As COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadlines loom over police departments nationwide, law enforcement leaders and politicians must weigh whether defiant officers can keep their jobs amid an already-depleted police force.
Chicago’s mayor and police union are currently at war over the citywide mandate to have vaccines. City employees had until Friday to notify their status on vaccinations. Over a third of Chicago police officers didn’t do so, according to city data.
A “very small number” of Chicago police officers declined additional opportunities to report their vaccination status Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. These officers were sent home with no pay, and may face discipline.
Lightfoot claimed that the union spread misinformation about the reporting process. This asks employees for their vaccination status, and then allows them to have a short window for regular COVID-19 testing.
“Whatever (they’ve) been told, frankly in many instances they weren’t told the truth, and so there is I think an eye-opening moment for many people that this actually is a pretty straightforward non-intrusive process,” Lightfoot said. “Our young men and women at the police department are smarter than maybe they’ve been given credit for. They’re not going to risk their careers by being insubordinate and having in their jackets the fact that they defied a direct order of their supervisors.”
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown threatened in a memo to fire officers who don’t comply with the policy, adding that those who retire rather than adhere to the requirements might be putting their retirement benefits at risk.
Meanwhile, Chicago Police Union President John Catanzara urged members not to report their vaccination status. The Baltimore Sun reports that the Baltimore Police Union’s head did the exact same thing.
“It is understandable that our members have questions about a policy with so little information being provided by the city,” Baltimore Sgt. In a letter addressed to members of the union, Mike Mancuso stated that he was writing this. “Until the city responds to our right to bargain these issues, or the courts intervene, I suggest you do nothing in regard to revealing your vaccination status as it is outlined in the city’s policy.”
In the Pacific Northwest, tensions are coming to a head as Oregon’s state and Seattle’s city employees are poised to lose their jobs early Tuesday if they don’t comply with vaccine mandates.
Seattle’s police department has lost more than 300 officers over the past year, according to Mike Solan, the union’s president. Last week, Seattle’s police department sent detectives and non-patrol officers to respond to emergency calls due to a shortage of patrol officers.
Solan told The Associated Press he anticipates another “mass exodus” of Seattle police offers as the vaccine mandate comes into effect.
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There have been staffing shortages in police departments all over the nation since before vaccination mandates were implemented. A report by the non-profit National Police Foundation shows that 86% of all law enforcement agencies in America reported having a shortage of staff for 2020.
The combination of several calls for defunding the police after the deaths of George Floyd, other Black Americans who were victims of police officers and the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some of the largest police budget reductions ever made.
COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for American law enforcement officers, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit tracking police officer deaths. America’s leading infectious disease specialistraised this statistic as he urged police officers to get vaccinated in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.
“I’m not comfortable with telling people what they should do under normal circumstances, but we are not in normal circumstances right now,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Think about the implications of not getting vaccinated when you’re in a position where you have a responsible job and you want to protect yourself because you’re needed at your job, whether you’re a police officer or a pilot or any other of those kinds of occupations,” Fauci said.
Though studies have shown that COVID vaccines remain highly effective in preventing severe illness and death, law enforcement officers opposed to vaccine mandates are threatening resignations or are seeking remedy in court.
Washington Governor was sued by several members of Washington State Patrol. Jay Inslee alleged that he had overstepped his authority and violated his rights as a vaccine advocate. Monday was ruled legal by the judge.
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Troopers from Oregon State Police tried temporarily to halt the Monday evening vaccine mandate. On Oct. 7, a judge denied the request.
In September, employees of the Los Angeles Police Department filed a federal suit challenging the requirement that city workers be immunized against COVID-19. A judge has yet to rule on the case, but Los Angeles’ vaccine mandate deadline is rapidly approaching on Oct. 20.
A similar mandate exists on the county level, but Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he won’t force his deputies to be vaccinated.
“I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5, 10% of my workforce overnight,” he told The Associated Press.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said he’s considering “all options” with vaccine mandates for the nation’s largest police department.
Contributing to The Associated Press
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