Editorial: Vaccine decisions put trust in CT police to test

Connecticut State Police badge.

Connecticut State Police badge.

Connecticut State Police

The very essence of being a police officer is to keep the public safe. To ensure rules are followed. To help people make good choices.

The pandemic puts each of these to the test.

Before COVID-19 became part of our everyday lives, we were already in the midst of a national crisis to reverse an erosion of trust in police. Connecticut’s police accountability law created in the aftermath of protests against racial injustice and police brutality created new fissures as some departments and state officials claimed overreach.

These wounds are not healing. A step forward would have been if all officers took advantage of being offered spots at the front of the line to get vaccinated last winter.

Instead, too many officers are apparently using magical thinking to avoid the shots. A leader in the Stamford police union wrote an essay expressing the troubled reasoning that “many officers possess natural immunity after already being infected with COVID.”

Stamford has a pretty admirable rate of eligible residents who are fully vaccinated: 82 percent. But among the 268 police officers in the city, only 59 percent reported getting shots, according to a Hearst Connecticut Media Group review.

Some Connecticut departments reported much better figures. Redding hit the high point of 95 percent. New Haven recorded the lowest reported rate (56 percent).

Other police departments, including some of the largest in the state, declined to disclose the data or didn’t even bother keeping count. Though municipalities have different policies, the thousand State Police troopers face a mandate to either to take the vaccine or submit weekly tests.

This is not keeping the public safe.

This is not following the rules.

This is not helping people make good decisions.

But worst of all, it puts our officers at unnecessary risk. They deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the population, many of whom are sick or not vaccinated.

Data from the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund cites COVID-19 as the leading cause of death among police officers for the second year in a row. Of the 255 line of duty deaths in 2021, 144 have been attributed to COVID-19. In 2020, the memorial page documented 371 line of duty deaths, attributing 242 to COVID.

“Getting vaccinated is just as important as wearing your vest and your seatbelt,” the fund advises.

Wearing masks seemed reasonable, too, particularly during the early days of this crisis. Still, we saw too many officers maskless in public, setting the wrong example for children who have no other choice, and who still don’t have the option of getting vaccinated.

While some departments cloak their numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps revealing ones that should make these easy decisions. The latest reports that people who are not fully vaccinated are 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who have gotten their shots.

By getting vaccinated, officers do more than keep us safe, follow the rules and help others make good decisions. They help mend shattered trust.