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A person receiving a vaccine
Steven Cornfield at Unsplash

Police Threats Over Vaccine Mandates Are Proving Empty

by Nick Wing, The Appeal

For the last few months, police across the U.S. have been threatening severe consequences if they’re not exempted from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The virus has killed over 750,000 people nationwide, including at least 500 law enforcement officers. Yet police officials have said these public health measures will drive cops to quit, triggering an exodus that would endanger communities.

“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,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote in a social media post last month, claiming his department could lose up to 30 percent of its workforce.

But early reports suggest this doom and gloom narrative has been greatly exaggerated. Vaccine mandates appear to be moving many cops into compliance. And if these policies prove effective, it could be a sign that cities can be more aggressive in their efforts to change police behaviors, without having to worry about threats of widespread upheaval.

In New York City, police union officials had warned that as many as 10,000 employees could be pulled off duty. Instead, more than 8,000 officers got their first dose of the vaccine in the week before the mandate went into effect, and only a few dozen have so far been placed on unpaid leave over their refusal to comply. At least 86 percent of the force is now vaccinated.

In Chicago, where a vaccine mandate for police is on hold pending arbitration, just 35 officers were on unpaid leave last week after refusing to report their vaccination status. Union officials there, with the media’s help, had told the public that as many as half of the department’s 12,000 employees could be placed on unpaid leave. Last week, the department reported that 77.6 percent of employees who reported their vaccination status had received at least one dose.

And in San Jose, California, only six city employees overall have opted to forfeit pay after resisting the mandate, despite police union claims that as many as 100 officers were prepared to quit. The city hasn’t clarified how many of those six are police employees, if any, but more than 92 percent of the department’s officers are vaccinated.

The situation remains more uncertain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where deputies have until mid-December to comply with the mandate. More than half of the department’s 16,084 employees have reported being fully vaccinated, though around 20 percent of staffers have not yet registered their vaccination status at all. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, nearly 75 percent of Los Angeles Police Department employees report having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The alarmist rhetoric of union officials in many cities has overshadowed data showing that the vast majority of public and police employees have been vaccinated, and that vaccination rates have generally risen after shots were mandated. Just look at San Francisco, Seattle, or Denver, where over 90 percent of officers have complied with vaccine mandates.  

Mandates are working to encourage inoculation, even as police unions do everything they can to undermine them.

In the end, the unions’ efforts may prove to be nothing more than empty threats. But even if they are, we can’t ignore the fact that unions were willing to resort to these tactics in the first place. This standoff has provided yet another example of police engaging in a scorched earth campaign to shield officers from any degree of oversight or accountability. Union officials have argued defiantly that police are above the law, even when the law exists to protect officers — and the broader public — from a threat that has killed more cops than any other cause of death over the last two years.

The media, for its part, must also confront its own role in amplifying these police union threats. Many outlets have given union officials a platform to make cynical arguments in service of the dangerous belief that police must be allowed to do whatever they want — or else. Early news reports about vaccine resistance in law enforcement credulously accepted union claims about the potential scope of backlash to mandates. And until recently, few stories had bothered to criticize unions for their stance.
There’s no excuse for this. By now, news outlets should know to exercise caution when quoting law enforcement officials. This is especially true regarding union representatives, who are notoriously adept at manipulating the media through fear mongering and hyperbole. 

Even if we don’t believe what these union officials are saying, the narrative they’ve chosen to embrace is revealing. They’ve spent months telling us that many cops would gladly let communities descend into chaos before getting an FDA-approved vaccine that so far has been given to more than 4 billion people worldwide. For a profession that prides itself on qualities of bravery, service, and sacrifice, it’s strange to see spokespeople embracing portrayals that make some officers seem selfish and petulant.

But initial numbers suggest hardline vaccine resistance is mostly a fringe position in law enforcement, which should be a positive sign for cities still negotiating with unions over mandates. While some police officials are still holding their communities hostage — insisting that officers are prepared to compromise public health and safety if their demands aren’t met — reports like these could make cities feel a bit more comfortable calling their bluff.


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In August, three Pennsylvania police officers fired at a car after hearing gunshots a block away, killing 8-year-old Fanta Bility and wounding her older sister and two others. Last week, the Delaware County district attorney’s office charged two teenagers who allegedly fired the nearby shots (which struck no one) with the young girl’s murder. [Vinny Vella / Philadelphia Inquirer] See also: “Felony murder” rules are designed to punish people for crimes they do not intend or commit. 

Virginia Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares has said he plans to pursue legislation that would let him file charges when a local prosecutor’s office declines to prosecute. The initiative is designed to undercut local legal-system reforms, but some local prosecutors are pushing back. [Rory Fleming / Filter]

In the wake of the deadly crush on Nov. 5 at the Astroworld music festival, the Houston police chief and several mainstream media outlets repeated the rumor that the crush could have been triggered by an unknown assailant injecting people with drugs. At the event, where eight people died and hundreds were injured, more than 500 Houston police officers were working security. One concertgoer said he begged a group of officers to help. “I was basically told to fuck off,” he said. Two more people died in the last week. [Zachary Siegel / Slate and EJ Dickson, Daniel Kreps, Nancy Dillon, and Bryan C. Parker / Rolling Stone]

Whistleblowers in police departments across the country are routinely harassed, jailed, and fired, according to an investigation by USA Today. Those who stay silent get promotions, overtime, and accolades. USA Today reporter Brett Murphy’s  Twitter thread breaks down some of the findings. [Brett Murphy / Twitter]

Incarcerated patients in Arizona’s prisons alleged in court last week that the healthcare they receive constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. People with serious mentally illness testified that corrections officers and healthcare staff encourage them to harm themselves, reported The Arizona Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins. [Jimmy Jenkins / Twitter]

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who’s up for reelection, has no plans to provide free phone calls for people incarcerated in the New Orleans Jail. That’s because, he said, their phone calls — which cost 21 cents a minute — help provide the sheriff’s office with needed revenue. [Matt Sledge /]

That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

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