‘Political Football’: Spokane Sheriff defends anti-mandate messaging in hiring recruitment videos

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington state troopers who didn’t want the vaccine and are out of a job may find an opening at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). Recruitment videos boast no mandatory vaccines for deputies as the department works to fill staffing shortages.

The SCSO needs to hire around 20 people to make up for its current shortage. As more than 100 Washington state law enforcement officers are out of a job, they may find this anti-mandate messaging attractive in a new job. Mandates are something Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has never supported.

“It has been made a political football,” he said.

Knezovich is vaccinated. He chose to do so after he had COVID and watched his daughter get very sick from the virus. However, he doesn’t support requiring it for his employees.

“Mandating a vaccine is totally different than me choosing,” Knezovich said.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, COVID was the leading killer of law enforcement officers in 2020 and 2021. While the sheriff’s worried for his employee’s health, he doesn’t think he should dictate their personal choices.

“I’m very concerned about my employees. That’s why I’m vaccinated,” he said. “That’s why I encourage them to get vaccinated, but that has got to be a personal choice.”

About six months ago, the sheriff’s recruitment videos showcased sign-on bonuses and other hiring benefits. On the sheriff’s YouTube page, the videos changed to anti-mandate messaging about a month ago around the time when Seattle announced their officers had to be vaccinated or lose their jobs.

The sheriff said he kept getting asked if he would mandate vaccines and wanted to clear up his stance in the videos.

“We terminated people because of that. We took their livelihoods away,” Knezovich said. “I find that really really hard to justify.”

The Spokane Police Department (SPD) has not released videos with the same approach to hire. However, it also needs to hire more people.

“The Spokane Police Department isn’t actively recruiting officers who have lost their jobs or been fired because of their vaccination status, but with that we are always looking for the best and the brightest,” said Julie Humphreys, the Public Safety Communication Manager for Spokane Police & Fire.

While the sheriff fully supports COVID vaccines and encourages his employees to get vaccinated, he doesn’t necessarily believe it will make the community any safer.

“I’m vaccinated. I can still spread this disease, correct. Is that any different than an unvaccinated deputy?” he asked.

Both SPD and SCSO are also not tracking vaccination rates of their staff with no intention to do so unless it’s required of the agencies.

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