R.I. capital city could lose 80 cops over vaccine mandate
Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements, Jr. described the potential terminations as a "huge concern"
By Amy Russo
The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Roughly 80 police officers could face termination in the coming weeks for non-compliance with the city's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Chief Col. Hugh T. Clements, Jr. said on Wednesday there is "huge concern" over loss of staff as vaccination deadlines in January and February draw near.
But Clements is hoping the city will offer flexibility in its new policy.
"There are some ongoing conversations to be had all the way around on this, and we want to play those out over the next days and weeks," he said. "I would hate to see one Providence police officer who served his community admirably — never mind 10 or 20 or more — lose their job over this."
Clements said about 45 officers are already out, having to quarantine.
Later this week the police union is to meet with city officials to discuss the mandate, which requires city employees to receive at least one shot by Jan. 14 and become fully vaccinated by Feb. 28. Either Clements or Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré will probably attend the conference.
Union President Michael Imondi, who will also be present, has been an ardent critic of the mandate, advocating for personal choice over policy.
"There's a bunch of things on the table that we're looking at," he said ahead of the meeting. "We're open to conversation on it. We're not anti-vaccination. We're anti-mandate."
Like Clements, Imondi raised concerns over officer terminations, noting that a mass firing could wipe out the number of officers sworn through last year's academy.
"Any time you have the potential to lose a significant amount of officers, it's going to impact the daily operations of the Police Department," he said, adding that it would "interfere with everything on the job, including promotions that could be coming up."
But Mayor Jorge Elorza has shown no signs of wavering, comparing his mandate to the state policy that prompted firefighters to get vaccinated.
"There was a lot of concern at first, and frankly, we heard resistance at first," the mayor said. "But thankfully, virtually everyone ended up getting vaccinated and we've been tracking this with other cities that have done this, and what we're seeing here is very similar to what we've seen in other places."
Paré also drew a parallel between the previous situation with firefighters and the current situation with police.
"It's a requirement, it's important, and I'm hopeful we're going to work through it and all the officers will become vaccinated," he said.
The mayor indicated he may accommodate "particular or unique circumstances where some additional time is necessary," though he emphasized that the deadline has been set.
"As of right now, there are no plans to change our policy," he said. "But we want to hear from folks. There may be some legitimate questions that they have or services that they're requesting for their members as they get vaccinated, and we want to be supportive of them."
COVID by the numbers
Cases in R.I.: 253,192 (5,868 reported Wednesday)
Negative tests in R.I.: 6,421,028 (21,499 reported Wednesday; 21.4% positive rate)
R.I. COVID-related deaths: 3,107 (11 reported Wednesday)
Rhode Islanders hospitalized with COVID: 405 (51 in intensive care)
Fully vaccinated in R.I.: 805,324 (900,299 at least partially vaccinated)*
Cases in Mass.: 1,192,549
Mass. COVID-related deaths: 20,410
Cases in U.S.: 57,224,288
U.S. COVID-related deaths: 830,788
*-The number of vaccinated Rhode Islanders reported Wednesday was lower than the number reported Tuesday because of revisions to R.I. Department of Health data.
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