SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s police department is sending detectives and non-patrol officers to respond to emergency calls because of a shortage of patrol officers.
The department on Wednesday moved to the emergency officer dispatching scenario because of the staffing crunch. The police union leader said he fears things will get worse because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates but the city’s mayor urged the small percentage of holdouts to get the shot, noting officers are already required to show proof of other vaccines.
KOMO reports the department has lost more than 300 officers over the past year. Nearly 300 more could face termination if they do not comply with an Oct. 18 deadline to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We can’t afford to lose one, that’s how desperate we are to hold onto to people,” said police union president Mike Solan. “If we lose more officers, the public safety situation will become that much more untenable here.”
According to figures from the Seattle mayor’s office, 782 officers have submitted proof of COVID-19 vaccination, while 98 officers are seeking exemptions and 186 have not turned in paperwork.
Officials hope more will submit the required paperwork as the deadline approaches.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said Seattle Police, first responders, and health care workers across the state are required by Gov. Jay Inslee to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The definition of a police officer’s job is to maintain public safety and protect the communities they serve – 88% of our Seattle Police Department staff have been vaccinated, so they can continue to do their heroic work to save lives,” Durkan’s spokesman, Anthony Derrick, said in a statement.
The statement said COVID-19 was the number one cause of death for the first responders during the pandemic.
“Mayor Durkan sincerely hopes that anyone at risk of leaving the City or at departments statewide will make the decision to stay by getting vaccinated,” said Derrick, adding city police are already required to get vaccinated for Hepatitis.
The staffing shortage comes as the Seattle area, like other U.S. metropolitan regions, is experiencing a gun violence surge. Fatal shootings over the first nine months of 2021 in King County, which includes Seattle, already exceed last year’s year-end total.
As of the end of September, 73 people had been killed and 283 injured in shootings in King County this year, according to data from the King County Prosecutor’s Shots Fired Project.
For all off 2020, there were 69 firearm-related homicides and 268 nonfatal shootings in King County.