Denver prepared to fire FFs, police who don't get vaccinated

Dept. of Public Safety prepares to "hold people accountable" to meet COVID-19 vaccination deadline


By Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post

DENVER — Denver's top public safety leader says he is prepared to discipline and even fire police officers, sheriff's deputies and firefighters who don't abide by the city's requirement that all city employees get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"That order says city employees shall be vaccinated. If our folks don't comply with it in the time that is allotted by the mayor's office and the Department of Public Health and Environment, then I am prepared to do what is necessary to hold people in compliance and hold people accountable," said Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Department of Public Safety. "That's my job."

The public health order issued Monday by the city health department requires all city employees to receive their second shot by Sept. 15 and provide proof of vaccination.

The Denver police officers' union on Thursday said in a statement that it "respects and trusts our members with their own choices on how to maintain their health, the health of their families, and the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Denver in a profession that exposes them on a daily basis to violent criminals, as well as multiple contagious and infectious diseases prevalent in our community."

"Health and safety has been and always will be a core value and personal commitment to every officer serving the community," the statement from the Denver Police Protective Association reads. "Our members can be trusted with their personal decisions."

It's unclear how many Denver police officers or emergency responders have been vaccinated as the city chose to not keep track. Vaccines became available to most public safety staff on Dec. 28 as part of Phase 1B.1 of the state's rollout.

Denver Health has tracked how many first responders have been vaccinated, but the number includes first responders from other agencies who chose to get vaccinated at Denver Health and excludes Denver first responders who got vaccinated elsewhere.

Denver Health has vaccinated 3,333 first responders, spokeswoman April Valdez Villa said Friday. The city previously said there were 4,549 employees — including more than 3,600 police, fire and sheriff department staff — who were eligible for the shots as part of Phase 1B.1.

The Denver Police Protective Association, which represents a majority of the department's 1,494 officers, conducted its own poll to see how many members were vaccinated. A total of 778 union members responded to the survey and 332, or 43%, said they had received the vaccine, according to a screenshot of the results provided to The Denver Post by the Department of Public Safety.

That's far below the 75% rate of Denver residents older than 12 who have received their first vaccine dose. But the union issued a statement Thursday night disputing the validity of its own poll after the numbers were first published by CBS Denver.

"The PPA did conduct an internal, informal and unscientific survey of its membership and unfortunately, the survey responses were statistically and mathematically so far away of realistic numbers, it was for this reason, the survey was not released," the union said in a statement.

The union said the only concrete numbers were those collected by the city in the first weeks of the vaccine availability.

"The PPA's unscientific survey and the numbers provided by the administration, were too far apart making it impossible to determine which, if any, is accurate as to the number of officers actually vaccinated," the statement reads.

Nick Rogers, president of the union, declined to speak further about the survey or the mandate Friday.

Robinson said he was shocked by the poll's findings when the union sent the results to him.

"We have held clinics, we have made incentives and, frankly, there's no excuse for someone — other than their religious beliefs or for medical reasons — to not get vaccinated," he said, noting that the union has disputed the results of its poll. "I was shocked by those numbers."

Robinson said he did not regret the decision to not track vaccination rates of public safety staff. He trusted employees to make the right decisions, he said.

"It wasn't until the PPA put their numbers out there that I grew concerned," he said. "I thought we had a lot more people vaccinated."

"If we truly do have 57% of our officers not vaccinated, then an order is necessary," he said.

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(c)2021 The Denver Post

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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