DENVER (CBS4) – With the City of Denver deadline for getting a COVID-19 vaccination closing in, newly obtained figures show the percentage of Denver Sheriff Department deputies and Denver police officers who have presented proof of vaccination to the city is well below the number for other city employees and is far below the vaccination levels for Denver citizens.
As of Sept. 10 — the most recent figures available — 58% of Denver deputies reported receiving a vaccination, and 63% of Denver police officers reported they had been vaccinated.
The City of Denver says 80% of Denver citizens have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 70% of city workers have been vaccinated.
Mary Dulacki, Chief Deputy Executive Director for the Department of Safety, told CBS4, “There is a lot of pushback. There is a lot of feeling that this is something that can’t be mandated.”
Dulacki oversees the police, fire and sheriff departments.
In August, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced all city employees would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30. Failing to comply with the public health order could lead to disciplinary action, including firing.
“It’s essential that they be vaccinated,” said Dulacki. “That’s a public safety issue, that those folks we send out in the field are in fact vaccinated.”
She likened the vaccine requirement to other jobs where having a driver’s license is a condition of employment.
“First responders in the community go into people’s homes,” said Dulacki. “They have personal contact with individuals.”
Many first responders in Denver are resistant. On Aug. 24, Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton sent out a department-wide email embracing vaccinations for the fire service. Within hours, Technician Jay Burkhalter replied to the chief’s email.
“HORSES***!” wrote Burkhalter. “If you are a healthy adult without pre-existing medical conditions you are not in danger of dying. People should be allowed to choose their own medical course.”
“Well I’ve had enough. I’m picking this as the last stand, if you get this shot, it will never stop, you sign your life away,” Burkhalter continued.
Contacted by CBS4, Burkhalter declined to discuss his email. Public safety supervisors said an internal investigation has been launched into Burkhalter’s email. CBS4 contacted employees in the police, fire and sheriffs departments who had expressed opposition to the vaccine mandate.
None were willing to discuss their reasons for opposing the vaccine order.
While department of safety administrators say the vaccine percentages will likely rise, and are affected by numerous variables including medical and religious exemptions, ability to upload proof of vaccination and other factors, agencies are making contingency plans in case there is a wave of firings and retirements due to the vaccine requirement.
“We are bracing for potential departures of numbers of people in all our agencies,” said Dulacki.
She said safety agencies are working on adjusting staffing plans and reallocating resources.
Already, the Denver Sheriff’s Department is understaffed and has mandatory overtime, and the Denver Police Department is operating below its authorized strength.
“We don’t know at this point how much is just talk and how much of it is ‘here’s my resignation,” said Dulacki. If people come in and say, ‘I’m not vaccinated and I’m not going to,’ they will face termination. It’s a condition of employment.”
So far, 128 police officers and deputies have received either a medical or religious exemption from getting vaccinated. Overall, 266 applied for exemptions. Even with the exemptions, those officers and deputies will be required to be tested weekly for COVID-19, wear masks and socially distance at work.
For others who have not shown proof of vaccination, starting Oct. 1, they will be notified of potential discipline.
For the Denver Fire Department, more than 80% have submitted proof of vaccinations.