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U.S. law enforcement agencies demanding officers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 are encountering pockets of resistance, some fear that law enforcement agencies could become understaffed and public safety could be undermined.
Police unions and officials are pushing back by filing lawsuits to block mandates. In Chicago, the chairman of the police union urged members to exceed the city’s Friday deadline for reporting their COVID-19 vaccination status.
Seattle police sent detectives and non-patrols to 911 this week because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will worsen due to vaccine mandates.
The stalemate is taking place at a time when many police forces are already grappling with rising murder rates and staff shortages that have nothing to do with the vaccine. City and police leaders are now weighing the risk of losing more officials to resignations, dismissals or suspensions for refusing to be vaccinated.
The Mayor of Chicago filed a complaint in court on Friday against the head of the local Fraternal Order of Police, accusing him of “facilitating and promoting work stoppages or strikes” by saying the city’s more than 12,000 uniformed officials should do the work Instructions to report ignore their vaccination status.
On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said officials would not be sent home if they showed up for work on Friday and refused to provide their information. Instead, she said, they would be given unpaid leave after the weekend because it would take a few days to confirm compliance.
Refusing to provide the information, Lightfoot said, would constitute an act of disobedience.
John Catanzara, president of the FOP joint in Chicago, said about half of its members were not vaccinated and called a mandate that required vaccination “dead wrong”.
“You were ready to go on no-pay status at midnight tonight and be sent home,” he said, hinting during an appearance on Fox News that the city couldn’t afford to lose cops .
“You know, the reality is that we have a job that no one else wants to do right now. You can’t get anyone to go to this police academy,” he said.
In the Los Angeles district, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would not force his 18,000 employees to get vaccinated despite a district mandate. “I don’t want to be able to lose 5% to 10% of my workforce overnight,” he said last week.
Hundreds of San Diego police officers said they would consider resigning instead of following a vaccination order.
Resistance simmers despite COVID-19 hard hit first responders. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died from the virus, according to Officer Down Memorial Page, who tracks deaths on duty.
Disputes over government and corporate vaccine requirements have impacted a wide variety of jobs, including one of the country’s leading nuclear weapons laboratories and the NBA.
Workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory – the birthplace of the atomic bomb – had to get vaccinated on Friday or risk being fired. A New Mexico judge at the last minute denied a motion by dozens of academics and others to block the mandate.
In the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving doesn’t allow practicing or playing until he’s vaccinated.
The number of Americans getting vaccinated has increased steadily over the past three months as booster vaccinations have become available and mandates have come into effect. The number of shots administered per day has exceeded 840,000 on average.
No national statistics show the vaccination rate for America’s first responders, but individual police and fire departments across the country have reported numbers well below the national rate of 77% for adults who received at least one dose.
Law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver are also among those who are under or facing a vaccination order. The Mayor of New York has announced that it will look into the idea despite opposition from the city’s largest police union.
The union, which represents around 1,000 police officers in Seattle, argues that the matter should be subject to labor negotiations. Union President Mike Solan has indicated that the mandate could exacerbate staff shortages, which in turn could put public safety at risk.
The department has lost more than 300 officers in the past year and a half and is expecting another “mass exodus” in the coming weeks, Solan said.
Nearly 300 Seattle officials either failed to file any records showing they were vaccinated or were seeking a waiver, the mayor’s office said earlier this week.
In the past few weeks, judges have denied attempts by a group of Oregon State Police officers and Denver officers to block vaccination mandates.
Associate press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.