Portland, OR Cops Won’t Get Vaccinated To Save Your Life
Police officers really don't want to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It's like they are more afraid of needles than police reform. Cops prioritize their own safety above everything else, including in many cases the Constitution, but refusing the vaccine has already led to police deaths. In fact, it's led to 55 percent of the law enforcement deaths "in the line of duty" since the pandemic began.
When Portland, Oregon, announced a vaccine mandate for city employees, the police union claimed this would lead to widespread resignations, which is probably not a bad thing. It's best for everyone if unvaccinated people stay at home away from large crowds.
The average person puts up with a lot of shit at their job. There's usually a high bar before they're willing to risk losing the direct deposits. If cops are willing to walk out on four 10s, this isn't about preserving their "right to choose" or crap like that. They have no intention of getting vaccinated and will only protect and serve the spread of COVID-19.
Willamette Week got a hold of an August 27 email exchange between Anil Karia, who is an attorney for the Portland Police Association, and Jerell Gaddis, who manages Portland's human resource labor relations. Strap on your hip waders.
"I want to close with a few broader sentiments," Karia writes. "The PPA's members have worked on the front lines since the first day the COVID-19 pandemic struck. While other city workers were allowed to work remotely, the PPA's members continued to fulfill our community's public safety needs."
I'm immune to police sob stories during the best of times, but this one specifically makes no sense. Why would cops want to continue risking their health during a pandemic? Maybe that adds an extra sense of danger. I'm not a therapist, but bottom line: People who regularly interact with the public should get vaccinated, especially because the public can't refuse interactions with unvaccinated police officers. This isn't that complicated.
However, a majority of cops are right-leaning or outright MAGA and that demo wants nothing to do with vaccines, a form of medicine so untested it only traces back to the late 18th Century.
"We also know that many first responders are deeply opposed to vaccine mandates; so deeply that some will leave the profession before accepting a mandate," Karia says. "The city's desire to mandate vaccinations for police and dispatch will ultimately exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis in PPB and BOEC."
The Police Bureau claims it now has 145 fewer sworn officers than it did last July, and we can assume they weren't all COVID-19 deaths. However, I still call bullshit at the idea that the police would quit en masse if a vaccine mandate were imposed — not because they are necessarily such devoted public servants, but because this is an incredibly cushy job with great benefits. The starting salary for a Portland police officer is $66,934, well above the $60,000 income that Portlanders reportedly need to live “comfortably." Maybe there are similarly compensated positions available in the private sector that don't require a bachelor's degree and don't mind if you spread coronavirus everywhere, but my quick Indeed search came up blank.
Portland is already blinking, though, as the city attorney's office advised staff that the order is “legally dubious."
Under Oregon law, local municipalities can only issue vaccine mandates for firefighters and police officers if there is already a federal or state rule in place that requires it, per an email from deputy city attorney Heidi Brown. The city believed that requirement came on August 19 when Gov. Kate Brown issued a vaccination mandate for the state's healthcare workers. The city felt the Governor's definition of health care workers was broad enough to cover police officers, who receive some medical training.
Yeah, that's not gonna work. Cops aren't doctors, with the possible exception of Dana Scully. Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown confirms that there "is no regulation requiring vaccination for police officers, and without this, the City cannot require police be vaccinated." Governor Kate Brown exempted the state's homeless from the outdoor mask mandate, and cops disproportionately arrest the homeless, so that should work out great for all involved.
And Mayor Ted Wheeler, with "disappointment," threw his hands in the air (like he just didn't care).
We don't even know how many Portland cops are fully vaccinated. Police spokesperson Lt. Greg Pashley told Willamette Week in February that "approximately 62% of sworn Portland Police Bureau employees received their first COVID-19 vaccination as offered by the city." Approximately is doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Also, that's just the first shot. (Still, if Portland cops are 20 percentage points more likely to get the vaccine than other law enforcement, that is a rare — rare — mark in their favor.)
There's no updated data because — dig this — the police don't bother tracking their officers' vaccination status. Maybe they would've if it was mandated, but it's not so screw you all.
Stay away from cops. That's always good advice, but even more so now if you're immunocompromised or have children younger than 12.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."