By The San Francisco Examiner Editorial Board
There’s a cop killer on the loose.
It has claimed the lives of hundreds of American police officers, and it will kill many more. Unfortunately, too many officers seem eager to help this killer succeed.
The killer is COVID-19, and it has been the number one killer of law enforcement officers since the pandemic started in 2020. The grim trend has continued in 2021, with COVID killing more officers than all other causes combined, including gun violence and car accidents.
Yet a surprisingly high number of police officers still refuse to get vaccinated, including hundreds in the San Francisco Police Department. Their refusal to comply with mandatory vaccination rules has increased pressure on a department that’s already strained.
“San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott began reshuffling his department Wednesday, anticipating that as many as 267 unvaccinated officers could be placed on administrative leave if they don’t take the shot,” wrote Michael Barba of the San Francisco Examiner. “The chief said he would transfer 31 officers and 10 sergeants to patrol in case the unvaccinated officers, who represent 13% of the police force, don’t get inoculated. That unvaccinated number includes 180 officers who are on patrol.”
The good news: The vast majority of SFPD officers have already received their life-saving jabs. These officers did the right thing, and they deserve gratitude for putting public safety — and health — first.
Unfortunately, hundreds of their colleagues have sabotaged public safety with their baffling insubordination against science. Chief Scott said the changes he’s making would protect public safety if the anti-vaccine officers get benched.
An official with the police union said the hesitant officers want to see more data before getting vaccinated. But the science is exceedingly clear: 99% of those still dying from COVID in 2021 are unvaccinated. It’s not clear why these officers think they know more about vaccine efficacy than doctors and scientists.
Typical anti-vaccine arguments rely on tired platitudes about “freedom,” but those don’t apply to police officers. Strict rules already require SFPD officers to wear uniforms, badges, nameplates and other essential equipment. Officers don’t get to shrug off these requirements. Why should it be any different with life-saving vaccines?
The anti-vaxx sentiments infecting American police departments demonstrate a disturbing lack of judgment by people we trust to enforce the law. The fact that so many officers seem to fear the vaccine more than they fear COVID-19 indicates a stunning inability to assess risk and take appropriate action. Maybe some of these folks shouldn’t be allowed to wield badges and guns in the first place.
The SFPD’s vaccine standoff will soon come to a head. Officers who fail to comply with the vaccination mandate by Oct. 23 risk being put on paid administrative leave or even fired. An official with the San Francisco Police Officers Association said firing anti-vaxx officers would increase crime.
“The thought of eliminating police officers is a dream come true for those who want to defund our department,” said Tracy McCray, vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. “If The City lost that many officers at one time, you would see an increase in crime without a doubt.”
But police officers who refuse to get vaccinated are betraying their oaths to protect public safety, and The City will be better off without them. City leaders should refuse to blink in this standoff. While a small number of officers may have legitimate reasons for exemption, San Francisco must not tolerate anti-vaxx ideologues in police ranks. Officers who refuse to follow the vaccination rules pose a danger to public safety and are unfit to serve.
These words may seem harsh, but these officers need a wake-up call. They refuse to accept advice from doctors and scientists. But they should consider these words from the families of law enforcement officers who died of COVID:
“This was not Mike’s time. He made a risky decision not to vaccinate.” — Karen Weiskopf, widow of St. Petersburg, Fla., police officer Michael Weiskopf, who died of COVID at 52 after refusing vaccination.
“My father passed yesterday of COVID-19. He was surrounded by his family and was and is loved by many. He was only 59 years old. He, and I, implore you to understand the dangers of this disease and do everything you can to keep each other safe, including getting the vaccine and wearing a mask. I will miss my dad very much.” — Kayleigh Cockburn, daughter of Officer Christopher Cockburn of the Florida Police Department in Florida, New York. He died on Sept. 14.
“He fought every day and he wanted to come home but, in the end, COVID was attacking his entire body and he never recovered … his body started to shut down and it was very, very traumatic. At the time, when Anthony became very ill, the vaccine was not being offered. And I do believe that if it was offered, he would still be alive today … I would not want anyone to go through what my family has gone through.” — Tawnya White, widow of Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Anthony White, 53, who died of COVID in April.
Don’t let their deaths be in vain. Please get vaccinated.