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Seattle business owner fears longer 911 response times ahead of possible police officer shortage

Starting this week, the Seattle Police Department is calling on all available sworn employees from detectives to trainers to respond to 911 calls.

SEATTLE — The Seattle police and fire departments are preparing for possible staffing shortages ahead of vaccine mandate deadlines for state employees and Seattle police officers.

Firefighters and police officers who do not provide proof of vaccination or qualify for an exemption will lose their jobs after Oct. 18.

The complete impact of staff losses won’t be known until Monday, but both departments have already developed contingency plans.

Maher Youssef, a Belltown business owner, fears any additional staffing shortages could delay 911 response times. Youssef’s Pluto Organic Café survived the pandemic despite several break-ins, two of which were caught on camera. He estimates he’s called 911 several dozen times in the past few years.

RELATED: Belltown business hit twice by burglar in two days

Youssef said he feels like he’s fending for himself.

“I feel like I’m on my own. I can’t get help from anywhere. I just open the door every day and don’t know if I’m going to go home safe and good to my family or if something is going to happen,” Youssef said.

While police responded to both break-ins, Youssef said response times were long. He worries if the department loses more officers, response times will only get longer.

“The tourists are not going to come, the people [are] not going to go out of their home to buy things. It’s going to be like a ghost city,” Youssef continued.

As of Tuesday, data from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) shows 84% of officers have submitted their vaccine verification information and fewer than 100 employees have applied for an exemption. However, 214 employees still have not submitted either vaccine verification information or an exemption request.

On Oct. 1, SPD Chief Adrian Diaz sent a letter to staff urging officers to get vaccinated and turn in their vaccine verification to avoid a "disruption to unit of assignments."

The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) is among the few unions that have yet to reach an agreement with the city over the vaccine mandate.

Additionally, SPD lags behind hospital workers and state employees in its vaccination rate, with hospitals reporting a vaccination rate of about 88% statewide among staff and about 92% of state employees getting their shots.

In response, both SPD and the Seattle Fire Department are implementing contingency plans.

The fire department is canceling non-essential training and community events among other changes. Starting this week SPD is calling on all available sworn employees from detectives to trainers to respond to 911 calls.

Sgt. Randy Huserik with SPD said the contingency plan is intended to make sure the department has enough staff to respond to emergencies.

“That’s what this contingency is in place for, so that we do have officers who are available to handle 911 calls, not knowing what our numbers are going to be on October 18th,” Huserik said. “Our first concern is those priority one calls, those crimes in progress and whatnot, and having the staffing levels available to respond to those high priority calls first."

In the meantime, Maher says he will be making sure the door to his coffee shop is locked when he leaves and will be keeping a close eye on his cameras.

“Yeah, they should just get the shot you know what I’m saying. Their job is not just about money. There is needing to help the people,” Youssef said.

    

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