COVID kills cops - five times more often than gunfire | Editorial

Published: Oct. 19, 2021

Policemen are the ultimate frontline workers, especially during a pandemic, when the risks rise exponentially. They deal with the most vulnerable people, many of them unvaccinated. They work in jails and other public places where distancing is not an option. They interact with more strangers in one day than most of us meet in a month.

They are the best argument for vaccine mandates – the most proven way to drive up vaccinations and drive down COVID -- yet some cops still haven’t gotten the memo, with tragic results.

The latest statistics on police fatalities from national organizations make you appreciate leaders such as Ras Baraka, the Newark mayor who was among the earliest to order cops and firefighters to get a jab or get another job: It’s apparently working, because Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara reports that 96 percent of these front-liners are in compliance, with the remainder “on military leave or out on long-term medical leave.”

If only there was the same rate of compliance nationally.

Coronavirus has become the leading cause of death for police officers, and the toll is rising: At least 231 officers have died of COVID this year, nearly matching the 245 law enforcement deaths from the virus in all of 2020, according to the non-profit Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks on-duty police deaths.

These 476 deaths are five times more than those resulting from gunfire (94) in the same period.

Among this group of COVID victims were 11 cops from New Jersey, including 5 from Newark – all of them before Baraka’s mandate.

It is especially tragic considering that police officers were among the first to be offered the vaccine last year. Many declined: While there are no national statistics for the vaccination rate of first responders, an Associated Press summary of individual police and fire departments across the country show “figures far below the national rate of 77% for adults who have had at least one dose.”

And last week, the New York Times reported that “departments across the country have reported large outbreaks in the ranks.”

You would hope this grim trend would change some minds. But in many large cities – including Newark -- police unions have vehemently pushed back against mandates. Chicago has been the most alarming: City workers were supposed to comply with mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mandate by last Friday, but the city’s police union has refused to cooperate. A judge ruled that the union president can no longer encourage members to ignore the mayor’s mandate. Roughly 50 percent were unvaccinated as of last week.

It may have gotten just as ugly in Newark, but an appellate court upheld Baraka’s order three weeks ago, ruling that “given the scientifically undisputed risk of spreading this deadly virus, the city has the right to protect the public. Similarly, requiring the city to negotiate over disciplining City employees who fail to comply with the mandate would undercut the effectiveness of the mandate.”

The court left no room for six police and firefighter unions to negotiate the mandate’s implementation.

Because the time for talk has passed, the time for action is now, and because frontline workers who refuse vaccines are playing with fire.

The Officer Down website agrees: Included in the bio of every fallen cop is the same sentence: “Hundreds of law enforcement officers died from medical complications as a result of contracting the virus while remaining on duty and interacting with the community.”

The president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12, James Stewart, said his members are abiding by the court’s decision, and reiterated that it was never about the vaccine – it was about “being denied our right to negotiate the particulars” of the mandate.

It jangles the nerves to think about how much longer that would have taken, and how many more lives would be in jeopardy.

No citizen can walk away from a cop. You can’t even demand that he keeps his distance. But you should be allowed to assume that the uniformed professional remembers that taking a free, FDA-approved vaccine is the best way to promote public safety.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-10-19 04:09:49 -0700