DENVER, Colo. — In regions across the country, cities are struggling to get police officers and first responders vaccinated. Many police unions are fighting to give officers a choice, but in some cities, that choice is being replaced by a mandate to get the shot.
“There's nothing more important than the health, safety and well-being of the residents of the city,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
But in the midst of the pandemic, there is a new concern.
"We were very stunned to hear and to know that many of our first responders did not get vaccinated," said Hancock.
In major cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York City, Denver, and Miami, police departments are reporting lower vaccination rates than the general public in the communities they serve. City leaders say those numbers are a threat to public safety.
"It’s unfathomable, that you have so many first responders who are hands-on who are the first ones to show up when someone is critically sick or injured, that they would allow themselves to be so vulnerable," said Hancock. "Let's not forget that they were the first in line to get the vaccination."
As cases of COVID-19 spike again, Denver mayor Michael Hancock mandated officers and all city employees receive the vaccine.
"We've got this variant in our community, potentially the new influenza virus coming about with cold weather. It was important that we double down," said Hancock of the vaccine mandate.
He said officers in Denver who don’t qualify for an exemption could be fired.
"We don't take these decisions lightly. It's not about a popularity contest. It's not about politics or politicizing an issue. It's about the health, safety, and well-being of every resident of this city. And if you make that decision not to do it, then I didn't fire you, you fired yourself," said Hancock.
The Denver Police Protective Association released a statement saying their, “members can be trusted with their personal decisions."
For many first responders, there is frustration in being forced to make a choice. However, Denver’s Director of Public Safety Murphy Robinson said as an employer, the city has a right to make this requirement.
"We all have a choice," said Robinson. "That choice is honored, and I honor your, your choice. I think that is one of the beautiful things about where we live in America. However, as an employer, it is employee requirement, and so whether you make the choice to get vaccinated or not, if you are going to continue to work in the city and county of Denver, the public health department has said that you must be vaccinated."
Other cities like New York, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco are now issuing similar mandates for officers and city employees. Mayor Hancock hopes more follow suit.
"Other places where they are simply saying, 'We're not going to do it,' their hospitals are overwhelmed, and I don't know how you stand by that kind of a situation and just believe that you don't need to bring leadership to it," said Hancock.
City leaders are hoping, in the end, these mandates bring one thing: a decline in COVID-19.
"A lot of times we get so tied up in the politics of, 'Should they be able to tell us to do what to do or not?' Let's consider our health," said Robinson.
But for those officers still wanting to wait, these leaders have a message.
"It makes no sense to put yourself or your family, your community at risk," said Hancock.
"Please get vaccinated, because we need you," said Robinson. "This city cannot do its work without you."