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Last-minute vaccine push staves off layoffs of SF first responders

Dozens of San Francisco police officers submitted last-minute proof of vaccination and won’t be subject to termination under the city’s health order, according to new figures released by the city’s human resources department.

As of Thursday, there were 108 police staffers, including 76 sworn officers, out of compliance with the city’s mandate that employees submit proof of vaccination or be terminated. That marked an improvement over the 118 sworn officers that were unvaccinated as of Wednesday afternoon, according to remarks by Police Chief Bill Scott at a commission hearing.

Thursday was a key deadline for the city’s vaccination order, with police officers, firefighters, sheriffs and other workers who interact with the public required to submit proof of vaccination by midnight. All other city employees must provide proof of full vaccination by Nov. 1. About 95% of the city’s total workforce of roughly 35,000 is fully or partially vaccinated, according to human resources. 

Any employee who is out of compliance with the vaccine order will be placed on administrative leave and undergo a due process hearing, said Scott on Wednesday.

“In those due process hearings if we find that the employee [is out of compliance]…those employees will be sent to the police commission for a non-disciplinary release from employment,” he said.  

The departure of 76 police officers would put an additional dent in a workforce that saw high attrition during the pandemic and– like other police departments across the country–is having a harder time recruiting than in years past. 

During budget negotiations in June, Scott said that SFPD was short-staffed by hundreds, struggling to fulfill responsibilities like public records requests and federally-mandated reforms, and seeing fewer new candidates. The department is undergoing a review of its staffing needs this winter. 

Other departments bracing for departures include the fire department, which had 35 unvaccinated members on Thursday, an improvement over the 41 believed unvaccinated as of Wednesday afternoon. SFMTA warned last week that up to 15% of its transit operators were presumed unvaccinated at that time. 

SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin said that while the agency was working to encourage more vaccines among its staff, an outflow of hundreds of workers could cause “chaotic” service disruptions and a suspension of other transit services starting Nov. 1, the last vaccination deadline for that cohort of workers.