The deadline for Washington state employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 arrived on Monday, but some Seattle police officers now face being fired after they declined to get the shot.
In August, Gov. Jay Inslee announced at a press conference alongside Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan that state workers must get vaccinated in order to remain employed. Seattle implemented its own vaccine requirement for city employees.
The president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), which represents more than 1,300 Seattle officers, argued that officers should have the option to wear face masks or get tested regularly for COVID-19 without having their current assignments stripped.
“For some reason, this mayor is refusing that, which I think is unreasonable and is void of common sense,” union leader Mike Solan said.
“Crime is surging in this city. Our community is demanding more police officers to answer the 911 calls, and the fact we’ve already lost close to 350 police officers because of the politicians’ political betrayal,” Solan said.
Some officers apparently took a flashier approach to protesting the vaccine mandate. As the vaccination requirement went into effect, photos emerged of Seattle police patrol cars with Gadsden flags unfurled from their windows.
Some officers plan on taking time off to decide what they will do long term. They don’t seem eager to stay with SPD.
Others explained that they are going to leave the SPD by the end of the year as a result of this.
Officers took these photos in protest of the mandate. pic.twitter.com/0mkfdklo0F
— Jason Rantz on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) October 18, 2021
On Wednesday last week, about 290 officers had still not submitted vaccination paperwork, Sergeant Randy Huserik told KIRO Radio. By Sunday, 6 percent of the force had not submitted paperwork, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said in an email to officers.
Officers who did not submit proof of vaccination will not be immediately fired but will get a chance to state publicly at a “Loudermill hearing” why they refused to get the required vaccination before they are terminated.
Earlier this month, the department told all officers, including detectives and non-patrol officers, to be prepared to respond to 911 calls in case hundreds of officers are fired for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate.
Asked whether 911 response times would be longer, Huserik responded that “it’s hard to say exactly what our numbers are going to be and what exactly we’re going to need.”
Seattle police have had their share of struggles lately, fighting off an officer shortage as well. In April, Seattle faced a police “staffing crisis” after more than 200 officers quit over the previous year due to an anti-police climate, according to the department.
Last week as the vaccination deadline loomed, Diaz sent a memo to officers encouraging and commending them for their hard work.
“I know right now tensions are high. I am aware of the many different reasons many of you have for not submitting proof of vaccination. I know there is anger. I am not going to argue with any of them,” the police chief wrote.
“I am going to tell you – I do not want to lose any of you,” Diaz said, adding that the department has lost “too many” over the last nearly two years and the remaining officers have “picked up the slack where possible.”
Seattle’s police department is not the only one bucking a vaccine mandate.
Chicago city employees were required to report their vaccination status to the city on Friday, but more than 3,200 Chicago police officers are refusing to do so, according to the Fraternal Order of Police.