Police departments around the US that require officers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 are running up against pockets of resistance that some fear could be shorthanded to law enforcement and undermine public safety.
Police unions and officials are pushing back by filing lawsuits to block the mandate. In Chicago, the police union chief called on members to defy the city’s Friday deadline to report the status of their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Seattle’s Police Department this week sent detectives and non-patrol officers for emergency calls due to a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear would be made worse by the vaccine mandate.
The standoff comes at a time when many police departments are already dealing with rising murder rates and a shortage of vaccine-related staff. City and police leaders are now weighing the risk of losing more officers to resignation, dismissal or suspension if they refuse vaccination.
The mayor of Chicago filed a complaint in court on Friday against the leader of the local Fraternal Order of Police, saying he ignored the city’s order to report more than 12,000 uniformed officers to “stop work or join a strike.” , supporting and encouraging”. their vaccination status
On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said officers would not be sent home if they come to work on Friday and declined to provide their information. Instead, she said, they would be placed on unpaid leave after the weekend, as it would take a few days to verify compliance.
Lightfoot declined to provide the information, saying it would be an act of defiance.
John Catanzara, president of FOP Local in Chicago, said about half of their members have not been vaccinated and called the mandate requiring vaccination “absolutely wrong”.
“They were ready to go and send home a no-pay situation at midnight tonight,” he said during an appearance on Fox News, adding that the city couldn’t afford to lose police officers.
“You know, the reality is that we have a profession that nobody else wants to do. They can’t ask anyone to go to this police academy.
In Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would not force his 18,000 employees to be vaccinated despite the county mandate. “I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5, 10% of my workforce overnight,” he said last week.
Hundreds of police officers in San Diego said they would consider leaving instead of following a vaccination order.
Resistance has been bubbling up, even as first responders have been hit hard by COVID-19. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died from the virus, according to the Officer Down Memorial page, which tracks deaths in the line of duty.
Controversies over government and commercial vaccine requirements have spilled over into various workplaces, including one of the nation’s leading nuclear weapons laboratories, and the NBA.
Workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory – the birthplace of the atomic bomb – faced a deadline Friday to be vaccinated or at risk. A New Mexico judge denied a last-minute request by dozens of scientists and others to block the mandate.
In the NBA, Brooklyn Nets are not allowing star Kyrie Irving to practice or play until he has been vaccinated.
In Italy, protests broke out on Friday after vaccine requirements were implemented for all workers, from magistrates to maids, to help control the spread of the coronavirus.
The number of Americans receiving the vaccine has steadily increased over the past three months as boosters have become available and mandates take effect. The average number of shots administered per day is above 840,000.
No national figures show vaccination rates for US first responders, but individual police and fire departments across the country report figures below the national rate of 77 percent for adults who take at least one dose.
Police departments in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver are also under vaccine mandates or among those facing one. The mayor of New York has said he is considering it, despite protests from the city’s largest police union.
The union, which represents about 1,000 Seattle police personnel, suggests the mandate could exacerbate staffing shortages, which in turn could put public safety at risk. Union president Mike Solan said the city’s police force had lost nearly 300 officers over the past 18 months and feared another “mass exodus” in the coming weeks.
As of last week, about 300 of 1,000 uniformed officers in Seattle had either not shown in paperwork that they had been vaccinated or were seeking exemptions, the mayor’s office said. But more scores are believed to have been vaccinated since then.
“People believe in individual choice, and as a union we have to represent everyone,” Solan said. “We are not going to play the game of separation between waxed and unwaxed, this is not about him. It’s about saving jobs.”
In recent weeks, judges have dismissed attempts by a group of Oregon State Police personnel and Denver police officers to block the vaccine mandate.
Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.