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Police vaccine religious exemptions raise questions

 May 9, 2022 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, May 9th>>>>

police vaccine exemption requests looking a bit similar More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….######

Ballots for the June 7th primary election are being mailed out this week..

All active voters in California can now vote by mail, or at any of the many voting centers around the county. If your voter registration is up to date, you should have received it by today. You can find election coverage and information at kpbs dot org slash voter hub

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The Chair of the San Diego County democratic Party says he’s taking a leave of absence as potential criminal allegations against him are investigated. That’s according to the San Diego union Tribune. Will Rodriguez-Kennedey made the announcement on friday. He says the allegations are completely false and he intends to work to clear his name. Rodriguez-Kennedy didn’t state the accusations against him, but his announcement follows Democratic Activist Tasha Williamson posting a facebook message suggesting that he had been accused of assault. Officials say there’s no time frame on how long the investigation will take.

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The national weather service says you should prepare for “temperature whiplash” this week. During the week temp highs in the 60’s are expected. That’s 10 to 20 degrees below normal for inland areas this time of year. Later in the week the weather service is forecasting a heat wave with temperatures in the 90’s inland and 110 in the deserts.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.
Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Most San Diego police officers who requested COVID-19 vaccine exemptions due to their religious beliefs gave heartfelt reasons for their requests. But were they genuine?

KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser reviewed police responses and found many of them were identical to each other. and they appeared to be copied and pasted from the internet.

The impassioned plea came from a San Diego police officer. He was seeking a religious exemption from taking a COVID vaccine and wrote down his deeply held beliefs.

“It is my belief that God knew what He was doing and the body of many needs no 'fixing' by mandkind,” he wrote…spelling it MAND-kind with a D. A few sentences later he also spelled the word hate with a TH.

Oddly enough, another San Diego police officer apparently had the exact same religious conviction. The second officer’s exemption application included identical wording, complete with the same spelling errors.

That’s just one example of uncanny similarities found by a KPBS review of 105 religious exemption forms that San Diego Police Department personnel filed with the city. In fact, more often than not, the passages appeared to be copied directly from sample religious exemption requests found on the internet. Despite this, city officials have approved almost all 1,000 vaccine exemptions, and denied only 16.

Most responses stated that the COVID vaccine is in direct conflict with the Bible, and referenced Biblical passages. The most common come from 1 Corinthians, such as “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

“Some of the ways that these texts are used in isolation, I think, stretch at the boundaries of what's a possible application of this text.”

Kara Lyons-Pardue is a New Testament professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. She says searching for specific passages in the Bible to support an argument leads to misinterpretation. Like in the case of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul is speaking to a group…

“Arguing against some pretty gratuitous sexual immorality going on in the community…(21:58) it's not even food or something that you would consume or a medicine that's in reference, this is talking about sexual immorality.”

More than 75% of respondents said their religion did allow them to receive other vaccines – like tetanus shots, flu shots and childhood vaccinations – just not COVID vaccines. When asked why, more than a dozen left the question blank and 20 said they didn’t know.

Many others made the argument that only COVID vaccines are derived from fetal cells, which equated to abortion and murder. But the vaccines themselves do not contain fetal tissue, and the Catholic church supports the vaccines.

“If they were taking one of my classes, they would all fail the class for plagiarism.”

Khalid Alexander is an English professor at San Diego City College and criminal justice reform advocate.

“It's blatant and in your face.”

The fact that police officers would copy answers from the Internet to a question that asked about deeply held personal religious beliefs was disheartening to Alexander. He says it indicates that the police department plays by its own rules.

“The lack of consequences for them clearly copy pasting and finding whatever loopholes they can to not follow the law calls into question who holds the police accountable.”

City staffers who reviewed the requests say language copied from the internet could still reflect someone’s personal religious beliefs.

“The city did not question the validity or sincerity of employees’ stated religious beliefs.”

Julie Perez-Rasco is the director of the city's Human Resources Department.

“Employees’ personal, social or political philosophies or mere personal preferences, beliefs, or fears of a secular nature were determined to not qualify as protected religious beliefs.”

Staff say it’s not the city’s role to judge where the wording came from.

CT KPBS News

To read more police officers’ responses to why they shouldn’t have to take a COVID vaccine, head to kpbs dot org.

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The Mayor's proposed police budget came under scrutiny from the San Diego city council on friday. The city's pension fund has benefited from a strong stock market– and since pensions are part of the police budget, that means overall police spending would go down by about 9 million dollars.

At the same time, the mayor is budgeting for raises to help retain more officers.

Police chief David Nisleit says emergency call response times aren't so bad.

“WHERE WE ARE FALTERING IS MORE ON THE NONEMERGENCY CALLS, AND I UNDERSTAND THE COMMUNITY'S FRUSTRATION. BUT WE ARE IN THE PROCESS OF HIRING QUITE A FEW. WE'RE ONBOARDING PEOPLE EVERY SINGLE WEEK.”

Mayor Todd Gloria is also budgeting for 23 new civilian positions to enforce parking violations.

Meanwhile, the same city council meeting was overshadowed by personal attacks from the police union, pointed at one council member in particular. More now from KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen.

