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A series of vaccine mandates came into force this week, at state, county and city level, demanding that employees such as firefighters, police officers and ferry workers get vaccinated in what Washington state governor Jay Inslee said was a move to help protect them, and the people they serve.
“It is the mission of public servants and those providing health care to serve our fellow Washingtonians. These workers live in every community in our state, working together and with the public every day to deliver services,” he said. “We have a duty to protect them from the virus, they have the right to be protected, and the communities they serve and live in deserve protection as well.”
The mandates resulted in a modest number of employees – the governor said fewer than three per cent, or at around 1,900 individuals – either quitting or being fired. Earlier this week, several dozen of the former workers left their work boots on the steps of the state capitol in Olympia in what they said was a symbolic act of defiance.
But the sheriff of Spokane County, located 250 east of Seattle, where vaccination rates are lower and where there is no mandate, sparked controversy by launching a recruitment campaign that appears to target the officers from other forces who quit or were fired, after refusing to get a jab.
“#Troopers #Officers & #Deputies Looking for a place where you are appreciated & wanted?,” said the advert posted on Twitter by Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
“Please contact a member of our Recruitment Team today. Recruiting@spokanesheriff.org or visit our #recruitment page at https://spokanesheriff.info #WSP #Washington #Seattle #Hiring #Portland.”
In response to a question from a member of the public seeking to know why no vaccinations were required, the account said: “We do not fall under the state mandate, meaning it does not apply to our agency.”
In a recruitment video, Spokane officers spoke glowingly of the pleasure of working in Spokane and of the professional opportunities available to them. At two points in the video, a banner read: “No mandatory vaccinations required.”
Spokane, more rural and conservative than western Washington state, has long had something of a reputation for vaccine hesitancy. Data suggest that while King County, where Seattle is located, has achieved a rate of 75 per cent of people having had one jab, and 70 per cent fully vaccinated, in Spokane Country, the figures are 59 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively.
The city and country has no vaccine mandate, though earlier this year Mayor Nadine Woodward urged people to get a shot. This week, she said a number of people who worked for state-overseen health facilities had been let go.
#Troopers #Officers & #Deputies, Looking for a place where you are appreciated & wanted?
Please contact a member of our Recruitment Team today. Recruiting@spokanesheriff.org or visit our #recruitment page at https://t.co/GMnxh6DHMk #WSP #Washington #Seattle #Hiring #Portland pic.twitter.com/4eXv3EJFsZ
— SpokaneSheriffOffice (@SpokaneSheriff) October 19, 2021
Mr Knezovich did not immediately make himself available to answer questions. He has said he has been vaccinated, and watched his daughter get very ill from Covid.
Yet, he said his personal choice was different to a government mandate.
“Spokane County doesn’t have a vaccine mandate,” Mr Knezovich told the Spokesman-Review newspaper. “We don’t fall under any vaccine mandates. Therefore, we’re letting people know that we don’t have that, and there are a lot of agencies that are about to lose a lot of police officers because they are mandating a vaccine that some people are very, very opposed to taking.”
Mr Knezovich, who is looking to hire up to 20 officers, has previously accused Mr Inslee of trying to “beat your employees into submission”.
While there were some exceptions, most people reacting to the recruitment advert on Twitter did so with either anger or dismay.
“No. Go away. We don’t need those we kind of people in Spokane. Why is the sheriff trying to spread Covid in our beautiful county,” wrote one poster, Melanie, who said she was an activist.
Another poster, Kathy Lanski, wrote: “The mandates are eliminating the bad cops they claim are the exception, but they protect each other, not the public. Remember that the expression that begins ‘One bad apple ends with ‘… spoils the whole barrel.”
One poster, Den Fletcher said: “Proud believer in the Spokane County Sheriff dept. They have have always been there when we needed them. Good people.”
Mr Inslee this week celebrated what he termed the success of the vaccine mandate. He told King-TV: “This is an amazing story – over 90 per cent of people are vaccinated. There’s a few holdouts, that unfortunately listen to these hallucinations on the internet.”
A spokesperson for the governor, Mike Faulk, told The Independent: “We wish former employees well in the next step of their careers. If any vaccinated sheriff’s deputies want to come work with the 2,000 Washington State Patrol employees who are still proudly serving the public, they are welcome to apply.”