By David M. Greenwald
For years police officers proudly carried the public safety flag—their actions when noble or when questionable were always framed as support for public safety. While the George Floyd incident for police represented a potential threat to that public safety hegemony, COVID might prove to be the dagger in the heart.
While 2020 saw a spike in murders—up nearly 5000 in 2020 over 2019, with the total number an alarming 21,570—that number still pales in comparison to the 700,000 that have now died since about February 2020 from COVID.
Police do not have the luxury of social distancing. You can’t arrest someone from six feet away. They are particularly vulnerable to getting COVID as well as spreading COVID. A September data analysis shows that more police officers died from COVID in 2020 and 2021 than any other cause. In 2021 at the time of the analysis, 242 of the 371 line-of-duty deaths were from COVID.
The San Diego Union Tribune on September 16, in an editorial, reported, “A survey this month of San Diego Police Officers Association members found 90 percent of responding officers opposed a vaccine mandate, 65 percent would consider quitting the force if vaccines were required and 45 percent would rather be fired than vaccinated.”
In August, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “San Francisco is moving to suspend 20 employees in the police, fire and sheriff’s departments who refused to disclose whether they are vaccinated against the coronavirus.”
The union representing San Francisco Sheriff’s deputies in August revealed many threatened to quit or retire early if forced to get vaccinated. “If deputy sheriffs are forced to vaccinate a percentage of them will retire early or seek employment elsewhere,” the statement said.
Remember, sheriff’s deputies not only interact with the public, they also staff the jail and courthouse.
Steve Lopez of the LA Times wrote this week, “When you work for taxpayers as a first responder, personal freedom is trumped by public duty. The job is to serve and protect, not serve and infect. And we may never know how many people in the general public, and the families of cops and firefighters, have become sick or died because the public safety officers refused to get vaccinated.”
Lopez noted, “Science is not on their side, and neither are statistics.”
The police have framed this as a right to choose: “A right to choose what goes into your own body, and the right to exercise informed consent regarding experimental medicines such as the Covid vaccines.”
If I get arrested tomorrow or if I get in a car accident on the way to the office, and I have to utilize emergency responders, do I get to choose whether the police officer who interacts with me is vaccinated? Or does whatever happens in the court of life, consign me to severe illness and potential death because of the irresponsibility of others?
Lopez quoted a law enforcement officer in his column: “We aren’t afraid of pursuits or wrestling with third-striker parolees but half of my department is scared of a perfectly safe and effective scientific miracle.”
That same officer said that “almost everyone at my department refuses to wear masks indoors” and “supervisors won’t do anything to enforce the mandate because they don’t agree with it.”
That’s another big problem—half the time I see officers not wearing masks. I had one such interaction in Davis and I complained—that seemed to be the last time that was a problem.
By the way, when I checked early last month, Davis city officials could not tell me what percentage of police officers were vaccinated. That was right when they mandated all city employees to vaccinate.
The good news overall—vaccine mandates are working.
In an editorial in the Washington Post, “There are positive signs that business and government vaccine mandates are succeeding. While the total number of unvaccinated people in the United States is still way too large — only 64.9 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated — the idea of mandates is taking hold, and hopefully will become the norm.”
The NY Times reported on Friday, “As California’s requirement that all health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus took effect on Thursday, major health systems reported that the mandate had helped boost their vaccination rates to 90 percent or higher.”
The Times found, “So far, a number of early mandates show few indications of large-scale resistance.”
“Mandates are working,” said John Swartzberg, a physician and professor at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you define ‘working’ by the percentage of people getting vaccinated and not leaving their jobs in droves.”
As for law enforcement, the Washington Post noted, “What if such mandates mean our crime-fighters can’t fight crime? That’s a scary prospect.”
They report on a union representing Massachusetts state troopers and the report, “Dozens of troopers had submitted resignation paperwork over the mandate,” but they also noted there is context to that, “the troopers come from a force of about 2,000. The news release did not specify a number, but the ‘dozens’ could be as little as about 1 percent of troopers.”
But of course I have a slightly different take on all of this and this combines my overall feelings about law enforcement in general with the vaccine in particular—if a massive number of police and law enforcement officials want to quit over this, let them.
I have long suggested that it was time to remake the police force with higher quality and better caliber people—perhaps this could prove the catalyst for the type of transformative change we have been needing.
At the very least, use this point as a pushback to say if you want to threaten to quit over this, don’t let the door hit you on the backside. We expect and deserve better from our public safety officials than threats to quit over the gravest public safety threat in recent history.