Portland's new policy requiring all city staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 doesn't apply to the city's police force, according to city attorneys.
That's because Oregon law prohibits city administrators from requiring vaccinations for police officers unless there’s a federal or state rule mandating vaccines already in place. In a statement shared with the Mercury, Mayor Ted Wheeler explained that the city initially believed that Gov. Kate Brown's order requiring vaccinations for state heath care workers was "broad enough to cover police officers."
"However," he continued, "the Oregon Health Authority came out with guidance recently stating that unless police officers provide direct or indirect medical care in a healthcare setting the Governor’s order likely does not apply."
Wheeler said he was disappointed by the order limiting the city's mandate, which requires all city employees be vaccinated—or provide a valid exemption—by October 18. Those who don't comply with the order will be fired the following day.
"I still am strongly encouraging police officers to get vaccinated," Wheeler said. "Our city leaders have decided we want to lead by example, and science has proven that vaccines are the most effective tool to end this pandemic. It is critical that we do everything we can to minimize risk to our community members and co-workers."
This news is a win for the Portland Police Association (PPA), the union representing rank-and-file PPB cops. Last week, Willamette Week shared emails it had obtained between PPA attorney Anil Karia and Jerell Gaddis, a city employee who oversees labor relations issues for the city.
Karia warned that, because so many police officers are "deeply opposed to vaccine mandates," a vaccination mandate from the city could prompt a mass resignation of PPB officers.
It's unclear if OHA's order will also impact Multnomah County's own vaccination mandates for county staff, which includes the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office. In an email to the Mercury, county spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti said the county is "still assessing" whether or not county law enforcement are exempt from the county rule.
Update, 9/9: OHA's order has also impacted Multnomah County's ability to require vaccines for county law enforcement employees. In a statement shared Thursday afternoon, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said that the county was similarly restricted by state law from mandating vaccinations for employees in the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office and parole and probation officers.
"The state has tied our hands," said Kafoury.
She said that county officials are pressing the state to require these vaccinations for law enforcement.
"In the meantime, we are working on an alternative vaccine mandate process," said Kafoury. "We may require unvaccinated employees, including law enforcement, probation and parole officers, and those with exemptions, to be fitted for and wear an N95 mask."