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COVID-19, the leading cause of death among cops in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, has continued to explode in departments around the country, as the profession’s vaccine rates continue to lag.
Departments in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and smaller cities have recently reported major increases in COVID-19 infections, including several deaths.
“Just signed 10 more condolence letters for active duty officers who have been taken from their families, friends, and colleagues by COVID-19,” Chief Art Acevedo, who heads the Miami Police Department, said in a tweet earlier this week.
“The U.S. FDA formally approved the Pfizer vaccine, so let’s all get vaccinated,” Acevedo added.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore told local reporters that a staggering 84 of his officers have contracted the virus just in the past week.
Earlier this month, the mayor of Houston reported as many as 93 police officers had contracted the virus in the span of three weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times. As many as 178 employees at the Miami-Dade Police Department are on leave after being exposed to the virus, according to the Miami Herald. The Las Vegas Metro Police lost two officers to COVID in the last month. The Austin Police Department recently lost its first officer to COVID, but the city’s mayor says at least 41 officers are currently on leave as they recover from the virus, one of whom is hospitalized.
Even smaller departments and regions around the country have reported multiple officers succumbing to COVID-19 in a matter of weeks. The Yalobusha County Sheriff’s office in Mississippi lost two members since the start of August. In South Florida, five officers in Coral Springs, West Palm Beach, Miami Beach, and Fort Lauderdale all passed in the span of a week this month, according to CNN. And a police lieutenant beloved by his community in Baker, Louisiana, succumbed to the virus just a day before his wedding, a tragedy that has garnered national headlines.
One of the leading reasons those numbers have continued to explode among law enforcement officers is the lagging vaccine rates in the profession. Despite being among the first people eligible for the vaccine when it became available to most adults in the country, many police officers have opted out of getting the lifesaving shot and are even disobeying or fighting mandates to get vaccinated.
A sheriff’s deputy union in San Francisco has already warned of a mass exodus of deputies over the city’s mandate. Unions in Tucson, Arizona, and Dayton, Ohio, have already tried to move forward with legal action. Most recently, the president of New York City’s Police Benevolent Association said he’s ready to take legal action over the city’s vaccine mandate.
“The profession is very hardheaded,” Dr. David Thomas, a retired police officer and justice studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, told VICE News earlier this month. “It is a profession where historically someone has to die before there is change. It’s scary, but it’s true.”
But the surge of the Delta variant and the resultant strain on hospitals around the country has also pushed police leaders in some cities to take a firm stance in support of their officers getting the vaccine. Just a day before the local union announced it’s poised to take legal action, the head of the NYPD, where 60 officers have died of the virus in the past year, spoke openly in support of the mandate this week for the first time. Despite the losses among its ranks, just 47 percent of the department’s employees have been vaccinated.
“I think we’re well past that time,” Police Chief Dermot Shea said during an interview with local news station NY1 Tuesday. “We lost three members last week, two of them to COVID, and I think it’s all unnecessary.”
The San Jose Police Officers Association announced it will also ask its members to fall in line with the vaccine mandate for city employees. And in Denver, the executive director of the Department of Public Safety has already said the city is prepared to terminate officers who refuse the vaccine.