palo Alto

The Palo Alto and Menlo Park police departments could not provide vaccination data for their officers. James Reifschneider, acting captain for the Palo Alto Police Department, said officers are being encouraged to get the vaccine but the department has no records of how many employees have actually been immunized. Nicole Acker, a spokeswoman for the Menlo Park Police Department, said the city isn't tracking vaccination rates among officers so long as it remains voluntary.

"The Menlo Park Police Department has encouraged all our employees to get vaccinated, and were active participants in the vaccination program facilitated by the county in February for law enforcement personnel," Acker said. "We continue to encourage vaccinations and employ all appropriate safety protocols to avoid infection and prevent spread of COVID-19."

The supportive messaging stands in stark contrast to the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA), a statewide professional association for law enforcement personnel, which has declined to encourage its membership to get the vaccine. Shaun Rundle, deputy director of the CPOA, said the organization is "not approaching" the issue of vaccines at all, and does not have data on vaccination rates among officers statewide.

State officials are working with California's prison guard union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, to boost vaccination rates among those working in prisons and jails. So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said there are no plans to make vaccines a requirement.

Police departments in Santa Clara County will soon be required to track vaccination rates among employees, broadening public knowledge of which law enforcement agencies are successfully immunizing their officers. Under a May 18 county health order, businesses and government entities must determine which employees are vaccinated by June 1, and staff who are not fully vaccinated must wear face masks and follow COVID-19 public health protocols.

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Are local cops getting vaccinated? It depends on the police department

Menlo Park is one of two Midpeninsula agencies that doesn't track whether officers have gotten the vaccine

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, May 27, 2021, 9:59 am

If an officer pulls you over during a routine traffic stop, there's plenty to worry about. It could be an expensive fix-it ticket or a citation, but it could also be that the officer approaching your window declined to get the COVID-19 vaccine and is putting you at risk.

Police departments throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are encouraging officers to get vaccinated, but the results vary widely from one department to the next. Some agencies are publicly touting high rates, while others are struggling to get their cops to get the shot. And for some departments, there hasn't been any effort to track vaccination rates, making it a mystery just how many are immunized.

Law enforcement employees in the Bay Area have had access to the COVID-19 vaccine since January, placing high on the priority list as first responders who interact with the public on a daily basis. But the early access hasn't necessarily led to higher vaccination rates among sworn officers, particularly among those working in county jails.

On the high end is the Mountain View Police Department, which reports that 83% of its sworn officers had received the COVID-19 vaccine as of May 10. By comparison, about 73% of residents above age 12 in Santa Clara County have received the vaccine. For non-sworn personnel in the department, the vaccination rate is over 90%.

For the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, it's been more of a challenge. Among those working in the jails, only 476 sworn officers (59%) had received the vaccine as of May 11, up from 53% in early March but still well below the county average. The rate improves to 67% among enforcement officers outside of the custody setting.

The low vaccination rates among jail staff have raised alarm bells for county supervisors, who worry that widespread immunization is critical to protect those who are incarcerated. A total of 427 inmates have contracted COVID-19 while in custody since the pandemic began, averaging one to two active cases at a time in recent months, while 243 employees of the sheriff's department have contracted the virus. The sheriff's office does not disclose who has been vaccinated, and does not give different roles to correctional officers based on their vaccination status.

At a May 4 meeting, county Supervisor Joe Simitian questioned whether more could be done to improve the persistently low vaccination rate among jail guards, or if the leadership at the sheriff's office was content to "live with" the low number of deputies opting to get the shot.

"I just think both in terms of the health of our jail population, the health of our employees and the potential liability, this is an issue that we can't just keep kicking the can down the road on," Simitian said.

Assistant Sheriff Timothy Davis said the department is making a concerted effort to improve the vaccination numbers. He said they are in constant communication with staff, providing informational emails, weekly meetings, town halls and even a video that sought to dispel some of the concerns about the vaccine.

"The sheriff's office is very pro-vaccine, and we will continue to work on efforts to increase those numbers," he said.

