SEATTLE - Already facing a staffing crisis, the Seattle Police Department is bracing for the possibility that hundreds of officers will fail to meet an Oct. 18 vaccination deadline.
As of Oct. 6, 292 sworn personnel had yet to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. That number is down from 354 on Tuesday.
To add another layer of concern, Seattle PD Spokesperson Sgt. Randy Huserik confirmed to FOX 13 News that there are an additional 111 officers awaiting results of exemption requests. Those 111 are not counted in the 292 figure – meaning if their accommodations are denied, the actual number of unvaccinated officers could be as high as 403.
Graphic from the Seattle Police Department
"We value each of you, and do not want to lose you as employees," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told city staff in an email Monday. "But the people that count on you the most are the ones that need you to get vaccinated."
Since the vaccine mandate was announced in early August, Durkan has remained evasive about whether she will truly fire unvaccinated officers at a time of low staffing and high 911 response times.
Seattle PD has already lost more than 300 officers since the height of the defunding debate in 2020 – putting the number of deployable personnel close to 1,000.
RELATED: 403 Seattle PD employees have not submitted proof of vaccination, including 111 who have requested exemptions
As she enters the final months of her term, Durkan is faced with a dilemma: go back on her vaccine mandate or thrust the city into a public safety emergency.
Neither scenario is politically palatable.
According to an internal memo obtained by FOX 13 News, the change in posture will require all sworn personnel to be on standby to respond to 911 calls. That includes detectives assigned to specialty units.
Gov. Jay Inslee told FOX 13 News that agencies across the state have contingency plans to help ensure basic levels of staffing.
"These are hard-working people," Inslee said of first responders who have been working on the front lines of the pandemic for 18 months. "They’re doing good work. We want them to stay on the team."
But for some, it’s too late.
A Seattle PD officer with five years on the force told FOX 13 News on Wednesday that she plans to leave the agency even if the mandate is relaxed.
"The environment has been pretty toxic and negative," she said. "Not just from this whole mandate, but prior to that as well. I’m not sure this would be a good place for me to work long-term for my mental health. It has been very stressful."
She said she will likely try to get hired on with an agency outside of King County.
Another patrol officer, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he is still hopeful the city will change course.
"Losing even 50 to 75 officers in one day, the response times for the city will go up drastically," said the officer, who works out of the West Precinct downtown.
The officer put in for a religious exemption but is not hopeful that his accommodation will be approved.
"I will continue working until the day that they fire me and that’s about all that I can do."
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