Seattle police departments worry vaccine mandate could cause officer shortage
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Seattle’s police union fired back against the city’s “media blitz” on Monday’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline, arguing the department’s “gross mismanagement” in barring some 100 officers granted medical and religious exemptions from continuing to serve will result in an “untenable public safety crisis.”
After the deadline passed for officers of the Seattle Police Department to upload their COVID-19 vaccine verifications, Seattle Police Officers’ Guild said the union will continue to negotiate in good faith despite the city “still moving forward with their mandate and acting in bad faith.”
City officials had warned that failure to upload vaccination verifications by Monday will lead to separation from city employment, which the union argued “means more losses of police jobs and an alarming escalation in crime.”
“SPOG members want to continue to show up tomorrow to serve our community. These terrific human beings want to be the ones who answer the 911 calls for help,” Mike Solan, president of the union representing some 1,000 Seattle police personnel, said in a statement. “SPOG has requested the City of Seattle follow other large American cities, such as San Jose, Chicago and Milwaukee as they have allowed reasonable accommodations for their police officers through masking and testing.”
SPOG believes that this is a reasonable request to slow down the spiraling staffing crisis currently facing the Seattle Police Department,” Solan said. This comes after the Seattle Police Department already activated an emergency three-stage mobilization plan last week, which involves sending detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls because of a shortage of patrol officers.
In Chicago, the mayor and police union exchanged a war of words after over a third of the city’s police officers declined to report their vaccination status by Friday’s deadline. By Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a “very small number” decline additional chances to report their vaccination status and were sent home without pay. Chicago’s reporting process allows a temporary window of COVID-19 testing at the officers’ own expense until a vaccine can be administered, Lightfoot said, according to USA Today. Chicago officers who retire instead of getting vaccinated could lose their benefits.
Meanwhile, Solan said he doubted the numbers released by the city on Seattle police officers’ vaccination status were correct.
At the beginning of the month, more than 350 Seattle police officers had not submitted proof of vaccination, but by late Monday morning, Stephanie Formas, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s chief of staff, provided the Seattle Times with figures suggesting just 2% of the Seattle Police Department – or just 24 employees – had not submitted their vaccination verification.
“Though we’ve heard and seen in the city’s media blitz today on the current vaccine verification numbers, SPOG has asked the city for clarification on these numbers as we believe that the city is not being fully transparent,” Solan said. “Trading the COVID-19 public health crisis for a looming public safety staffing crisis is gross mismanagement. SPOG believes that this isn’t about whether or not you’re vaccinated, it is strictly about saving jobs and continuing to provide public safety to the City of Seattle.”
According to Formas’ figures, 91% of Seattle Police Department employees and 90% of sworn personnel had been vaccinated by late Monday morning. Meanwhile, 7% of department employees and 8% of sworn employees had filed for exemptions.
Hosting a press conference Monday, Mayor Durkan cited interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, arguing the vaccine mandate deadline, therefore, would not have any significant impact on 911 response.
“We’re down to just a couple dozen who haven’t put in their paperwork, and if the trend lines are the same, many of them have already been vaccinated and just haven’t put it in,” Durkan said. “But Chief Diaz feels very secure — and I have Chief Scoggins here as well — that if someone calls 911, there will not be significant impacts on the response in either fire or police.”
Throughout the past 19 months, Seattle police officers have continued to follow CDC guidelines, responding to 911 calls for help while exposing themselves to the virus, the union said. This mandate comes after the department has already lost nearly 350 to retirements and resignations, which the union said means “protecting the officers still left to answer 911 calls is of critical importance.”
According to the union, some 100 officers “have applied for and were approved for medical and religious exemptions” from the mayor’s mandate, but “instead of working for reasonable accommodations, the City of Seattle has chosen to deny these officers the ability to continue to serve the public. The union believes media reports suggesting the department is working toward accommodations are “untrue,” as it’s received work that “all religious accommodations will be denied.”
Additionally, officers who had received medical accommodations received word that the Seattle Police Department “is unable to identify a reasonable accommodation for your current position,” the union said. Those officers include an organ transplant recipient who cannot get the vaccine due to an anti-rejection medication, as well as a pregnant female officer who has a “contraindication” to the vaccine.
“These officers want to continue to serve the public but are now sadly being made to choose between their life and their job,” the union said.
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