There has been more success next door, where the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office reports that 133 of the 188 sworn staff working in jails have been vaccinated, or just over 70%. That number could be even higher, as the data only tracks those who received the vaccine through the county health system, said Rosemerry Blankswade, spokeswoman for the agency. The vaccination rate among all 502 officers at the sheriff's office was not immediately available.

The Palo Alto and Menlo Park police departments could not provide vaccination data for their officers. James Reifschneider, acting captain for the Palo Alto Police Department, said officers are being encouraged to get the vaccine but the department has no records of how many employees have actually been immunized. Nicole Acker, a spokeswoman for the Menlo Park Police Department, said the city isn't tracking vaccination rates among officers so long as it remains voluntary.

"The Menlo Park Police Department has encouraged all our employees to get vaccinated, and were active participants in the vaccination program facilitated by the county in February for law enforcement personnel," Acker said. "We continue to encourage vaccinations and employ all appropriate safety protocols to avoid infection and prevent spread of COVID-19."

The supportive messaging stands in stark contrast to the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA), a statewide professional association for law enforcement personnel, which has declined to encourage its membership to get the vaccine. Shaun Rundle, deputy director of the CPOA, said the organization is "not approaching" the issue of vaccines at all, and does not have data on vaccination rates among officers statewide.

State officials are working with California's prison guard union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, to boost vaccination rates among those working in prisons and jails. So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said there are no plans to make vaccines a requirement.

Police departments in Santa Clara County will soon be required to track vaccination rates among employees, broadening public knowledge of which law enforcement agencies are successfully immunizing their officers. Under a May 18 county health order, businesses and government entities must determine which employees are vaccinated by June 1, and staff who are not fully vaccinated must wear face masks and follow COVID-19 public health protocols.

Comments

Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 27, 2021 at 10:26 am
Observer, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 10:26 am

It should be a national requirement that every law officer, fireperson, EMT, healthcare worker be vaccinated. And those vaccination rates should be disclosed.


Atherton Resident
Registered user
Atherton: other
on May 27, 2021 at 12:21 pm
Atherton Resident, Atherton: other
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Observer- You are way off base. Why is it your business if a person has been vaccinated? Why is necessary for me to disclose to you my medical history? Have you heard of HIPPA? If you want to be vaccinated that is fine, and none of that is my business. My body, my health. Covid is under control, move on to other diseases to defeat like heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimer's,.....


Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 27, 2021 at 12:56 pm
Observer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Police officers who don't want the vaccine should not be interacting with the public. They present a health hazard and could be a vector for Covid.


lawman
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 27, 2021 at 1:02 pm
lawman, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 1:02 pm

"Menlo Park is one of two Midpeninsula agencies that doesn't track whether officers have gotten the vaccine … Nicole Acker, a spokeswoman for the Menlo Park Police Department, said the city isn't tracking vaccination rates among officers so long as it remains voluntary."

This is outrageous as it puts many citizens at risk. At the very least, there should be transparency. Menlo Park—indeed San Mateo Couty— should follow the lead of Santa Clara County in providing transparency and accountability by amending their health orders:

"Police departments in Santa Clara County will soon be required to track vaccination rates among employees, broadening public knowledge of which law enforcement agencies are successfully immunizing their officers. Under a May 18 county health order, businesses and government entities must determine which employees are vaccinated by June 1, and staff who are not fully vaccinated must wear face masks and follow COVID-19 public health protocols.”

@Atherton Resident You, presumably, are a private citizen not entrusted with governmental policing functions. If you are privately employed, your employer may require you to be immunized as a condition to returning to work where you interact physically with others. You may have heard of HIPAA but one might infer from your misspelling of it that you are not familiar with its provisions. It is well known that HIPAA does not preclude ascertaining ones COVID vaccination status. Google it!


MPCSD resident
Registered user
Atherton: West Atherton
on May 27, 2021 at 3:52 pm
MPCSD resident, Atherton: West Atherton
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 3:52 pm

@ Atherton Resident, your statement "my body, my health" isn't that straightforward when what you do with your body may put others at risk. Just as you can no longer smoke indoors in public places because the smoke is toxic to others, if you're interacting with others in close proximity, your simple act of breathing can be toxic to others if you have Covid.

