HONOLULU (KHON2) — Across the country, the number of law enforcement officers who are leaving their job or getting fired continues to grow as COVID vaccine mandates become more common. However, Honolulu’s vaccine mandate does not seem to be having the same negative effect among its own officers.
The vaccine mandate for Honolulu police officers and city employees took effect on Aug. 23; since then, the city said the majority of employees have complied.
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The number of fully vaccinated Honolulu police officers exceeded the vaccination rate of Oahu’s entire population — with 86% of Honolulu Police Department (HPD) officers getting vaccinated compared to 73% of Oahu residents.
“I think, for the most, part people tend to be looking at this as something that affects their health, affects the health of the people around them and so they responded in kind,” Police Commissioner Doug Chin said. “And so that’s probably why so far, knock on wood, you haven’t really seen that same kind of controversy.”
Some of the controversy around the nation involved more than 100 Washington State troopers who were fired or resigned over non-compliance.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office said HPD has not terminated any officers due to non-compliance with the vaccine mandate.
Data presented from the city’s human resources department showed at least one HPD employee was placed on leave of absence in September. The employee refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and did not request a vaccine exemption.
Business litigation attorney and Dentons law firm partner Louise Ing said vaccine exemptions for religious beliefs are growing, and do not require much documentation — compared to exemptions for medical reasons.
“I have a feeling that religious exemptions have gotten more common with COVID-19,” Ing said. “It’s a religious belief, or belief system, it’s maybe less limiting than if you were to rely on a disability exemption; the sense of it could be for a variety of reasons.”
HPD has the highest number of vaccine exemption requests out of all city departments with a total of 309 received. Nine of those requests have been approved for medical reasons — five for medical and religious reasons — while 114 exemptions have been approved for religious beliefs.
Public unions, including the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, said they encouraged COVID-19 vaccinations, but a request for discussion with the governor before the mandate took effect was denied.
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Chin said, “There’s two ways to look at it — you could think of it as the police union fell in line with the governor or the mayor wanted or they, themselves, within their leadership agreed that this was a health issue.”