Editor’s note: This story looks at the national situation for vaccine mandates and is discussing law enforcement outside of California. In Santa Barbara County, the Board of Supervisors is requiring all workers to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) – COVID-19 vaccine mandates have sparked nationwide controversy and led to firings and resignations around the country.
Police officers have been hit hard by the requirements, and their exodus may leave many cities understaffed even on the heels of a spike in violent crime.
In New York City, officers passed the mayor’s deadline for vaccination Friday. The city announced that there are 26,000 unvaccinated municipal workers, including 17% of police officers. Those who refused to comply were to be placed on unpaid leave this week.
But New York City is far from the only local government to take that route. Several municipalities have instituted vaccine mandates for police officers only to see a significant drop-off in staffing.
Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle police departments have all grappled over this issue as well. In some areas, like Denver, data suggest that many officers who fought the mandate were in the end unwilling to resign over it. However, in other areas, police departments around the country have lost many officers due to the mandate.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva grabbed headlines earlier this month after announcing he would not enforce the vaccine mandate on his staff, putting local leaders in a tough position. Last week, he called the mandate an “imminent threat to public safety.”
“The Board’s vaccination mandate is causing a mass exodus within the department, which is an absolutely absurd result,” Sheriff Villaneuva said. “I have repeatedly stated the dangers to public safety when 20%-30% of my workforce is no longer available to provide service, and those dangers are quickly becoming a reality. We are experiencing an increase in unscheduled retirements, worker compensation claims, employees quitting, and a reduction in qualified applicants. As a result, homicide rates will continue to rise, response times will increase, solve rates will diminish, arrests will decline, patrol services will significantly decline, and patrol stations will close.”
In Massachusetts, the The State Police Association of Massachusetts lost a legal battle in September challenging the state’s vaccine mandate, forcing many law enforcement officers out.
“The State Police are already critically short staffed and acknowledged this by the unprecedented moves which took troopers from specialty units that investigate homicides, terrorism, computer crimes, arsons, gangs, narcotics, and human trafficking, and returned them to uniformed patrol,” the association said in the statement.
The Seattle Police Department lost a few officers and has many more waiting to see if they can receive an exemption to the mandate.
“As of midnight, all but six Seattle Police Department employees have submitted their COVID-19 vaccination forms or are involved in an accommodation process, per city mandate,” SPD said in mid-October. “For those six employees, the separation process has begun. Meanwhile, 103 sworn and civilian SPD employees submitted requests for either a medical or religious exemption. While away from work, those employees will be using their own accrued time balances. The decision on when and whether they will be allowed to return to work will be determined in the coming weeks.”
Many of the officers leaving departments plan to head to more flexible employers.
“To date, dozens of troopers have already submitted their resignation paperwork, some of whom plan to return to other departments offering reasonable alternatives such as mask wearing and regular testing,” SPAM said.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has capitalized politically on the issue, publicly calling on ousted officers from around the nation to move to Florida.
“NYPD, Minneapolis, Seattle, if you’re not being treated well, we’ll treat you better here: you fill important needs for us, and we’ll compensate you as a result,” Gov. DeSantis told Fox News.
Mandates combined with growing friction between police and local governments over “defund the police” movements and other anti-police sentiments already had officers on edge. Now, many police groups have pushed back against the vaccine mandates, but have failed to sway several of the nation’s larger municipalities.
“The mandate-first, last, and only approach for law enforcement belies the public trust imbued on officers to make difficult, sometimes life and death decisions every day,” said Jason Johnson, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “They are asked to quickly assess complex situations, apply their discretion, and act decisively and fairly — to uphold the law and protect the public. The men and women who put their lives on the line for others and take on this immense responsibility are now being told their leaders’ have no faith in their judgement.”
Meanwhile, the nation saw a spike in violent crime last year, according to FBI data released in September.
Homicides rose nearly 30% in 2020, and aggravated assaults increased by more than 12%. That marked the first time in four years violent crime rose from the previous year.
There were roughly 21,500 reported murders in 2020, the highest figure in decades.
“In 2020, there were an estimated 1,277,696 violent crimes,” the FBI said. “When compared with the estimates from 2019, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 9.3 percent and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 12.0 percent. The estimated number of aggravated assault offenses rose 12.1 percent, and the volume of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 29.4 percent.”
Last weekend, Chicago saw a 220% increase in downtown shootings, raising more concerns about the need for police.
“But don’t worry, (Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot) thinks the best way to solve this serious problem of increased downtown shootings is by stripping and removing cops from the street,” said Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, a local police union chapter.
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C. bureau.