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Vaccine mandate will lead to county terminations

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 7:33 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It appears Pima County will lose some of its sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers who have not followed the COVID vaccine mandate. But how many isn’t known yet.

It could be more than 100 or it could be a couple of dozen.

In November, by a 4-1 vote, the Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a mandate which said any county employee who works with a vulnerable population must be vaccinated or receive an exemption as a condition of employment.

That’s 2,069 workers, 91% of whom have been vaccinated. Most of those who have not are in the corrections department. 111 according to the county’s HR department who face termination.

“Losing them will hurt,” said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. “It will hurt in all kinds of ways, but we are prepared to move on if need be.”

But moving on will be difficult for a department which is already suffering from a manpower shortage.

“I have three motorcycle cops and 20 empty motorcycles, brand new sitting out there,” Nanos said. “I have four traffic investigators for two million cars” in Pima County.

And now the department may be facing a shortage at the jail if all of the officers leave after refusing to get vaccinated.

“Last year at this time we had a staffing level of 420, 421,” said Tom Frazier, President of the Pima Corrections Association and an 18 year veteran of the corrections department. “When I checked last week, we were down to 364.”

Frazier said some corrections officers have already left before the mandate deadline but he anticipates the department will lose 20 to 30 more by the end of the week, adding to the staffing shortage.

That’s in line with the Sheriff’s estimate who says “it is 24 people who have not been vaccinated or have told us they will not get vaccinated.”

That, according to Frazier will get the staffing levels down into the 340′s. He says another 30 have found other jobs rather than wait for the vaccine mandate deadline.

“Every housing unit I go into the inmates are constantly asking me when are we going to get out for day room, when are we going to get yard, when are we going to get these things,” he said. “And I have to tell them we don’t have the staff to do it.”

Besides have an adverse effect on morale, it’s also taxing the corrections officers because they have to work double shifts just to keep up.

He also shared an email which asked for 17 deputies to volunteer for overtime to provide a minimum staffing level at the jail.

“When I’ve got an officer doing rounds in so many housing units that they can’t get in there except once every hour or even more because they’re covering so many housing units, it’s a .. it’s a recipe for disaster,” Frazier said. “It’s just not safe.”

The deadline for the vaccines was January 1, 2022 but the county has extended it to the end of the week in order to make sure all the paperwork is in order.

According to a memo released by Acting Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher, “this a very fluid situation with data coming in hourly.”

She said definitive numbers should be released next week.

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