Ex-Salt River Police commander released due to COVID-19 vaccine mandate speaks out

A Phoenix area police commander has walked away from a decades-long career, after he chose to not get the covid-19 vaccine.

Steve Larson was a commander with the Salt River Police Department. He was hoping to work at least another 10 years before retirement, but that goal has been cut short because of the vaccine mandate.

"That would have greatly affected, in a positive way, my retirement and my financial situation, but this is this is the cards we were dealt, and this is the -- I guess that's the line in the sand that we drew," said Larson.

Larson had a lengthy, successful career with the SRPD, having joined the department fresh out of the academy 23 years ago. He worked his way up from officer to most recently a commander, and he was awarded countless times, including one time after he was shot in the line of duty.

"I was shot in the leg. I was fortunate that day to go home to see my family that night," said Larson.

According to a statement from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a vaccine mandate was brought forth on Aug. 20, and all government employees had to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, or be released. Larson had mixed feelings about the vaccine, but ultimately made what he called a difficult decision against getting it, which in turn ended his career.

"I was shot in the line of duty protecting that community. It has taken time from my family, taking me away from my family for a lot of time, and I put forth a lot of blood, sweat and tears for that department. I had to watch two of my employees that got killed in the line of duty, and when it's a small department, it's not like it was a number or a person way down the chain. It was someone you had contact with every single day, and to not be allowed to walk away under your own terms and to have your goodbye, it's kind of difficult. It's almost like your legacy was stolen from you," said Larson.

Larson is not sure what his next step will be, but says he has more service to give.

October Statement from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

Back in October, officials with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community issued a statement on its vaccine mandate for government employees, following news that a number of firefighters were let go for refusing to get vaccinated.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) is a sovereign nation within the State of Arizona and governed by a Council who has the authority to pass legislation to protect its citizens and lands. In August, the SRPMIC Council made the decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all Government employees as a condition of continued service with the Community.

The decision to require COVID-19 vaccination for SRPMIC employees is a way the Council can protect the Community during this pandemic.

On August 20, 2021, SRPMIC employees were notified of the Council decision for a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. On August 30, 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine requirement became effective and SRPMIC government employees had 30 days to comply. There were medical exceptions and those individuals are required to take a COVID-19 test every 7 days.

Those who chose not to comply with the requirement were released from employment on September 30, 2021.

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