Updated: Apr 27
Last week, the Providence City Council embarrassed themselves, our police, and our city when they claimed public safety would be at risk if the mayor enforced vaccine requirements for municipal employees. Not only did the council not have the facts on their side, but in their attempts to appear nakedly pro-cop, they ended up trying to put officers' lives at risk.
Politicians love the spectacle. Often, they mean to make a point in their favor or to the detriment of their adversary. Yet, while many make their blunders into a spectacle, few have had the knack for making such fools of themselves as Providence’s city council did on January 14 – the date that the city of Providence had mandated personnel submit documentation that they had received at least one COVID-19 shot.
Led by their city council president and drama queen-in-chief, John Igliozzi, the council held what they labeled an “emergency” meeting that evening to attempt to block the mass firing of police officers who had not been vaccinated. Of course, while they were happy to have unvaccinated officers stay on the job, they had no interest in catching COVID themselves and held the meeting over zoom where councilors could support unvaccinated officers from the safety of their own homes.
The image of councilors standing with the unvaccinated, but only from behind a computer screen, was powerful by itself. To make it more absurd, while a majority of the council seemed to support the measure, they didn't have the votes to sustain the mayor's override, so they tabled the vote and declared victory anyway. What’s worse they didn't even have their facts together. The city didn’t even plan to fire on mass the more than 70 officers who still hadn’t been vaccinated.
The city of Providence had mandated that personnel needed to submit documentation that they had received at least one COVID-19 shot by January 14. Yet, Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office has told news outlets repeatedly that the city will work with staff who are still trying to get a vaccine appointment or willing to get one in the future, and won’t do a mass firing. That information didn’t deter the city council president or council members from moving forward or stop them from doing so in an absurd way.
To avoid appearing hysterical, Igliozzi took to the airwaves ahead of the meeting where he calmly discussed on WPRI’s Pulse of Providence how “the city cannot have the mayor fire 60, 70 police officers and jeopardize public safety,” and made perfectly normal, non-hyperbolic statements about this scenario: “The city will be completely lawless.” … “It will be a complete ruin of the city.”
Igliozzi has been bending over backward to appear pro-police lately. In August, he sent a letter to the governor that stated Providence needed state troopers to assist the Providence Police Department in doing their job claiming “our police department is stretched thin.”
Igliozzi claims he is pro-Providence police. On its surface, claims that the Providence Police Department is understaffed could appear as pro-police. Yet, the reality is when Igliozzi and his council allies, such as Jo-Ann Ryan, claim this, they are actually accusing the department and its officers of incompetence.
When members of the city council claim we need more police or that the city will fall into chaos if we reduced the police force, they don’t mention how our police force compares to similarly-sized cities in the United States. According to the local governance news site, Governing, the average number of police per 10,000 residents in a city similar in size to Providence is 15.9, in Providence, it is 23.6. Providence could lose a third of its police force – that’s over 130 officers, far more than the roughly 70 who haven’t been vaccinated yet – and instead of falling into lawlessness, the department’s staffing would merely be on par with the national average.
Providence’s police department is larger and better financed than almost every other city in the U.S. Looking at Police Scorecard, we see that per capita, Providence’s police force is larger than 86 percent of police departments nationwide and the department receives more money per capita than 95 percent of other police departments.
When the council claims such a large and well-financed police force isn’t up to the job, they are saying Providence’s police with more money and officers can’t do the job that other departments do with far less. In fact, with Providence’s police force given more money per capita than 95 percent of police departments, it is shocking no one is asking what is this money getting us?
In this latest effort, the council goes further than accusing officers of incompetence. Igliozzi, Ryan, along with a majority of the council have shown us that they don’t care if officers have the protection they need to avoid dying from COVID. If they cared about these officers lives, perhaps they would spend more time talking to officers who are not vaccinated and see if they can help them understand why getting vaccinated is so important.
The relationship between police departments and the LGBTQ community is already complicated. The Stonewall Rebellion was done in response to police violence. LGBTQ people of color face police harassment. Police kill people – way too many of them Black – and are often unaccountable for their actions. Our city, our state, and our nation have yet to grabble with the serious issues of policing in America. Providence’s city council did nothing to improve this with their “emergency” meeting. If anything, by saying they wanted unvaccinated officers to stay on the job, they are making police officers’ jobs harder. Afterall, who wants to talk to an officer if they might be unvaccinated and could give you COVID?
This latest stunt from the council may appear foolish, yet we mustn’t ignore the cruelty of their intentions. Last Friday, the council in effect made the case that they have no problem putting officers on the street without the tools needed to protect them from getting COVID and die. To this city council, a PR stunt mattered more than protecting our community or the lives of police officers. We should remember that everytime the council claims to work in the name of public safety.