Police Unions, Cities Clash Over Vaccine Mandates

Police departments across the U.S. requiring officers to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus face resistance from officers. Police unions are pushing back and filing lawsuits to block mandates.

Some fear that the requirement may undermine public safety and leave law enforcement shorthanded.

The standoffs come when already-existing staff shortages, high crime rates, and surging homicide rates are stretching many departments to the limit. Police leaders and cities are forced to weigh the risks of firings, suspensions, or resignations versus the vaccine mandates.

In Chicago, the police union head has called on its members to defy the set deadline for officers to report their coronavirus vaccination status.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot filed a complaint against the local Fraternal Order of Police leader, accusing him of “engaging in, supporting and encouraging work stoppage or strike” after the union leader said the more than 12,000 uniformed officers should not report their vaccination status and ignore the order.

Lightfoot said that officers would not be sent home if they did not provide vaccination verification but would be placed on unpaid leave since confirmation of compliance would take days.

Lightfoot said that refusing to provide the information constitutes an act of insubordination.

According to John Catanzaro, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, a mandate requiring vaccination is “absolutely wrong.” Catanzaro says that about half of his members had not been inoculated.

“You know the reality is we have a profession nobody wants to do right now,” Catanzaro said. “They cannot get anybody to go into this police academy.”

Police shortages

Seattle’s police department had to send non-patrol officers and detectives to emergency calls because of a shortage of police officers. Union leaders fear that the shortages will only grow worse because of vaccine mandates.

The Seattle police union, which represents 1,000 police personnel, says that the mandate could make already-existing staffing shortages far worse, which could then put public safety at risk.

Union president Mike Solan said Seattle’s police force lost some 300 officers over the past year and a half, and he anticipates a “mass exodus” this week as mandates take effect. 

“People believe in personal choice, and we as a union have to represent everybody. We’re not going to play the games of segregating between the vaxxed and the unvaxxed; it’s not about that. This is about saving jobs,” said Solan.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said despite the county mandate he will not force his 18,000 employees to be vaccinated.

“I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5%, 10% of my workforce overnight,” he said. In San Diego, police officers numbering in the hundreds say they will consider quitting instead of complying with the vaccine mandate.

Police departments in San Francisco, Denver, and Los Angeles are under vaccine mandates or will be soon. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said publicly that he is considering an order, despite solid opposition from the city’s largest police union.

In the past few weeks, however, judges have rejected attempts by Denver police officers and Oregon State Police troopers to block vaccine mandates.