SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – A veteran San Jose police officer has announced his resignation as the deadline nears for all city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Police Officer’s Association said they are concerned that other officers may choose to retire or leave the department over the vaccine mandate.

“First of all, it’s my religious belief. I also believe I’ve been given a choice about what to do with my body,” says retired Sgt. David Gutierrez.

Gutierrez spent more than a quarter century rising through the ranks at SJPD, working stints as a homicide detective, internal affairs investigator and patrol supervisor.

He retired in December of 2019 but returned as a reserve officer for the department. He says the city’s get-tough vaccine policy doesn’t respect people’s individual rights and healthcare choices.

“I’m not anti-vaccine. I don’t tell people, ‘You shouldn’t get it.’ But when it comes to my body, it’s my choice about what I want to put in my body,” he said.

The Police Officers’ Association estimates there are roughly 150 officers who are either currently unvaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccine status to the city. A spokesperson said some have applied for medical or religious exemptions and others are weighing their options which might include retirement or resignation.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city’s policy has already increased vaccination rates from 82 to 85% in the police department since it was first announced.

“This is certainly for the protection of the individual members of our city team. But it’s also critically for the safety of our entire community because we know obviously that first responders are out there interacting with the public every day,” the mayor said.

Liccardo believes a large exodus of unvaccinated workers from the police department is unlikely.

Gutierrez said however many officers ultimately decide to leave over the mandate, the department will suffer for the loss of their experience and expertise.

“If they let go police officers who’ve been here five years, ten years, 15 years, you can hire someone else but you’re not going to hire that experience though,” he said.