“Commercial just came on TV with a coffin saying we should take Covid seriously… 0 consideration for those of us fighting for every breath,” wrote Stephen Desfosses in a series of exchanges that began last Christmas Eve as his condition steadily worsened in a hospital in Massachusetts.
“Your husband is going… [be] changed forever no matter what… my life flashed before my eyes and man it’s scary,” he wrote in another message, his wife posted to Facebook last summer.
According to ODMP, there were 245 deaths by law enforcement officers from Covid-19 in 2020.
The coronavirus has become the leading cause of death for officers, despite law enforcement being among the first to qualify for the vaccine in late 2020. The total stands at 476 Covid-19-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, compared to 94 from gunfire during the same period.
“If you’re serious about your commitment to protecting the public…and if you’re serious about your personal obligations to your family, that should be enough,” Jessica Desfosses said in a plea for police officers to get vaccinated. .
The reasons put forward for vaccine resistance among law enforcement officers range from disinformation to mistrust in the science of the vaccines.
The debate reflects growing national tensions between unions and employers as cities and businesses seek to enforce vaccine mandates.
“You weren’t hired for this job. This is something you volunteer to do,” said Charles Ramsey, a former Washington, DC police chief and CNN law enforcement analyst. “You understand that when you take the job, it will take some sacrifice on your part in many different ways.”
Police unions challenge Covid mandates
Lightfoot on Friday accused police union chairman John Catanzara of trying to “provoke a riot” by telling officers to ignore a deadline to report vaccine status.
The city filed a complaint alleging that the union “encouraged a work stoppage or strike”. A Cook County Circuit judge ruled Friday night that Catanzara should not make public statements encouraging members to fail to comply with vaccination policies.
Catanzara “has never been involved in, has never supported or encouraged a work stoppage,” a union statement said on Friday.
Chicago officials had a midnight deadline Thursday to disclose their vaccine status or be placed on unpaid leave, Catanzara said earlier this week.
Lightfoot said the city would take the weekend to check with cops who failed to comply. She said officers should report for duty until they are told by supervisors that they have been placed on leave.
In Miami, agents oppose a vaccine mandate. In Pittsburgh, the chief of police sent emails encouraging officers to protect themselves as the Delta variant spiked Covid-19 cases.
In Seattle, police had “all non-patrol sworn personnel, detectives, training, support personnel” ready to respond to emergency calls ahead of Monday’s vaccination mandate deadline, Sgt. Randy Huserik, a spokesperson.
The Seattle Mayor’s office said nearly 140 officers had not been vaccinated or had not applied for a waiver. Huserik said about 320 officers had already left the police force as of early 2020.
Seattle could begin separating officers from the department after the deadline, according to police union president Mike Solan.
“If we lose more than 300 people because of this mandate, this public security crisis that we are experiencing will seem child’s play,” Solan said.
Loss of ‘outstanding officer’ hits home
All over the US, law enforcement has begged cops who are still hesitant to get the shot. Yet many unions and their affiliate officials continue to push back.
“Obviously it’s a right to get vaccinated. It’s an individual right and I still firmly believe in that,” said Dan Yancey, Oklahoma Police Chief of Owasso. “But I would definitely encourage people to do that.”
In Baker, Louisiana, outside of Baton Rouge, the Covid-19 death of Lieutenant DeMarcus Dunn last August prompted many colleagues to get vaccinated, police chief Carl Dunn said.
“He lost his father at a very young age and it was a village that raised him,” Chief Dunn said of the officer.
“And speaking of an excellent officer, an excellent citizen, an excellent person who always gave back, we noticed. It was a great void in this department to lose such an excellent officer.”
Before the lieutenant’s death on August 13, about 70% of the police force had not been vaccinated. Now 95% of the city’s 40 officers have received the shot, according to the chief.
“The point I’m trying to get across is that this pandemic is replacing every kind of politics, every kind of belief, anything you have that makes you hesitant to get vaccinated,” Chief Dunn said.
The national police union encourages vaccinations, but is against mandates.
Catanzara has framed the issue as a labor dispute.
“We continue to fight against this mandate and this dictatorship,” said Catanzara, chairman of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, echoing the sentiments of union leaders across the country.
“You’d think there’s no crime to worry about in this town. You would think there would be no murders, no robberies, no guns being fired.”
Late last month, hundreds of Washington State Patrol employees asked for an exemption from religious and medical vaccination, a day after the agency announced the Covid-19 death of a trooper.
Washington state workers must be fully vaccinated by Monday. The mandate affects 60,000 state employees and 40,000 health workers.
“We invest quite a bit in vetting and training these individuals. We don’t want to lose or lose them as friends because of Covid,” said Chris Loftis, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
Widow gets copies of vaccination cards
Michael Weiskopf, 52, a police officer in St. Petersburg, Florida, died on August 27 after battling Covid-19 for about a month. He was an 18-year law enforcement veteran.
“This was terrible and it shouldn’t have happened,” said his widow Karen Weiskopf. “He was so strong. He was so healthy… He was my best friend. Perfect husband.”
Karen Weiskopf said she has been vaccinated, but her husband was reluctant. She tried to convince him several times.
“He wasn’t sure what was in the vaccine…I had a feeling Mike wasn’t vaccinated because he didn’t have all the facts,” she said. “There’s a lot of information just going around… Science leaves the picture. It just becomes chatter.”
Karen Weiskopf believes her husband’s death served as a warning to other vaccine-reluctant agents.
“To this day I still get letters. I get calls,” she said. “I’ll be getting copies of vaccination cards from people I don’t know.”
Jessica Desfosses wants to turn her unspeakable loss into an opportunity to save lives.
“It’s absolutely as bad as you can imagine raising two little girls without their father,” she said of her late husband Stephen, who “wanted to be “first in line for that vaccine” but never got the chance to get the vaccine. got a chance.
“And if he had the choice to give himself that extra protection so that he could continue to serve the public and still come home to his family, he absolutely would have done it.”
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the last name of Seattle Police Union President Mike Solan was misspelled.
This story was reported by CNN’s Ryan Young, Jason Morris, Priya Krishnakumar, Peter Nickeas, Claudia Dominguez and Ray Sanchez. It was written by Sanchez.