Providence, RI – Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré warned that the city was about to lose as many as 80 of its 450 police officers when the mayor’s vaccine mandate goes into effect later this month.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza enacted a policy last week that requires all Providence city employees to be at least partially vaccinated by Jan. 14 or “face separation from city employment,” WPRI reported.
Commissioner Paré said city leadership had encouraged the entire police force to get vaccinated but estimated that “70 to 80” officers – or about 17 percent of the department – have refused to get the first shot so far.
“Hopefully we don’t lose any police officers at the end of the process — that’s my goal and we’re going to work toward that,” the public safety commissioner said. “But it is a requirement and there are deadlines set in place and I don’t expect them to be moved.”
He said the city had dealt with the same situation with the fire department in August of 2021 when the state mandate for health care workers went into effect, WPRI reported.
Firefighters sued to fight the mandate but lost in the courts in September.
Commissioner Paré said ultimately, most members of the fire department caved and got vaccinated, but five firefighters who refused the jab were terminated, WPRI reported.
Providence Firefighters Union Local 799 President Derek Silva said the firefighters who were fired had less than five years on the department and the union was filing a grievance to fight their terminations.
The president of the police union said all options were on the table and that the union had not ruled out a lawsuit against the city.
“We are talking about the same people who worked the pandemic and protests without vaccinations, pulled more guns off the street, curbed more crime with less officers,” Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #3 President Michael Imondi told WPRI. “You are going to tell those same people who put their lives at risk, who still came to work, and tell them, ‘thanks for the service, now screw’?”
“It’s just ridiculous,” Imondi said.
The police union boss pointed out the hypocrisy of the mandate given that one of the officers who stands to be fired because of the mandate recently received a congratulatory call from the mayor after he saved someone’s life, WPRI reported.
“He is praising this guy and now this person is one of the same people who he is looking to terminate,” Imondi said. “From hero to zero in one day.”
Lawyers for the police union have sent a demand letter to the city to negotiate over the mandate, WPRI reported.
“We are definitely exploring any other legal actions we could take,” attorney Joe Pezza said. “We just haven’t decided yet.”
Pezza said that if any officers are fired, he thought the job action would trigger the state’s controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), according to WPRI.
LEOBOR determines how officers can be disciplined.
“It definitely triggers LEOBOR,” Pezza said. “It is not that the union is anti-vaccination; the union is anti-mandate. These officers have worked diligently the entire time and now may lose their job without offering other solutions or recommendations.”
Commissioner Paré said he disagreed with the police union’s position, WPRI reported.
“These are tough times,” the public safety boss said. “We’re in homes, we’re interacting with community probably more than any other government entity. I think the community has a right to be protected from this virus.”
He said that 15 Providence police officers had tested positive for the virus as of Monday, with about 45 so far testing positive since the beginning of December, WPRI reported.
“We’ve certainly had a jump since Dec. 1,” Commissioner Paré said.
He said the department has been relying on overtime to fill the gap and thus far, the staffing shortage hadn’t had a critical impact on the city’s emergency operations, WPRI reported.