Richmond police union shifts gears on vaccine mandate

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond police union is “setting the record straight” on it’s stance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees. The union had called for a pause on the mandate last week.

The Richmond Coalition of Police, or RCOP, represents about half of the city’s police officers. On Monday, president Brendan Levy called reporters together to clarify statements that he said were taken out of context.

“Multiple reporters reached out to us for a statement. We cannot be for or against something that we did not know what the disciplinary actions would be. We were not aware if exemptions would even exist, we just wanted clarification,” he said.

On Aug. 4, Mayor Levar Stoney announced that all city employees would have to get vaccinated. City employees were told they’re expected to get their first shot by Aug. 18 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1 to avoid getting disciplined.

The same day, Stoney’s office said medical exemption requests must be signed by a licensed medical provider and religious exemption requests must be notarized.

Unvaccinated employees will still be expected to wear a mask and submit to regular COVID testing, the mayor said.

That day, he also said “disciplinary actions will be taken” with employees who did not comply. However, at the time, Stoney fell short of saying they would be fired. In the days that followed, the mayor’s office said a employee could be terminated if they don’t comply.

On Monday, Levy said the organization supports COVID-19 vaccines and “does not oppose” the requirement that all city employees get vaccinated.

“RCOP is not against the vaccine mandate,” he said. RCOP members are either vaccinated or fall under the exemptions, according to the president.

“RCOP has communicated to all of our members encouraging them to get vaccinated multiple times,” he said.

This is a shift from last week, when RCOP Vice President Carl Scott said the police union stood with the Richmond firefighter’s union in calling for a pause to the vaccine mandate.

Keith Andes, with the firefighters union, had personally expressed apprehension over getting the vaccine.

Andes also echoed RCOP’s concerns. “We feel our members have the right to file for an exemption for a medical or religious reason,” he said. Andes also said he feels RCOP and the firefighters’ union are “being portrayed as anti-vaccination.”

“We are not,” he told 8News. Andes denied our request for an interview.

Levy said RCOP does still have concerns over how employees’ personal information is getting entered into the city’s HR system. “Officers that have been vaccinated and have submitted their vaccination cards correctly into the city websites have received emails that they have not done so,” he said. “This is worrisome.”

He also said some officers are worried about entering their personal medical information into city servers. RCOP is asking the city to work with them on an alternative, like showing proof of vaccination to a supervisor in-person.

Jim Nolan, spokesperson for Mayor Stoney, responded to their request Monday afternoon. “All employees were provided with notification of the policy as well as FAQs and information on how the process works to ensure consistency and equity, so there should be no confusion as to how this works or need to apply a different set of rules,” he said.

Nolan said that employees who didn’t update their vaccination status by Aug. 18 were notified by Human Resources that they had until Sept. 1 to do so.

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