Sunday Commentary: COVID Not Shootings Biggest Danger to Police – and Yet They Refuse to Protect Themselves

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

We have heard and criticized the notion that “Blue Lives Matter” and that there is a “war on cops.” But maybe there is something to it—albeit not as they have depicted it.

Reformers point out that it has never actually been safer to be a police officer than now.  But we hear the rhetoric.

So let us look at the numbers: 199 killed in the line of duty for 2021 according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.  The biggest cause of death: COVID.  Ninety-seven of the 199 deaths so far this year are due to COVID.  On the other hand, gunfire is 37, vehicular assault 15, and stabbed 3.  You also have things like traffic fatalities and heart attacks.

Last year, there were, by that site, 240 COVID deaths compared to 45 from gunfire out of 369.

Last year, numerous times we saw cops responding to situations and crowd control without masks. Prison correctional officers often failed to mask up. Earlier this year, we reported on how low the vaccination rate was for correctional officers at CDCR in California’s Prisons.

This is horribly tragic.  Young men—and most police officers are relatively young—losing their lives is a tragedy.  But in a lot of ways it is self-inflicted and, in fact, the police are actually fighting to avoid having to vaccinate in many locations.

Last week, memos leaked out that indicated that police and sheriff’s deputies in San Francisco may well resign rather than get vaccinated after mandatory requirements were put in place.

Police worry about public confidence in them, but this cavalier attitude belies good judgment—and if officers resign rather than vaccinate we can be assured that this will raise many troubling questions about the judgment of police officers.

This is true on multiple levels.  On the one hand, when they lose an officer to a murder, they are up in arms and proclaim there’s a war on cops—even though the numbers show far fewer police are killed by murder on duty than they were a generation ago.

But, at the same time, when the cause of death is somewhat preventable, they refuse to wear masks and refuse to vaccinate.

In June, the Bee reported incarcerated people documenting instances of correctional officers not wearing masks.

Not only that, but CDCR prison investigators “conducted an inadequate inquiry into allegations staff members failed to wear face coverings and, despite a reasonable belief that staff misconduct occurred, the warden failed to refer the case to the Office of Internal Affairs for an investigation,” the Office of Inspector General found in a June report.

The Bee reported in early August that the CDCR will issue mandatory orders for all CDCR guard and staff.

The Bee reports “that only 42%of custody staffers in state prisons have received at least one dose of the vaccines, and that overall only 53% of all staff have had a shot.”

“Only 40% of corrections officers statewide are fully vaccinated,” federal receiver J. Clark Kelso wrote in a 27-page report to the court. “The proportion is alarmingly lower in some institutions.

Similar findings are true from the UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars Project.

“We estimate that, to date, just 47% of prison staff have received at least one dose of a vaccine, based on data from the 21 agencies that have recently reported this information. By comparison, more than 71% of all adults in the U.S. — and 64% of incarcerated people — have been vaccinated so far,” they write this week.

The leadership of police officers’ unions seems to be attempting to get their membership to be more careful.

The FOP (The Fraternal Order of Police) put out a COVID information and said: “COVID-19 makes no distinction between age, race or gender. As we had feared, the virus has claimed the lives of many, and now includes a growing number of law enforcement officers.”

That number: 533 so far.  (There is clearly some discrepancy in the data, but that number is put out by the FOP).

Sound low? Maybe. But remember, most police officers are under the age of 50, so we are not generally dealing with what should be a high risk category, at least for COVID-related fatalities.

And yet, even with this, FOPs across the country are resisting vaccination.

The FOP does not have stats on how many officers have contracted COVID on the job, or how many may have spread the virus, reported Business Insider.

The problem at this point is self-inflicted.

Departments are reporting low compliance with vaccination.

Fifty-seven percent of the Denver Police Protective Association aren’t vaccinated, Denver’s top public safety leader said he’s “prepared to fire police officers who don’t comply with the vaccine mandate,” reported the Denver Post.

The Los Angeles PD is about half vaccinated. Last week the LA Times reported that a tenth LAPD employee died last week from complications due to COVID-19.

The LA Times reported that the department saw 36 additional coronavirus cases among its personnel in the last week.

Although FOP leadership recommends its members get vaccinated, endorsing the COVID-19 vaccine as safe and effective, executive director Jim Pasco told Axios the FOP won’t mandate the shot.

“We are a union and we will defend our members,” he said. “You cannot tell people what to do. It’s still an individual and personal choice.”

And of course, last week, a Facebook post by SF sheriff’s deputies warned mandated vaccines “will result in law enforcement officers and firefighters retiring early and seeking employment elsewhere.

“Public safety of San Francisco has turned into the Wild West and will get worse when officers quit due to the vaccine mandate.”

But isn’t that statement self-contradictory? The only way to protect public safety is to threaten it by going around unvaccinated?

There is just bad judgment and the lack of leadership by departments. This would be surprising except for the fact that we have seen it in other respects for decades.

It is tragic when an officer dies in the line of duty—but these are, at least partially, self-inflicted wounds.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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