Vaccine mandate for Oklahoma City police recruits rescinded

The department says it is still encouraging recruits to get the COVID-19 vaccine

By Hogan Gore
The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY — A vaccine mandate once directed at new Oklahoma City Police Department recruits has been rescinded, city officials announced Wednesday.

The hiring prerequisite instituted this summer for both new police hires and fire recruits required applicants either to be already vaccinated or be willing to be vaccinated upon hiring.

"The Oklahoma City Police Department has dropped its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all new hires and recruits. So neither the vaccine nor a negative test are required to become a police recruit," read a brief statement released to the media by Oklahoma City Police Dept. spokesman Gary Knight.

The mandate was announced with the idea of protecting recruits from getting sick during time-sensitive, intensive training done in close quarters. Police officials said the mandate did not have a major impact on recruitment numbers, although some recruits did opt out because of the rule.

COVID vaccine 'still encouraged' for OKC police

"So the vaccine is still encouraged; however, now it's no longer mandated," said Sgt. Megan Morgan, recruiting sergeant for the Oklahoma City Police Dept. "That being said, yes, we're hopeful that the changing of that policy will help recruiting efforts."

Some cities and states have issued COVID vaccine requirements for public employees and police, and some officers have been fired for refusing to take the vaccine.

In 2021, COVID-19 has been responsible for more than quadruple the number of law enforcement deaths nationwide than gunfire, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a group that tracks on-duty police deaths.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department has made no announcement about scrapping its vaccine mandate.

An upfront bonus of $5,500 for new police and fire recruits, along with bonuses for other new city employees, was announced by city officials Monday to address hiring shortages across a spectrum of city jobs.

[RELATED: Why police departments must streamline the recruitment process]

Additionally, the police department is recruiting for two separate police academies that will take place next year.

In April, the academy class will be for applicants with previous law enforcement experience who will then be eligible for higher starting salaries, while the class starting in July will be for first-time recruits.

Oklahoma City's police department finds itself in a situation similar to other police departments around the country.

For Oklahoma City police, voluntary terminations, including retirement and non-retirement exits, increased by 183% from 2016-17 to 2020-21, which is on par with other departments nationwide. Those departures in Oklahoma City left the department with 160 vacant positions, as its most recent recruit class that began July 9 comprises 25 members.

[RELATED: Why police recruiters must work smarter (not harder)]

(c)2021 The Oklahoman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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