SPD preparing new 911 response plan in case of officer exodus over vaccine mandates

SEATTLE — About a quarter of Seattle police have not yet turned in proof of vaccination, the Seattle Police Department confirmed Wednesday. That’s 292 sworn officers who still need to submit vaccination information by Oct. 18 or risk getting fired.

The situation and concern over officer separations have the SPD working on a backup plan for responding to 911 calls, which includes pulling detectives from their current roles if needed.

This is happening as the department is already dealing with a massive shortage of officers. Sgt. Randy Huserik with SPD said as of Wednesday that the department currently has 213 openings and 1,130 employed officers.

The risk of more officers leaving the force — this time over the vaccine mandate — has people in Seattle worried calls for help won’t get answered.

“I don’t see nobody around,” said Victoria Ibarra, who works in Seattle. She said she saw patrols around pre-pandemic and during social unrest. But now, she rarely sees any SPD vehicles.

She said she’s also aware of the longer response times because of the current officer shortage. “That’s why I got my pepper (spray),” Ibarra said, pulling out a pink bottle from her purse.

Negotiations between the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the police union, are ongoing.

“We’re fighting for jobs. And if that’s extending the deadline, if it’s getting an accommodation for masking and testing, absolutely,” said Mike Solan, the president of SPOG.

The police department first announced Tuesday that it had 354 officers turn in their vaccine paperwork.

“So overnight, we had 62 officers turn in their forms. That’s progress; that’s what we want to see,” Huserik said.

SPD stated it doesn’t currently have information on whether the 292 officers who haven’t turned in paperwork yet are vaccinated or not, but SPOG confirmed about 88% of police union members are vaccinated.

That could mean about 135 Seattle police officers are not vaccinated — based on the 1,130 total.

“If we lose even 50 officers, the community’s 911 response will be drastically impacted,” Solan said.

The Seattle Police Department stated it is actively working on a contingency plan for handling emergency calls in case there is no agreement with the police union.

“It’s obviously of concern,” Huserik said.

Starting next Wednesday, Oct. 13, sworn personnel like detectives will start reporting to work in uniform.

“They will be in a position to respond to 911 calls if they’re needed,” Huserik said. He said he and at least two other sworn officers on the communications team are also preparing to respond to 911 calls. Huserik said some officers who haven’t done the work in years are getting refreshers.

The plan kicks in before the Oct. 18 vaccine mandate deadline so that any kinks can be worked out.

But the plan pulls detectives away from work and will have a trickle-down effect.

“They would not have enough time to do a thorough investigation. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. A temporary solution to a long-term problem,” Solan said.

Others who work in Seattle said they are disappointed by the situation.

“It’s like — what has happened to us,” said Anais Anderson, who works in Seattle. “This is so clearly a political issue, and it shouldn’t be. This is a health issue,” she said.

“Last year, when this thing erupted, we were praying for a vaccine. And now we have one, and people are reacting this way. It’s mind-boggling,” Anderson said.

SPOG confirmed it will be negotiating with the city again Thursday and hope to reach a solution as early as this week.

“As a union, we have to represent everyone, not take a side. And that’s what we’re doing. We have to fight for jobs,” Solan said.