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As cops, prison guards and airport workers resist vaccines, showdowns loom

More than a third of Chicago's police force of nearly 13,000 are defying a city mandate to report their vaccination status and face disciplinary action as a result. The city is among multiple municipalities and states where officers, prison guards and airport safety workers are resisting COVID-19 vaccines.

Law enforcement officers were among the first front-line workers to be offered coronavirus vaccines, yet by most accounts their vaccination rates are below or about the same as figures for the public at large. 

Chicago reported 64% of its police department had complied with the requirement as of Monday, and 4,543 of 12,770 police employees had not registered their information by Friday night's deadline.

The vast majority disregarding the city's public safety rule were officers, but the list included a number of civilian workers. too. Of those that did heed orders, 6,894 registered as fully vaccinated and 1,333 as not fully vaccinated, with the latter meaning partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. 

Nearly 50 police officers are now on unpaid status for not reporting their vaccination status, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara told CBS Chicago

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot cast a more optimistic spin, telling a news conference "a very small number" of officers were stripped of their powers after getting a final chance to comply. 

"The number of folks who are actually — after being given opportunities and even a direct order — saying 'no' is very small. Very small. So, I'm not seeing — at least for this day — that there's gonna be any disruption in our ability to keep our neighborhoods safe." 

But Lightfoot remains hopeful that the officers can be persuaded, if they can get past what she called "misinformation" from their union.

Police union head Catanzara had advised members to ignore the mandate, which threatened suspension without pay for city workers who refuse to get vaccinated or be tested twice a week at their own expense.

The city's stance had Catanzara warning that Chicago streets may be patrolled by only half its police workforce.

"All I can tell you is, if we suspect the numbers are true, and we get a large number of our members to stand firm on their beliefs that this is an overreach, and they are not going to supply the information in the portal, or submit to [COVID-19] testing, then it's safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50%, or less," Catanzara told his members in a recent YouTube video.

"Shots at the Shop" help people get vaccinate... 08:59

Lightfoot, however, is not backing off her mandate, which applies to all city workers, including police officers. "The only way that we can maximize safety in our workforce is to get people vaccinated," Lightfoot told a news conference. 

"It's just stunning to me, frankly, in light of the challenges his membership has had with deaths," Lightfoot said of Catanzara. She noted that the city buried four police officers last year, all of whom died from COVID-19. "We don't want to lose any more police officers," she added.

Cops lost to COVID-19

Chicago is not alone in losing cops to COVID. The virus killed more police officers nationwide last year than all other causes combined, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The hesitancy to get immunized persists even after the deaths of more than 460 law enforcement officers since the pandemic began, all from COVID-19 contracted on the job. Coronavirus was the most common cause of duty-related deaths in 2020 and 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. That's more than four times the number of duty-related deaths from gunfire. 

Showdowns over the vaccine issue are also playing out elsewhere as worker deadlines to get the shots arrive.

The Los Angeles police department has been a major source of vaccine resistance among the city's tens of thousands of municipal workers, although the city's police chief last week reported nearly two-thirds, or 65%, of LAPD employees as vaccinated, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Up until mid-September, LAPD had pegged its vaccination rate at about 46%.

A probe by the Los Angeles Times into more than 2,500 coronavirus cases within public safety agencies in Los Angeles County determined that more than half came from police and fire departments, according to CBS Los Angeles.

Los Angeles city employees are required to be vaccinated by October 19, and LA County workers had faced an October 1 deadline. 

Nearly 900 Los Angeles fire personnel, mostly firefighters, have signed onto a notice of intent to sue the city if they are terminated for not being vaccinated by Tuesday's deadline. That's roughly a quarter of the department's 3,700 employees. 

And the LA County sheriff last week said he would not force his employees to get vaccinated. "I don't want to be in a position to lose 5%, 10% of my workforce overnight on a vaccine mandate," Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a Facebook Live event. 

Shortages in Seattle

Elsewhere on the West Coast, Seattle's police department is dispatching detectives and nonpatrol officers to handle emergency calls due to a shortage of patrol officers. The union representing Seattle police workers predicts staffing woes will worsen as city employees faced an October 18 deadline to be vaccinated. About 200 of the 1,075 active police officers had not yet submitted their vaccine status, according to Fox News

The issue is also flaring up on the East Coast, including in Massachusetts, where roughly 42,000 state workers faced an October 17 deadline to be fully vaccinated or risk being fired. Nearly 1,600 could face discipline after missing Sunday's deadline. 

U.S. hits 700,000 COVID-19 deaths 03:05

Viewed as among the strictest in the U.S. as it does not allow workers to get regular tests in lieu of vaccination, Republican Governor Charlie Baker's mandate was welcomed by human service workers but challenged by others, including unions representing prison guards and state troopers. 

Still, Baker told reporters on Monday that his administration would reach out to all employees who blew the deadline to understand their thoughts. "We'll work through them all," the governor said, according to the news site MassLive. "Our goal is to make sure we connect with everybody." 

A federal judge in Worcester was considering a bid to postpone Baker's mandate by the union for 4,000 state prison guards. A similar legal challenge by the union representing 1,800 state troopers was rejected last month in Massachusetts Superior Court, according to CBS Boston.

Dozens of troopers plan to quit over the governor's edict, but just one has definitely said he'll do so, according to Michael Cherven, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts. The union has reported 80% of its members are vaccinated.

The reluctance to get vaccinated extends to federal employees in charge of public safety. 

The Transportation Security Administration says 4 in 10 of its employees — including airport security screeners — are not vaccinated against COVID-19 as a federal deadline looms. Civilian federal government workers must be fully vaccinated by November 22, the Monday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel times of the year. 

"About 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated; that number needs to go quit a bit higher over the next few weeks," TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN

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