Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccine mandate might yet achieve what the Abolish Police crowd has been seeking: to hobble law enforcement.
The George Floyd riots and anti-police policies and rhetoric have decimated NYPD’s ranks. Since June 2020, police have made fewer arrests (often under direct or implicit orders): NYPD arrests dropped by 27 percent, even as murders soared 43 percent over the next 12 months.
Discouraged and disparaged, many cops have simply walked away. Over 15 percent of NYPD uniformed officers retired or quit in the last year and a half. (The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund’s study of 10 other major departments saw resignations jump 24 percent and retirements 14 percent over that period.)
Yet public officials like de Blasio and President Joe Biden seem determined to force out even more veteran officers. Just last week, Biden said law-enforcement officers who won’t get the vaccine (or report their status) should be forced to stay home or let go. He seems wholly oblivious to the costs of the expanding the police-staffing crisis.
In this hostile political climate, the NYPD has struggled to effectively recruit new officers. The force is now 2,000 officers short of its 2019 levels, and they are needed more than ever.
(By comparison, Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to make the Big Apple’s loss into Florida’s gain — wooing disaffected and soon-to-be dismissed cops with $5,000 signing bonuses to relocate to the Sunshine state.)
This week, New York became ground zero of this fight, as the NYPD’s largest union, the 24,000-member Police Benevolent Association, sued to block de Blasio’s vaccine mandate, set to take effect Friday.
The union noted that the city offered police the “test or vax” option until Oct. 20, giving cops only nine days to comply with the vax-only requirement. As of Wednesday, thousands of NYPD sworn officers were not vaccinated or hadn’t not reported their status — and could be put on leave for non-compliance.
City employees have “a responsibility to keep yourself and your community safe,” the mayor said. But how will driving cops off the job curb the rising violence, solve crimes or reassure skittish commuters and businesses to return?
A police exodus would be a catastrophe of epic and bloody proportions. Fewer cops will certainly mean more killing, in New York City and across the country.
Let’s be clear: I’m vaccinated, and I recommend everyone — including law enforcement — do the same.
But these mandates are both shortsighted and bad science. For one thing, the threat of COVID-19, particularly in New York, has been greatly reduced. As of Wednesday, the seven-day daily average number of confirmed cases was just 614. The pandemic is clearly petering out.
Meanwhile, mitigation measures can easily be (and have been for a year and a half) put in place, including mask-wearing, social distancing, ventilation and frequent testing to slow the virus’ transmission. Evidence also shows that those who have contracted and recovered from COVID developed natural immunity, which can be even stronger than the vaccine itself.
Clearly the meager public-health benefits of the mandate are outweighed by its costs — not only to public safety but to the personal liberty and religious rights of cops. Fact is, for whatever reason, some officers see the vaccine as a burden, or a danger, or simply unnecessary. Agree with their judgment or not, forcing them to get vaxxed, or firing or furloughing them if they don’t, will impose a cost.
And remember: Not one police officer was vaccinated before this year — no one was. Yet they still did their jobs. In fact, they were among the few professionals that kept coming to work to protect the public at great personal risk. Their reward? Forced vaccination on pain of dismissal.
This mandate-first, -last and -only approach belies the public trust in officers to make difficult — sometimes life-and-death — decisions every day. Yet now they see that their leaders have no faith in their judgments. Officials’ low regard for police will only demoralize them further, and the unwise mandate will push more cops to turn in their badges. The public will pay the price.
Jason Johnson, a former deputy commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department, is president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.