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Portland Police Union to City: Vaccine Mandate Will “Exacerbate an Already Dangerous Staffing Crisis” for Police and 911 Staff

“We also know that many first responders are deeply opposed to vaccine mandates.”

The city of Portland’s vaccine mandate, announced Aug. 30, is likely to spur widespread resignations of police officers and 911 operators, says the union that represents Portland police.

Through a public records request, WW obtained an email exchange Aug. 27 between Anil Karia, who is an attorney for the Portland Police Association, and Jerell Gaddis, who manages labor and employee relations matters for the city.

In the email, Karia outlines several arguments for why the vaccine mandate is illegal and not enforceable for PPA members, which consists of most Portland Police Bureau sworn officers, as well as emergency operators employed by the city’s Bureau of Emergency Communications.

Karia’s arguments aren’t particularly surprising. The Oregonian reported Tuesday that all of Portland’s employee unions have asserted the right to bargain over the vaccine mandate. However, the PPA added a warning to the city: The mandate will further erode an already-reduced workforce.

“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.”

He then notes that both PPB and BOEC are “already struggling with staffing shortages.” (The Police Bureau says it now has 145 fewer sworn officers than it did on July 1, 2020. Dan Douthit, a spokesman for BOEC, says the bureau currently has a deficit of about two-dozen full-time dispatchers, but that it is optimistic it can fill the vacant roles through its training program.)

“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.”

It is not clear what percentage of PPB staff—sworn and nonsworn—are vaccinated. In February, PPB spokesman Lt. Greg Pashley told WW that “approximately 62% of sworn Portland Police Bureau employees received their first COVID-19 vaccination as offered by the city.” And in June, Pashley told WW that 58 PPB staff had tested positive for the virus since the onset of the pandemic.

Today, PPB says it does not track vaccination rates.

“We do not have any updated numbers for sworn or professional staff members because the vaccine was not mandated—therefore, there was no tracking done,” says spokesperson Terri Wallo Strauss. “Some employees got vaccinated through the city clinics and some from outside vendors so there is no way of knowing.”

Douthit says vaccination rates for BOEC staff reached “the high 80s” earlier in the year when the city first began offering vaccines through clinics. He referred WW to the Bureau of Human Resources for the most up-to-date vaccination rates in BOEC.

The PPA did not immediately respond to WW’s request for comment on the matter.

This story has been updated with staffing numbers and vaccination rates from BOEC.