Portland police may be permitted to spread COVID-19 as police union pushes back on vaccine mandate

Portland police may be permitted to spread COVID-19 as police union pushes back on vaccine mandate

On Aug. 13, 2021, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon issued an executive order requiring any employee or worker employed by the executive branch of the state’s government to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The order required state employees to get these vaccinations before Oct. 18. This order includes law enforcement in the state as well as firefighters. The argument made by the governor is that both agencies have front-line medical training because both agencies are frequently first responders to medical emergencies. 

A handful of police and firefighters have subsequently sued the governor and the state, saying that the order infringes on their “rights and responsibilities to make medical decisions for themselves under Oregon common law.” Their argument is that this order is an unenforceable overreach by the executive branch. On Aug. 30, the Portland City Council announced that unless a person received a medical or religious exemption, all Portland employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 or potentially lose their jobs. At the time, the city said it considered the police force to be covered under the governor’s definition of health care workers.

On Tuesday, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that Portland city officials are considering tweaking the rule to exempt” the police force. The city attorney’s office has advised the council that the legality of the order is in question. 

Portland Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown wrote an email to OPB saying that new guidance from the Oregon Health Authority has cast doubt on whether or not the rules cover law enforcement. The guidance was released just days after the city council’s announcement. Brown is specifically focused on this aspect of the guidance in regards to the police:

While a police officer may have some medical training, or may even be a licensed health care provider, it is likely not a fundamental part of their job to provide direct or indirect medical care in a healthcare setting. If a police officer has a job that by definition requires them to provide medical care to individuals, then the rule likely does apply.

Brown wrote to the OPB: “There is no regulation requiring vaccination for police officers, and without this, the City cannot require police be vaccinated.” Of course, if it is “not a fundamental part of their job,” then maybe we can have less police and more health care workers. Maybe we could take some of the funds being used for too many police officers who aren’t “fundamental” in helping care for people and put those funds into a group of people who will be vaccinated and will provide medical care. Just a radical thought.

This comes after reports that the Portland Police Association’s attorney, Anil Karia, threatened tons of law enforcement officers would resign before getting vaccinated. “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. The city’s desire to mandate vaccinations for police and dispatch will ultimately exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis in PPB and BOEC.”

The battle between city officials and law enforcement has been going on for decades, but in the last year it has been heightened due to Black lives Matter protests and the tough conversations surrounding police accountability. The police, as they have historically done, did not engender sympathy for themselves this past year as the dangerous and racist double standard of their operations has been continuously exposed.

In June, reports of 50 Portland police officers resigning “en masse” made sure to bury the fact that these officers resigned from a task force—not from their job. It was clearly in retaliation for indictments against Oregon law enforcement officers who allegedly brutalized American citizens during last year’s wave of protests.

Calls for the defunding of police have not ended. Nationally they’ve been drowned out by news that we are no longer in the never-ending war in Afghanistan, and there has been a few months of fact-free hysteria from traditional media sites about rising crime rates. One of the surprising things not covered during the immigrant caravan-like freak outs about the surging crime rate was that a) it wasn’t true, and b) if it had been true, it doesn’t seem like our still-not-defunded police forces were a solution. What are the police supposed to be doing for American citizens? When real violence comes to town, the police seem to be on the side of the bad guys. If the police force isn’t there to protect and serve and enforce the law, then what? 

In what is arguably the least surprising piece of information, OPB reports that the Portland Police Bureau says it does not have numbers on the vaccination rate of its officers.

Wednesday, Sep 8, 2021 · 9:31:44 PM +00:00

Walter Einenkel

OPB reporter Rebecca Ellis reports that Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler says he will not enforce any mask mandate against police.

New: Mayor Wheeler has announced the city will not be enforcing the citywide vaccine mandate on the police force. “I am disappointed that we can’t hold all of our City employees to the same vaccine requirement.” Story coming. https://t.co/njtWhVUzna

— Rebecca Ellis (@Rjaellis) September 8, 2021

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