Sunday, September 12, 2021

Going Local: My Op/ed on Vaccine Mandates and the Portland Police

Since I'm now an official Portland resident, I decided to write an op/ed for my local paper, The Oregonian: "Portland Police Should Not Be Exempt from Vaccine Mandates."

As some of you know, the city of Portland attempted to impose a vaccine mandate on the Portland Police Bureau, but backed off after union officials threatened a wave of vaccinations. In general, Oregon police have been viciously opposed to vaccine mandates in the state

My op/ed's argument is simple. Put aside (though we shouldn't) the fact that COVID has been the most lethal killer of police officers over the last year. The same justifications which support a vaccine mandate for teachers or health workers support a mandate for police officers as well. 

Even if we accept that some government employees need not be covered by vaccine rules, the police are the last agency that should be able to claim an exemption. The police are a public-facing agency that interacts with some of the most vulnerable Portlanders in unpredictable settings on a daily basis. Unlike, say, the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles agency, which can enforce a mask mandate or shunt unvaccinated customers into online services, the Portland police largely cannot control when and in what contexts they interact with members of the public. They can’t decline to investigate a crime until they’re certain the criminal is wearing a mask. They can’t refuse to interview a witness until they confirm she’s not immune-suppressed.

Moreover, we can't overlook the thuggish nature of the way in which the Police Bureau responded to the prospect of a vaccine mandate. Threats of mass resignation are characteristic of police departments which simply do not accept the fact that they are under civilian control and subject to civilian oversight. The claimed entitlement to flout local authorities is flatly toxic to principles of rule of law and democratic governance.

In terms of feedback I've gotten, it's about what you'd expect. Some praise, some "why do you hate cops" (I want fewer cops to die on the job from a deadly disease, what's your view on that?), some accusations of being a "bootlicker" for BigPharma because I'm not promoting Merck-manufactured ivermectin. 

The most substantive response has been to note a provision in Oregon code which only allows vaccine mandates for certain public officials if pursuant to a state or federal order. The Portland mandate was initially justified under a state vaccine mandate issued for healthcare workers; the nominal cause of the city's retreat was clarifying guidance from the state saying the mandate "probably" didn't capture police officers. A few readers too-cutely suggested that the reason Portland police were in an uproar had nothing to do with resisting a vaccine mandate per se, but was solely because Portland was jumping ahead of the order of operations specified in state code.

This strikes me as, shall we say, implausible. Nonetheless, in my piece, I said if that provision was the only holdup, then the obvious solution is for Gov. Brown to clarify that police officers are included (or issue a separate rule to that effect). If the backlash has nothing to do with a claimed entitlement to resist lawful regulation, then the Police Bureau and Portland officers should have no problem with the Governor's office issuing such a rule. Indeed, they should welcome it since -- to reiterate -- COVID is the single deadliest threat police officers face today.

Of course, we're not naive and so we know the precise scope of Gov. Brown's orders as authorizing sources for Portland's vaccine mandate is not driving the action. Portland police don't like being told what to do -- that's the prime motivator here. But as public servants, they need to get used to it. Whether it stems initially from the city or the state, vaccine mandates for police is the right public policy, and law enforcement shouldn't be able to bully its way to an exemption.

1 comment:

Matthew Saroff said...

I agree wholeheartedly.

There is an additional benefit to mandating vaccines and masks for police that you did not list though, that it will serve to weed out right-wing militia types from the force, since they are the ones most likely to resign.

It should be noted that the Portland Police Bureau has a particularly bad problem with right-wing bigots on the job.