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Vaccine mandate for St. Louis County employees may not apply to police officers

"The police board can be the only ones that can enforce the police department to do this."

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — On Tuesday night, St. Louis County Council voted in favor of a vaccine mandate for county employees.

The decision was made at a heated county council meeting, as security had to remove some people from the chamber.

The county council passed the vaccine mandate along party lines with the four Democrats voting for it and the three Republicans going against it.

The mandate would require workers to get the shot and if not, wear a mask and submit regular testing. This impacts about 3,000 employees. These employees fall under the civil service commission, which are called merit employees. Yet, this number could increase.

"There is some debate on whether the 1,300 police department employees would be impacted," councilmember and former police chief Tim Fitch said.

The confusion lies within the county charter.

The constitution-like document said the police board is in charge of the police department, which means the county council does not have that control.

"The police board can be the only ones that can enforce the police department to do this and they can take it up by resolution, whether they support it or not," Fitch explains.

Fitch believes some officers will quit, refusing to get the jab for the job. That's even after 257 officers have tested positive since March 28, 2020.

"I wonder if legally the council can force the police officers for a job action to lose their job for getting the vaccine, I don't think they can, but that's a legal action that needs to be litigated at some point," Fitch added. "I’ve never seen the county tell the police board this is what you have to do. It would be the first time I would see anything like that and I’ve been around county government since 1983."

Fitch voted against the mandate, unlike councilwoman Rita Heard Days.

"The information that I've read and the information I've gotten from others led me to support that vaccinations for county employees is the way we should go," Days said.

County Executive Dr. Sam Page is expected to sign the bill. Once it is signed, it will take 15 days for it to go into effect.

On Monday, Sept. 20, Page addressed the vaccine mandate and confusion over whether police will be included.

"It's certainly a gray area," he stated, adding that he also doesn't know if the mandate applies but said it'll be brought up to the police board.

"We know that the police are out in the community a lot, and folks in St. Louis County would expect them to be vaccinated as well," Page added.

The police union business manager tells 5 On Your Side as of right now, they don't know where this puts the department. The board of police commissioners is trying to figure what this would mean for the police department.

Fitch also presented his own legislation Tuesday night. He said it's to give employees protection. A part of the bill would cover breakthrough cases. 

RELATED: St. Louis County Council members plan to introduce 2 bills regarding vaccine mandates for employees

"If you take the vaccine because we told you you had to and you get sick from COVID through a breakthrough case, those employees would be treated as they were on duty, during their county time. They would not be required to use personal time to recover from this. If we are going to force you to keep the job or get the shot, there needs to be protection," he said.

In the next two county council meetings, Fitch's piece of legislation would be up for a vote.