How Seattle PD is impacted by end of COVID vaccine mandate

Feb 7, 2023, 5:47 PM | Updated: 5:51 pm
Seattle police, vaccine mandate, Chief DIaz...
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Following updated public health guidelines, King County and its county seat, Seattle, will no longer require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine as an employment requirement.

With the directive in the rearview mirror, many industries are hopeful its employees who quit or were fired will be able to return to aid what many are calling a “staffing crisis.” Of the sectors most maligned by the mandate — law enforcement was at the front of the drama, leaving its future the murkiest over non-vaccinated officers making their return.

“The vaccine mandate divided the department in a very unhealthy way,” one officer said in exclusively-obtained exit interviews from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) last year.

According to the King County Council, the mandate was created mid-2021 to keep employees and the community safe.

“I will say, color me shocked. I was very surprised,” Brandi Kruse said on KIRO Newsradio once the order was announced. “I know that New York City’s mayor had done it earlier in the day, and then Seattle and King County followed suit. Now, I don’t understand the rationale for why now. To be clear, I never supported the vaccine mandate, I always thought it should have been something that was incentivized.”

Brandi Kruse on expelling vaccine mandate: ‘I never thought I’d see the day’

Previously, all county and city employees, contractors, and volunteers had to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination in order to continue work — including police officers.

The city set a date — Oct. 18, 2021 — for all officers to comply and show proof of vaccination or an exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

By the time the first vaccine deadline passed, 354 sworn Seattle Police (SPD) officers still needed to submit proof of vaccination. Eventually, SPD officers either received their vaccinations and boosters, begrudgingly or not, or left the department altogether.

According to Sergeant John O’Neil, spokesperson for SPD, the department has yet to make a decision on its hiring practices since the mandate was eliminated.

SPD is now attempting to hire more than 500 officers over the next five years to make up for the dearth of police the city is currently experiencing, according to Police Chief Adrian Diaz.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz optimistic about drop in violent crime

“We hope that we lose less officers than we hire and that we’re able to really make an improvement in the amount of and retention of officers,” Diaz told MyNorthwest. “If that’s the case, it’ll take us probably about anywhere from four to six years for us to get up to an adequate staffing level where there’s a relief coming in, and that we’re able to start filling some of the needed positions throughout the department.”

Multiple officers left over the vaccine requirement last year, including six between January and July who filled out exit interviews to voice their frustrations with the department, the mandate, and the city of Seattle.

“I was forced out of the department due to the vaccine mandate, even though I had natural immunity and a religious exemption,” one officer replied to the question: What is your reason for leaving?

“I’m retiring earlier than I planned because of the COVID vaccine mandate,” another officer wrote. “Up until today, I would have returned, but I don’t believe the chief, most of the command staff, the mayor, and city council have the best interest of the city and its residents in mind, based on some of their politics.”

Of the six officers leaving over COVID vaccine policies that filled out an exit interview, four were resignations while the other two were retirements.

“I’ve always loved my job at SPD. I was disappointed that I was terminated because of a city “policy” breach. The vaccination is experimental and I would rather be terminated for standing on principle, rather than keeping my job and compromising my convictions. I was hoping for a 35-year career before this city policy.”

Alongside the SPD, 127 Washington State Patrol (WSP) individuals left the department due to the mandate: 53 civil servants and 74 commissioned officers (67 troopers, six sergeants, and one captain).

“We will miss every one of them,” WSP Chief John R Batiste said during public comment. “I extend a hearty thanks to those who are leaving the agency. I truly wish that you were staying with us. You have my utmost appreciation for the hard and successful work that you have provided during your valued WSP careers.”

From the Dori Monson archive: With ongoing emergency powers, Gov. Inslee imposes permanent vaccine mandate for state workers

But Governor Inslee has defended the state-wide mandate every step of the way, including during an interview last month with Brandi Kruse on KIRO Newsradio, when she asked him if the state would re-hire workers who were fired under the vaccine mandate.

“Sure, as long as they follow the rules,” the governor said in response. “What makes sense is for people to get this booster. We have to reach an agreement with our state employees.”

Some private companies have also dropped its vaccine mandate over the last 12 months. Boeing ended its vaccine requirement in 2021, for example, according to Washington Policy.

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How Seattle PD is impacted by end of COVID vaccine mandate