The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth shows of bravery and dedication from nurses, doctors and other health-care workers. In a less dramatic way, other essential workers, from supermarket clerks to bus drivers, have stepped up to serve the public at risk to themselves.
But alongside these impressive efforts has emerged a puzzling disappointment – pockets of law-enforcement officers who refuse to get vaccinated. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City, a surprisingly high percentage of those who have taken an oath to protect and serve the public are – with the support of their police unions – choosing to put themselves, their fellow officers and the public at risk.
That resistance came to Raleigh last week. A group of 118 city employees – including 53 police officers and 48 firefighters – has united under the banner of City of Raleigh Freedom to Choose (CRFC). The group hired Raleigh attorney James R. Lawrence, III, who has presented the city with a 14-page letter threatening legal action. CRFC says that the city’s rules on vaccinations represent illegal discrimination. Raleigh’s city manager has ordered that all city employees show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID tests and that only vaccinated city employees will be considered for promotion.
Charlotte has likewise faced vaccine resistance among its officers. The Police Department’s 66.5 percent vaccination rate is the third lowest among Charlotte’s city departments, WCNC reported. In the U.S., 78 percent of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Charlotte has stopped short of mandating vaccinations, but it has offered cash rewards for city employees who get the shot and it requires that the unvaccinated to be tested weekly. The city also requires that all new hires be vaccinated.
The resistance among U.S. law-enforcement officers is particularly striking given the toll the virus has taken on their ranks as the leading cause of officer deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, 476 officers have died from COVID-19 compared to 94 killed by gunfire and about 100 who died in vehicle-related incidents, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Still, the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police remains neutral on the issue. William H. Hollingsed, the group’s executive director, said in a statement: “As an association, we feel like this decision is up to individual agencies and municipalities. Individuals in the law-enforcement profession, the same as those in the medical profession, other emergency services, transportation, education, etc., have different feelings toward a vaccination mandate.”
In Raleigh, the police holdouts say their refusal is about freedom. In its letter to the city, the CRFC said that its members are not opposed to vaccines, but they oppose “top-down mandates, coercion, and control. Fundamentally, CRFC is for freedom and for respect of the individual.”
No, officers refusing to get vaccinated is not about freedom. It’s about shirking their duty. As police departments seek to improve their culture in response to protests against police abuses, now may be a good time to let go of officers who resist the rules at the public’s expense.
Fortunately, Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin is standing firm on her city’s vaccination rules. She said the city will ignore the CRFC letter.
“Our job is to make sure our employees are safe and our community is safe,” she told the Editorial Board.
Baldwin noted that the testing of unvaccinated city workers has found seven who tested positive. Those results helped prevent the infection of other employees and members of the public.
“There are real implications to the choices being made,” Baldwin said. “Testing at least helps us curb exposure.”
Law-enforcement officers should be the first to choose to protect each other and the public. Instead, some are choosing their freedom to do otherwise.