SEATTLE - Police departments around the U.S. that are requiring officers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are running up against pockets of resistance that some fear could leave law enforcement shorthanded and undermine public safety.
Police unions and officers are pushing back by filing lawsuits to block the mandates. Seattle’s police department sent detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls this week because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of vaccine mandates.
The standoffs are playing out at a time when many police departments already are dealing with surging homicide rates and staff shortages unrelated to the vaccine. Cities and police leaders are now weighing the risk of losing more officers to resignations, firings or suspensions over their refusal to get vaccinated.
The number of Americans getting vaccines has steadily increased over the past three months as boosters have become available and mandates have taken effect. The number of shots administered per day has topped 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 figures far below the national rate of 77% for adults who have had at least one dose.
Police departments in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver are also among those under vaccine mandates or facing one. New York’s mayor has said he is looking at the idea despite opposition from the city’s largest police union.
The union representing some 1,000 Seattle police personnel argues that the matter should be the subject of labor negotiations. Union President Mike Solan has suggested that the mandate could worsen staffing shortages, which in turn could risk public safety.
The department has lost more than 300 officers in the past year and a half and anticipates another "mass exodus" in the coming weeks, Solan said.
Nearly 300 officers in Seattle had either not turned in paperwork showing they were vaccinated or were seeking an exemption, the mayor’s office said earlier this week.
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