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City rejects Pittsburgh detective's claim that hundreds of first responders are facing termination

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Safety officials are hitting back against claims that hundreds of city police officers will be dismissed from the force this summer for failing to follow a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Detective Amy Dice, who works within the Bureau’s Special Victims Unit, spoke out against the mandate, which she characterized as an attack on her religious freedom, on a far-right talk show earlier this week.

Dice made the comments during an appearance on “RedPill78” Monday. She disclosed that she and other officers applied for a religious exemption from the City’s vaccine mandate but were denied. Dice told host and QAnon conspiracy theorist Zak Paine that Pittsburgh citizens are “about to be put in grave, grave danger at the hands of their own government.”

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She estimated that about 200 officers were at risk of termination for refusing the vaccine. Dice argued the risk of losing those unvaccinated officers could lead to the mass exodus of hundreds of officers currently eligible for retirement. Dice claimed the Bureau could lose half of its workforce.

It’s unclear how many of the roughly 256 retirement-eligible officers are unvaccinated.

In a statement, a Public Information Officer for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police said Dice’s claims are “false” and denied that there is a threat to public safety. “The numbers this police employee is relaying to the public are inflated and erroneous,” the statement reads.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto first issued the mandate in November, which required government employees as well as police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel to be fully vaccinated by late December. The matter has been tied up in a labor dispute after the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing police officers, filed a grievance and an unfair labor practice charge with the city soon after the mandate was first announced. The grievance has not yet been settled. As a result, the city has not yet enforced the mandate for officers.

Robert Swartzwelder, FOP union president, said Friday that the union's grievance and unfair labor practice charge "remain unresolved at this time, and therefore, no one has been terminated or fired."

But the Bureau of Police alluded to the ongoing labor talks in its statement Friday, noting that officers can continue to work without a vaccine while negotiations continue. “Employees are aware that the disciplinary process is on hold while negotiations are underway with their unions,” the Bureau said in a statement.

In the RedPill78 interview, Dice said she and other unnamed officers don’t have confidence in the Union’s capability to hold off the mandate. As a result, she and other unnamed officers are raising money online to sue the city themselves.

“We’re not happy about the FOP and the work that they’ve done so far for us,” Dice said on the program. “Which is why we have taken on the battle ourselves, and we are prepared to battle the city on our own.”

Dice is not the first officer to speak publicly about a potential hit to the police department’s employee numbers if the mandate takes effect. Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said he hopes talks between the FOP and the Bureau continue and reach an amicable agreement on a recent episode of WESA’s “The Confluence.”

“These officers who are contesting it, they have valid points too,” said Schubert, who clarified that he had been fully vaccinated. “Do we really want to get rid of 200 police officers when we’re already short?”

With fewer than 900 currently on the force, the Bureau has recognized a need to hire more officers. But according to a spokesperson, the department hasn’t graduated a recruit class since January 2021. There is not currently an active recruit class, though the spokesperson said prospective applicants are completing eligibility exams.

In accordance with Mayor Ed Gainey’s “Pittsburgh Plan for Peace,” Public Safety officials are anticipating a study of the police workforce to determine how many officers the city needs to function and how best to use them.

Updated: July 15, 2022 at 4:54 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include comments from Robert Swartzwelder, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.