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'It should be your choice': Clintonville Police Chief believes officers should have freedom to decide on vaccination

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Posted at 2:14 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 19:31:35-04

WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — Across the nation, we continue to hear about police departments that are requiring officers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

As a result, several police unions and officers have pushed back by filing lawsuits to block the mandates.

Just recently in Chicago, the head of the police union there called on members to defy the city’s deadline for reporting their COVID-19 vaccination status.

All of this is coming during a time when many police departments are dealing with surging crime rates and staff shortages unrelated to the vaccine.

So what does that look like for some departments in Wisconsin?

The city of Clintonville, for example, has yet to put any vaccine mandates in place. However, the Clintonville Police Chief says if the city were to place any mandates in the future, he wouldn’t be so thrilled about that.

Clintonville Police Chief

“My personal belief is that it should be your choice. I freely state that I'm vaccinated and I certainly would never push it on anyone else to go get vaccinated. If a mandate came down there’s a lot of moving pieces,” said Clintonville Police Chief, Craig Freitag.

He says the first thing to consider with any mandate is if it’s even legal or if it infringes with any rights.

Freitag says currently in his department about half of his employees are vaccinated.

“At one time we were at about 50% or just over 50% vaccination rate that I know of. There are certainly people that may have went and gone vaccinated, but they’re keeping that between themselves and their doctors and that’s okay,” Freitag said.

According to the city’s website, the Clintonville Police Department employs 11 full-time officers, who include the Chief, Captain, three Sergeants, a Police School Liaison Officer (PSLO), and five patrol officers. It also employs four part-time officers, and four full-time dispatchers, and four part-time dispatchers.

“I think the people that are vaccinated here still believe it’s your choice and they’re not pushing out on others to go out and get vaccinated”, Freitag said.

The chief mentions that a few months ago the city of Clintonville actually offered a vaccination incentive for employees, with extra money earned for their HSA Savings Account.

In the meantime, Freitag said they’ve been doing everything they can to continue using safety precautionary measures throughout their department.

“We had a couple officers out recently. We’ve been very fortunate since it started not to lose staff. Just recently we had a couple officers out. They’ve since returned. We’re still doing the cleaning measures and stuff like that,” Freitag said.

Earlier in the pandemic, he says officers were on a different schedule to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

He said officers were working seven days on and seven days off so that they could consistently be with the same group of people.

“We also purchased UV lighting that we could put in rooms, specifically our interview rooms. If you bring someone into our department. Staff uses those lights to disinfect the rooms. We do that on the various rooms in our department, as well anytime we’re going to do a transport,” Freitag said.

NBC 26 also received a statement from the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA).

Jim Palmer, the executive director for WPPA shared the following.

"As a general matter, the WPPA encourages its members to receive the vaccination - both for their benefit and for the protection of the people they serve. The WPPA has worked with public employers throughout the state to ensure that officers are provided with the option of vaccination or periodic testing, which we think is a better approach than mandates which may implicate an officer's personal religious beliefs and medical history, along with any obligations that apply to a public employer under the law."

According to the Fraternal Order of Police, there have been 743 officers who have died to date due to COVID-19.