When it comes to highly contagious diseases, the states certainly have the authority to mandate vaccinations if they choose to. So far, they have focused on children. "All 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, currently have laws requiring specified vaccines for students. This requirement is generally subject to certain exemptions, which vary from state to state. While all student immunization laws grant exemptions to children for medical reasons (e.g., if a child is allergic to vaccines or immunocompromised), most but not all states grant religious exemptions for those whose beliefs counsel against immunization. Sixteen states also provide a broader philosophical exemption for those who object to immunizations because of personal, moral, or other beliefs"

Bottom line, I believe public facing government employees should be required to be vaccinated. If they choose not to, they should be moved to a position where they're not interacting with and endangering others.


margomca
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 27, 2021 at 4:31 pm
margomca, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 4:31 pm

A person's right to remain unvaccinated is sacrosanct. BUT my right to not interact with said person is also sacrosanct. If I am stopped by a peace officer, I am denied that choice. His/her decision not to be vaccinated intrudes on my right for a safe environment. So the officer can make that choice, but he/she should not be out interacting with the public. MPPD has the responsibility to the community not only to encourage vaccination and keep records, but also ensure the public safety by not sending unvaccinated officers out for duty. If I ask an officer who has stopped me about vaccination status, I have the right for an answer. Masks are fine, but is the officer going to keep me at a distance of 6 feet? I don't think so.

The more important issue is when does person A's right to make free personal decisions impinge on my rights for a safe environment. I think we've answered that questions with respect to smoking. Your right to smoke ends at the tip of my nose. It's definitely a conundrum.


Scott
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 27, 2021 at 5:17 pm
Scott, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on May 27, 2021 at 5:17 pm

It would be such low hanging fruit for the City of Menlo Park to require vaccines or a positive antibody test from all public facing employees. It would clearly signal that the health of all city residents is important to city leadership and staff. Not to even track vaccination status seems a bit short sighted - you don't know if you have a problem. Does anyone know if there was a response from city hall? If an unvaccinated employee gets long covid, who pays for their disability?


pogo
Registered user
Woodside: other
on May 28, 2021 at 7:46 am
pogo, Woodside: other
Registered user
on May 28, 2021 at 7:46 am

I am "pro" vaccination because it has been proved very safe and very effective.

That said, those who think an unvaccinated person is somehow putting others at risk are way off base and their "belief" is unsupported by the science (and aren't we supposed to believe in science?).

First, if an unvaccinated person has had the virus - and somewhere between 35 and 100 million people in the USA have had COVID! - then while vaccines are recommended, the data say that their likelihood of reinfection is remarkably similar to a vaccinated person. A vaccinated person represents a similar risk to someone who has had the virus - not zero but extremely low.

When you consider the number of people that have had the virus or have had at least one dose of vaccine, your risk from "a stranger" is exceedingly low, especially here in well immunized Northern California. Note the exceptionally low rates of hospitalizations and deaths today. The worst is over.

The other side of the equation is equally important. If you've been vaccinated, you have very little to worry about. The chance of "breakthrough infection" is very low for those who have been vaccinated or have had the virus.

So stop the sky-is-falling scenarios that we're in horrific danger from the unvaccinated. You are not. Follow the science. Relax.


Atherton Resident
Registered user
Atherton: other
on May 28, 2021 at 8:18 am
Atherton Resident, Atherton: other
Registered user
on May 28, 2021 at 8:18 am

Observer- If you do not want to interact with a non vaccinated EMT, Police officer or Fireman specify when you are calling in your emergency your preference. Stop with we are all doom and hysteria. The vaccine works . We locked down, got 3 vaccines that work and the drama is over. If its good enough for the governor and mayors to eat with friends in close proximity we can let people keep their medical information private.


mvheim
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 28, 2021 at 1:11 pm
mvheim, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on May 28, 2021 at 1:11 pm

I am rather shocked that the city is not tracking the vaccination status of officers. I agree with the person who stated that all public safety employees should be required to be vaccinated. Consider, citizens do not usually get the choice whether or not to interact with these officers. Can you imagine a cop's reaction to a citizen who asked them to "kindly step back and observe social distancing"? These officers are paid to serve the public by protecting public safety — if they aren't willing to take simple steps to protect the public during a pandemic, they shouldn't be on the public payroll. Period.


Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 28, 2021 at 1:14 pm
Observer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on May 28, 2021 at 1:14 pm

I am sad to see the level of selfishness in this community.

I'm fully vaccinated, and even my kids now have gotten their shots. We're all good at my house. But I do know quite a few people of all ages, kids too, with immune and other medical issues who cannot get the vaccine. (This isn't just the case for covid -- they're not vaccinated against diphtheria either -- but that's not a day-to-day problem).

If a private citizen refuses to get vaccinated, that's your prerogative. I hope you wear a mask when you interact with others, though I know you won't. But the job of the police is to protect, not infect. Anyone in the public sector who refuses the vaccine should not continue in a public-facing role.


lawman
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 28, 2021 at 1:18 pm
lawman, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on May 28, 2021 at 1:18 pm

@Atherton Resident wrote "If you do not want to interact with a non vaccinated EMT, Police officer or Fireman specify when you are calling in your emergency your preference."

Umm, what good would that do? No one is even keeping track of which first responders are vaccinated, let alone having vaccinated and/or nonvaccinated teams. smh


acomfort
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 28, 2021 at 3:13 pm
acomfort, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on May 28, 2021 at 3:13 pm

I missed seeing the clinical trial or trials that showed that the vaccinated are less likely to spread or get the virus than the unvaccinated. I hope someone will point me to a clinical trial that proves that the a vaccinated person cannot spread or get the virus.
If there was none, then the answer is whatever the experts say.
That is good enough for most of us.
Thanks


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on May 29, 2021 at 8:07 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on May 29, 2021 at 8:07 am

acomfort:

Then you haven't looked very hard.

Web Link


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on May 29, 2021 at 5:17 pm
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on May 29, 2021 at 5:17 pm

Is there a simple solution here that addresses public perceptions of safety as well as any person's decision (including a police officer's) to get or not to get vaccinated?

1. Keep track of vaccinated officers.

2. Officers who have chosen not to get vaccinated should be required to wear masks when interacting with the public.

3. Citizens who have similarly chosen not to get vaccinated would be advised also to wear masks when interacting with the police (or anyone), but that is up to the citizen.

People are also not looking at the flip side of the coin. A vaccinated (or non-vaccinated) officer has to interact with members of the public who are not necessarily vaccinated. But, that is his or her job.


MPCSD resident
Registered user
Atherton: West Atherton
on May 29, 2021 at 6:20 pm
MPCSD resident, Atherton: West Atherton
Registered user
on May 29, 2021 at 6:20 pm

@ Thoughtful - good, straight-forward suggestions!

Scott above actually addressed the "flip side" in his last sentence by asking an excellent question:

"If an unvaccinated employee gets long covid, who pays for their disability?"

The police are public employees. Our taxes are used to pay them so they can protect us. A portion of those taxes go towards paying for medical insurance for public employees. If they get sick at higher rates because they're not choosing to get vaccinated, I imagine the cost of insurance will increase at the next renewal and we as tax payers will in essence be paying for the increase.

As now stated by many, for multiple reasons Menlo Park really should track public facing officer's vaccination status, require all officers in public facing roles to get vaccinated, or wear a mask, or take a position in a non public facing role.

As per multiple studies, the chance of contracting Covid for those who ARE vaccinated is .01%. That's 1 in 10,000. I believe Menlo Park has about 35,000 residents. That means IF virtually all our residents were vaccinated 3 or 4 of us could potentially statistically get sick from an unvaccinated police officer. The odds of getting hospitalized or worse are even lower BUT the long-term effects of even a mild case of Covid are unclear. And, our 0-11 year olds and immunocompromised citizens aren't vaccinated. Our officers who are meant to serve and protect shouldn't be putting the community at any increased risk, even if its an extremely small risk.


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