Seattle police officers face vaccine mandate deadline, as 'costly litigation' next-step for defunded force

Seattle police departments worry vaccine mandate could cause officer shortage

Pluto’s Organic Café owner Maher Youssef expresses concerns over a possible Seattle police officer shortage amid rising crime

The some 200 Seattle police officers who have declined to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by Monday’s deadline will likely bring litigation against the city to prevent their mass termination, as the department is already struggling with staffing shortages seriously affecting 911 response. 

National Police Association President Betsy Brantner Smith, a retired police sergeant, told Fox News Digital on Monday she anticipates some “costly litigation,” as far more police officers will push back than what the city administration understands. 

Before Monday’s deadline, Seattle Police Officers Guild’s President Mike Solan said the Seattle Polcie Department had already lost some 300 officers over the past 18 months, and he anticipated another “mass exodus” in the coming week. 

Solan did not immediately return a Fox News Digital request seeking an update Monday. 

“This litigation is going to be expensive,” Smith said. “I don’t think the city of Seattle is looking far enough forward. I think what they’re trying to do is bully these police officers into saying you need to get vaccinated or we’ll fire you. If I was a citizen, I’d be irate not just because we’re going to have less police officers now but also because of the money that’s going to be wasted on this litigation.” 

“Police officers need to be able to make their own health decisions,” Smith said. “When you become a police officer, we know we’re giving up a lot of control – I’m told when I work, where I work, what I wear, what I can say. This is just one more layer of control put on these officers that is unnecessary.” 

“Right now, coronavirus is the number one killer of on-duty police officers,” Smith said. “It’s the number one line-of-duty death for American law enforcement. So it’s not lost on us that this is a very dangerous disease for us. But we, American law enforcement, have already been out there in the pandemic since the get-go. So we know how dangerous it is. And we need to be able to make choices. An unvaccinated law enforcement officer is not endangering anyone except for themselves.” 

Several Seattle police patrol cars were photographed with Gadsden flags hanging from their windows Monday in protest of the mandate, spreading the message “Don’t Tread On Me.” Meanwhile, a Washington State Patrol officer filmed himself Friday saying it was his last shift on the force after refusing the vaccine, adding a strongly worded message to Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee. Smith questioned what the desired end game was for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council, as Washington’s largest city has been plagued by “out of control violent crime.” 

“In the Seattle Police Department, no one has been more wrongfully vilified than those police officers,” Smith said. “You can go back to CHOP/CHAZ and move forward. This is just one more thing that this administration lead by Mayor Jenny is already putting on these beleaguered officers. I know for a fact that a lot of Seattle police officers are seeking other employment whether it’s outside of law enforcement or it’s within the profession in another area.”  

Seattle Police officers confer after taking part in a public roll call at Hing Hay Park in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District Thursday, March 18, 2021. Seattle’s police department is having detectives and non-patrol staff respond to emergency calls because of a shortage of officers union leaders fear will be made worse by COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 
((AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File))

Last summer, “defund police” protesters violently seized an abandoned police precinct and about six city blocks in downtown Seattle, creating an autonomous zone, which Durkan herself visited. City crews eventually dismantled mask shift barriers after shootings in the CHOP/CHAZ zone turned deadly. In the initial months after George Floyd’s death, Smith claims the mayor dumped the most diverse recruit class that the Seattle Police Department had ever seated. Durkan is not seeking re-election but both mayoral candidates said they support a vaccine mandate for police officers. 

“The voters of Seattle must decide they want to change the direction the city is going,” Smith said.  “It’s just a filthy, sad city. And the Seattle Police Department is trying to change that.” 

“I think what’s going to happen is more and more Seattle police officers will try to leave,” she continued. “Those who have to stay because they’re at the end of their careers and they want to get their pension or they don’t want to move out of Washington state, are going to avoid activities that might get them in trouble with their administration. So they’re not going to be as aggressive in the prevention of crime. They’ll just become responders and report takers because the mayor has worked very hard to demoralize them and I don’t think her predecessors are going to be much different.” 

Solan previously said officers won’t face immediate termination Monday. Those who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will receive notice for a “Loudermill hearing,” or a public forum where an employee can present their reasoning for going against the mandate before formal separation.

The union representing some 1,000 Seattle police personnel suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate could worsen staffing shortages, which in turn could risk public safety. As of last Wednesday, the Seattle Police Department activated its emergency three-stage mobilization plan, which involves sending detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls because of a shortage of patrol officers. 

“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 told KING. 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.”

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