AB: LAST WEEK, THE POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION PUT OUT A STATEMENT ACCUSING COUNCILMEMBER MONICA MONTGOMERY STEPPE OF NOT PRIORITIZING PUBLIC SAFETY AND SEEKING TO CUT POLICE FUNDING. BUT AT FRIDAY'S COUNCIL MEETING, SHE MADE CLEAR SHE SUPPORTS THE MAYOR'S PROPOSED RAISES FOR POLICE OFFICERS AND 23 ADDITIONAL POSITIONS IN THE DEPARTMENT. AND MONTGOMERY STEPPE SAID SHE WON'T BACK DOWN ON REFORMS TO COMBAT WELL-DOCUMENTED RACIAL DISPARITIES IN POLICING.

MMS: I LIVE IN BLACK SKIN. I CAN'T IGNORE IT. I'M NOT GOING TO IGNORE THE STATISTICS THAT … GIVE US AN IDEA OF THE TYPE OF EXPERIENCE THAT, IN PARTICULAR, BLACK AND BROWN PEOPLE HAVE IN THOSE INTERACTIONS.

AB: SAVINGS ON POLICE OFFICER PENSIONS HAVE REDUCED OVERALL POLICE SPENDING BY ABOUT 9 MILLION DOLLARS. ANDREW BOWEN, KPBS NEWS.

And that was reporting from KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen.

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Coming up.... California is one of the top states for rooftop solar, but it could do even more. We’ll have that story, and more, next, just after the break.

California is one of the leaders in the nation for the number of homes with rooftop solar, but the state also has the potential for more. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

California ranks second in the nation when measuring solar panels on rooftops capable of installing photovoltaic systems. Nearly four percent of qualified buildings have them. That only trails Hawaii where 12 percent of eligible roofs are covered. Corie Colliton is In-My-Area-dot-com’s industry analyst. The company does consumer comparison research and she says solar is a key strategy to keep carbon out of the air.

“By reducing carbon we would be reducing risk for people, for respiratory ailments, for risks from excessive heat, and other weather-related illnesses and deaths.”

Colliton says there is still a huge potential for solar growth in California, but she says that growth will only happen if the financial incentives to install solar remain.

Erik Anderson KPBS News

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A start-up company, spun off of research at UC San Diego, has created a spray-on gel that prevents the heart from sticking to other organs during surgery. KPBS Science and technology reporter Thomas Fudge tells why that’s important when a second surgery is needed.

ometimes the initial heart surgery goes wrong. Kids with congenital heart defects may need four or five surgeries during their lifetimes. And if the heart adheres to other organs during the first surgery, that creates internal scar tissue that can cut off access to the area that needs treatment, when surgeons have to operate again` . The new company called Karios has created a hydrogel that protects the heart after surgery, giving it time to heal.

“It’s like spray paint, right?”

Gregory Grover, the CEO of Karios.

“It sprays as a liquid but then it forms that shell. That’s exactly what our product does.”

As the heart heals, the shell disintegrates. This new hydrogel has been tested on rodents and pigs. Once the company gets FDA approval, Karios will be able to begin clinical trials on humans.

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School districts across San Diego county are preparing for hundreds of new pre-school students this fall. They’ll make up California's first universal transitional kindergarten class, better known as U-T-K.

Since 2012, the state has funded transitional kindergarten for children who turn 5 years old between september 2nd and december 2nd.

This fall, the age cutoff date will extend to feb. 2 as the first stage in california’s U-T-K program

Chula Vista elementary school district is the largest elementary district in the state.

Rita Palet is the senior director of early childhood education there.

"we’ll be adding additional months each year until 2025-26 where it will all 4-year-olds who turn 4 by september first will be allowed public education. it will become a whole new grade level.”

San Diego Unified started taking online applications for their program last week. Coronado unified is still looking for public input before setting a start date. And Oceanside Unified has started registration.

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Finding qualified teacher candidates who are fluent in various languages isn’t easy. Mesa College has a new program aimed at educating and supporting those who want to teach. It’s called DEBER…which is a Spanish word that means duty or responsibility. Vanessa Stone has been a participant in the Mesa College DEBER program…since it started three years ago.

“them not having English as their first language is not a disability if anything it’s going to help them in life and that they can do anything.”

The Mesa program is expected to expand to City College. It is already partnered with Southwestern College and San Diego State ….where Vanessa Stone plans to transfer within a year so she can start reaching students caught in the bilingual gap.

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Last year, the annual bighorn sheep count in the Anza Borrego desert was canceled when a volunteer died of heat exposure. Now, KPBS reporter Claire Trageser says the citizen scientist effort is back.

This will be the 50th year that volunteers will drive to the desert and spend all day counting sheep.

The census is done every July when the high temperatures drive bighorn sheep down to watering holes where they can be easily counted.

Mark Jorgensen is a longtime volunteer.

“We get a good snapshot of the vigor of that part of the demographics that we're out monitoring about 18 to 20 different water sources in the hottest time of the summer.”

There will be plenty of safety precautions, including a mandatory training for new counters. And lots of reminders to get a person to safety at the first sign of heat stress

CT KPBS News

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

A review of more than 100 exemption requests on religious grounds from San Diego Police Department staffers, found many of them were identical to each other and appeared to be copied and pasted from the internet. Meanwhile, the city council reviewed the mayor’s proposed police budget on Friday. The meeting was overshadowed by personal attacks from the police union. Plus, California is one of the top states for solar panels installed on rooftops, but the state has potential for even more.