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SAN DIEGO — A union representing San Diego police officers is holding firm in its opposition to a requirement that all city employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, arguing Wednesday that department ranks could fall to their lowest number in years if the mandate is enforced.

The city of San Diego will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1, 2021. If city police officers are given a choice between complying or losing their jobs, many who responded to a recent survey have said they will simply quit. Union representatives are using those numbers to threaten the risks of a depleted law enforcement corps.

“We’ve worked really hard trying to build our numbers up. They were very low about 4 years ago and we’re going in the right direction. We’re actually way higher than we were then. This could almost instantly take what we’ve gained back away,” said Detective Jack Schaeffer, president of the San Diego Police Officer Association.

The Dec. 1 deadline is an extension of an early November deadline, amid continued talks with unions.

“The City is still in negotiations with its recognized employee organizations (REOs) over how we will manage employees who are unvaccinated or refuse to get vaccinated,” Mayor Todd Gloria’s Chief of Staff, Nick Serrano said. “As of [Monday], all City employees were required to report their vaccination status. Employees who have not provided their vaccination status are facing suspension without pay and potential termination.”

Union leaders say they aren’t satisfied with the outcome of recent conversations.

“I’m disappointed with the fact that the city is willing to be far more punitive than our competition,” Schaeffer said, arguing that nearby law enforcement agencies are not mandating a vaccine. The SDPOA has said it’s concerned San Diego officers would apply elsewhere if facing down a mandate.

SDPD Chief David Nisleit echoed that concern: “That’s concerning. I mean, the possible impacts if we were to lose officers: you look at this police department, our ratio to officers to citizens is the second lowest in this nation.”

As of Wednesday, 71.8% of city employees were fully vaccinated, accounting for 8,135. Of that group, 1,103 are police officers, the city says.

You can read information from health experts about the COVID-19 vaccine online from the FDA and the CDC.