Police group leader says Tucson vaccine mandate will increase staffing issues
PHOENIX — Just over 50 Tucson police officers face getting a COVID-19 vaccine or a pink slip in December after the council voted Tuesday to fire unvaccinated city employees, a move a law enforcement association says would devastate services police provide.
“These are people who have been out there since the pandemic, we’ve been out there every day serving the community when other people got to stay home,” Jobe Dickinson, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Arizona, told the KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Wednesday.
“To take their livelihood away from them over this decision is just, it’s very difficult for us to swallow.”
The city in a policy that went into effect Aug. 13 required all of its employees to submit proof they have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination by Aug. 24 or be subject to a five-day, unpaid suspension unless approved for an exemption or accommodation.
Out of the estimated 1,000 unvaccinated employees at the time the policy went into effect, the city said Tuesday approximately 300 have chosen not to be in compliance.
However, more than 90% of Tucson police officers and firefighters are fully vaccinated.
Dickinson said he has talked to some members of the organization who told him they are not going to get vaccinated and will be looking for employment, further impacting a department facing a staffing shortage.
There are about 760 police officers in Tucson split up into various patrol divisions, Dickinson said, adding one of those divisions has 67 cops assigned to patrol the streets.
“We are talking about eliminating almost an entire patrol division of officers if all 50 of these employees are fired,” he said.
“It’s going to devastate the service that the officers are able to provide to the citizens of Tucson if this goes forward.”
Dickinson said every law enforcement agency in the state is looking to hire, and some officers may go to departments that aren’t mandating vaccines.
“We’re all facing a shortage, there’s not a line out the door to do this job currently,” he said. “If we fire 50 police officers in Tucson, I don’t know where those bodies are going to come from to backfill them.
“It’s a lot of experience that’s going to be lost in Tucson that is hopefully picked up in other parts of the state that aren’t requiring a mandate of this vaccine.”
The staffing shortage already impacting the department comes as violent crime is on the rise in Tucson.
Dickinson said Tucson recorded 79 homicides in 2008, a record for the city. The city in 2021 so far has had 78 homicides as of Tuesday, he said.
“Losing public safety, defunding the police, getting rid of officers is the exact opposite of what our communities need to remain safe,” Dickinson said.
The law enforcement association has tried talking to city management but Dickinson said the city told the association the vaccine mandate was not a bargaining issue and its a policy the council can make.
Dickinson said the Tucson Police Officers Association has already filed an injunction against the mandate and there will be a continued lawsuit filed.
Council members in the decision to mandate the vaccine and fire those who go against the policy cited high levels of COVID-19 persisting in Pima County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.