Cops Getting Shot(s)

First, let me preface this piece by saying that Police Unions have done more to maintain law enforcement agencies’ professionalism, integrity, and excellence than any politician. Commission or reformation efforts. Without unions, the problems within agencies would be tenfold worse. They do not obstruct change; they seek to ensure any changes are done with fairness toward the officers they represent and protect them from politically motivated attempts that often do more harm than good, no matter how well-intentioned.

But I am at a loss to understand the resistance of the FOP, IBPO, and other police unions to compulsory vaccinations. https://crimeandjusticenews.asu.edu/many-police-officers-refuse-vaccinations.

Officers face the onerous risk of exposure to covid because of their day-to-day activities. They often have little choice in whether they come in physical contact with those they arrest or deal with in the course of their duties.

This contact comes with two risks.

First, the officers risk becoming infected with the Virus. Almost 500 law enforcement officers across the country have died from the Virus. While no one can be certain they contracted the Virus while on duty, it is a reasonable assumption a significant portion did.

Some of those infections may have occurred before the vaccines were available. That is the risk one assumes when you put on the badge. Yet since the vaccines are now widely available—and officers were among the first to have access to them because logic dictated those at higher risk of exposure and of becoming vectors for the spread of the Virus should be first—there is no excuse not to be vaccinated.

I’m willing to bet most of those 500 dead officers and their families, given the opportunity, would jump at the chance to receive a vaccine and save their lives.

Even if they never exhibit symptoms or recover from the Virus, officers exposed to the Virus pose a risk to the public as vectors to spread the Virus. This alone seems to be one of the most confusing aspects of the unions’ resistance.

It seems a contradiction in purpose when the unions argue against an effort to protect its members.

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 Why would you want your officers, who protect the public, to pose a known and potentially fatal risk to society when the risk can be effectively mitigated?

And if you argue that contracting Covid should be considered an on-the-job injury—which I believe it should be—why would you resist efforts to protect your members?

Often, these disputes between unions and local government stem from more profound conflicts. Sometimes it is necessary to take unpopular positions when trying to negotiate for your members. But when the country has suffered almost 700,000 deaths from the spread of Covid, it is equally necessary to be circumspect in your choices of battlefields. It seems a contradiction in purpose when the unions argue against an effort to protect its members.

Vaccines work. Vaccines help control the spread of Covid. Vaccines save lives.

Arguing that getting a vaccination is a personal choice is illogical in its formation. It would be like claiming officers have an option to respond to calls involving certain lifestyles for which they disagree, or picking which laws to enforce because they see them as unnecessary .

Such positions make unions look petty and uncaring, something I know is not accurate. Unions need to reassess their positions and live up to their traditions of protecting their members from the politics of the day, not allowing them to become involuntary weapons against the very people they are there to protect.

Taking a Stand on Principle: Choosing Which Law to Enforce is Not the Way

Several police unions—FOP lodges in North Providence and Warwick—have published a letter to their members saying they should not comply with enforcing the Governor’s edict on wearing masks in public.

Their argument—that such a directive by the Governor puts the police in the adversarial position of enforcing an unpopular and controversial policy—is persuasive but sets a dangerous precedent. When officers sworn to uphold the law willfully abandon this obligation because of public sentiment or beliefs, it poses a dilemma.

The police are often put in untenable positions. The unions serve a critically vital role in protecting their members from the intrusion of politics within agencies. But unions are not the best forum for determining what policies to follow, what laws to enforce, or what constitutes constitutionally or medically sound emergency policy.

If the circumstances were reversed, and a police agency faced opposition to enforcing existing laws by a segment of the public who disagreed with the law, they would abide by their oath of office and take whatever appropriate means necessary under the law to enforce it.

While police officers should not be expected to follow orders blindly—an equally dangerous situation—expecting them to fairly enforce the law is a societal necessity. We grant them discretion in most matters under such expectations. Yet decisions on the constitutionality of laws need be decided in the appropriate forum, the courts.

If the police union sought a stay from the courts, seeking guidelines for enforcing the policy of compelling people to wear masks in public, that would be entirely appropriate.

If the police union, in the confines of their internal meetings, encouraged officers to exercise great discretion in enforcing such policies absent any such guidelines from the court, that would be entirely appropriate.

But issuing public statements which encourages officers to defy the edicts of the Governor is a slippery slope. Pitting the refusal of one agency to enforce the law against another which chooses to enforce it is fraught with danger.

Where do we draw the line?

The legislature enacts laws, the Rhode Island Constitution grants certain emergency powers to the Governor to act in the best interest of the public during times of emergency— one might argue thousands of dead Americans qualifies as such an emergency— and police officers are empowered to enforce the law with a modicum of discretion.  But it falls on the courts to determine the constitutionality of such actions.

Unions should zealously protect their members. They should speak up when circumstances warrant. Yet they should refrain from encouraging officers to shirk their responsibilities or insert themselves into matters best left handled by the courts and elected officials.

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