Philadelphia police officers will now need to have at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, or have submitted an exemption request, by Feb. 11.
A three-person panel comprised of a neutral lawyer, a city layer and a lawyer for the Philadelphia Police Department’s union on Tuesday approved the vaccine mandate following a legally required arbitration process. The arbiters’ decision represents a win for the city, which announced the mandate for all city workers in November of last year.
As well as providing proof of at least one dose of vaccine by Feb. 11, police officers will have to get their second shot within 14 days. The ruling does not apply to booster shots, which are not part of the city’s mandate.
Officers whose exemption request is denied must receive their first dose of vaccine within two weeks, as well as receive their second dose within another two weeks.
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Officers who fail to comply will be placed on unpaid leave and could be fired. However, the panel has not made a final decision on whether non-compliant officers will lose their jobs; it plans to convene no later than March 21 to "determine the ultimate consequences" for non-compliance.
During arbitration, the police department said it is seeing its lowest staffing levels in years and is struggling to recruit new officers at a time when the city is experiencing a spike in gun violence. However, the panel ruled that while the mandate is “challenging and unique” for the department, vaccinations are needed among officers to ensure public health and safety.
“The Panel is cognizant of the impact to public safety and health of ensuring that as many police officers as possible are vaccinated against COVID-19, while also ensuring the Department has sufficient staff compliment to successfully fight our gun violence epidemic,” the panel wrote in its decision.
Figures by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health show 71% to 80% of PPD employees had been vaccinated as of Feb. 1.
In an email, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby told officers that vaccines will be available at the 25th police district from 2-7 p.m. Friday. He also encouraged anyone who needs it to file for an exemption.
As an incentive, officers are being offered cash bonuses to get vaccinated.
Those who receive their first dose by Feb. 11 and are fully vaccinated by March 15 will receive $500. Those who receive a first dose after Feb. 11 but on or before Feb. 18, and are fully vaccinated by March 22, will receive $300. Officers who get their first dose after Feb. 18 but on or before Feb. 28, and are fully vaccinated by March 29, will get $100.