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LAPD chief on vaccine mandates: "I believe the mandates are lawful"

Police unions challenge vaccine mandates
Police unions and city officials across U.S. clash over vaccine mandates 02:15

Editor's Note: The headline of this story has been updated to reflect comments made by Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore.

The Los Angeles Police Department's goal of having a fully vaccinated workforce is to ensure the safety and welfare of the department's officers, civilian workforce, their families and the public, the department's chief, Michel Moore, told CBS MoneyWatch.

The LAPD's goal of having a fully vaccinated workforce is to ensure the safety and welfare of the department's officers, civilian workforce, their families and the public, Moore told CBS MoneyWatch. That means enforcing the city's stringent vaccine mandate, which requires that unvaccinated employees get immunized by December 18; meantime, unvaccinated workers must get tested twice weekly on their own time and dime. Those who receive medical or religious exemptions will be reimbursed for the cost of testing. 

"I believe the mandates are lawful as they are currently defined," Moore said. 

The LAPD on November 4 began having commanding officers personally delivering notices to 3,500 unvaccinated employees — including 2,239 who had requested an exemption — informing them of the requirements. The approach involves a "one-on-one conversation that was respectful," said Moore, who expressed a desire to "turn down the volume" on the national debate taking place over vaccine mandates.

So far, the LAPD policy appears to be working. More than 60% of the unvaccinated employees have been officially notified one-on-one of the COVID-19 rules, and as of early Monday all but four had agreed to get vaccinated or request an exemption, Moore said.

Those four were sent home pending disciplinary hearings, with formal steps taken to terminate two of the employees and the others in line for removal if they don't change their minds, Moore said. 

Chicago police union, city file lawsuits against one another amid vaccine mandate for city workers 02:41

Nearly eight of 10 LAPD employees are fully vaccinated, and 78% have received at least one dose, with 172 workers getting their first shot in the last week. 

"Requirements have a role — having a bottom line is helping us right now," said Moore, who explained there are some LAPD employees who don't want to be vaccinated but also don't want to lose their job. 

LAPD Chief Michel Moore. LAPD

Moore's stance contrasts with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who recently went so far as to call a news conference to blast a similar vaccine mandate enacted by the county.

The county sheriff predicted mass departures among his deputies as a result, a warning also made but not necessarily panning out by police union officials in Pittsburgh and Chicago. 

As Adam Galinsky, a professor of leadership at Columbia Business School, recently told CBS MoneyWatch: "People generally like feeling like they have a choice, and mandates can be frustrating in many circumstances, but that doesn't mean they don't work." 

As in other police forces around the U.S., however, the LAPD has met some resistance to its COVID-19 rule, including a request for a temporary restraining order by the union representing its officers, which was denied by a judge on Wednesday

"I will not comply at all. The only thing mandatory for me right now is defiance," LAPD Officer Mike McMahon told CBSLA. The 14-year veteran of the police department, who was among those staging a recent protest across from City Hall, also predicted the vaccine requirement would spark a mass exodus of fellow employees.

"This vaccine is a lifeline"

A self-described "earlier adopter" of vaccines who pushed for first responders to be at the front of the line for the shots, Moore rejects the notion that police officers are more resistant to getting vaccinated than other Americans are.

"I know there are pundits critical of those resisting, but those resisting exist in every corner of our communities," he said. 

"Our socially disadvantaged communities have the highest rate of lack of vaccination," Moore said, attributing that in part to "the horrors of the government in the 40s and 50s, when we tested vaccines on members of those communities — there's real concern."

A certain percentage of people are bound to be hesitant to be injected with a vaccine that was little more than a rumor only two years ago, Moore reasoned. "Time is your friend" in overcoming fears, yet due to the ongoing loss of life "we don't have time," he said.

More than 3,000 of the LAPD's 12,300 employees have been infected by COVID-19, with 11 workers and three spouses dying, Moore said. "We have individuals in the hospital today, one in very serious condition, and about 85 at home recovering."    

July 2020 service honoring Valentin Martinez, 45, the first LAPD officer to die of COVID-19.  LAPD

Police officer Valentin Martinez, 45, became the first LAPD officer to die of COVID-19, in July 2020, after more than a month in a hospital intensive care unit. Survivors of Martinez, a 13-year veteran of the department, included his domestic partner, who was 20 weeks pregnant with twins at the time he died, according to the LAPD.

While the rate of coronavirus cases has fluctuated in Los Angeles County, the death toll continues to mount — with 34 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to county data. "The threat is real, and this vaccine is a lifeline," Moore said. "This pandemic has been weaponized by so many people."

The LAPD is probing photos posted on social media of three LAPD officers walking toward a vaccine-mandate protest in uniform, but Moore believes they were monitoring the event as part of their jobs and not as participants. 

"If anyone went on-duty-capacity and in uniform and participated in that demonstration that would be wrong," Moore said, adding he would await the findings of the formal investigation.

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