Are Unvaccinated Police Endangering Community?
No one knows what percentage of Milwaukee officers has been vaccinated.
How many Milwaukee police officers are not vaccinated?
In August then-Milwaukee Police Association President Dale Bormann told WISN that he’d heard as many as 50% of the city’s 1,700 sworn officers hadn’t been vaccinated, but added that “no one seems to know exactly how many are unvaccinated.”
Barrett has issued an order requiring all general city employees to be vaccinated, but has no power over Milwaukee police and fire fighters, because this matter, along with salaries and benefits, must be negotiated with the police and fire unions.
“Police unions from Seattle to Chicago to Baltimore have all resisted mandatory vaccines.” CNN reported. “There are more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies, many of them with unionized work forces.”
As front-line workers, police and fire fighters were among the first people offered vaccines, but many have resisted, resulting in a high death rate. As another CNN story reported, five times more officers have died of COVID-19 than of gunshots since the pandemic began. “The total stands at 476 Covid-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic, compared to 94 from gunfire,” the story noted.
Gov. Tony Evers has issued press releases lamenting the deaths of police and fire fighters who died from contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty, including a police officer in Fond du Lac and fire fighters in North Prairie, in Boscobel and in Poynette.
Chuck Wexler, the veteran leader of the Police Executive Research Forum, which advises departments on best practices, told the New York Times the high number of officers killed by COVID-19 should concern union leaders. “If this was cops getting shot on the streets of America today at this number, there would be outrage,” he said. “This is an issue that begs for leadership and putting politics aside.”
But unvaccinated police also put the lives of city residents they serve at risk, as health experts noted to the Washington Post. “Somebody gets stopped at a traffic light for a traffic violation, window goes down, officer leans toward the person … if they go to a house where there’s been a complaint, they go into the house,” said Jack Greene, professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University. “They’re always going into public spaces.”
“Maybe we should take protect and serve off the sides of patrol cars and put down show up and infect,” Greene added.
When asked about this issue, Fleming said “the mayor would like to see all city workers get vaccinated, for the sake of themselves, for the sake of their families and for the sake of the community.”
The city’s labor negotiator has been in ongoing discussions with representatives of the fire and police unions about a policy on vaccines, Fleming said. He added that the mayor has no power to order a mandate even to civilian members of the police and fire department. But the Fire and Police Commission can mandate this for civilian members, he noted, and is expected to take up the issue at its next meeting.
The mandate issued by Barrett for general city employees has made significant progress. As of Friday, 64% had reported getting vaccinated, Fleming noted, but city officials believe the true number is much higher and that many employees have yet to enter their data.
And the Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Organization has approved a voluntary agreement requiring its members to be vaccinated, as Jeramey Jannene reported for Urban Milwaukee. They face a vaccination or masking requirement: “Starting Nov. 30 unvaccinated MPSO members must wear a mask at all times on the job, except when eating or drinking,” the story reported.
But rank-and-file officers are a different matter. Police officers tend to vote Republican and many police unions backed Donald Trump for president. And male Republican voters are most likely to oppose vaccines. That said, some police departments in the state have responded more positively to the vaccine. As a Madison TV station reported, 85% of Madison police, 80% of Janesville police and 71% of Milton police have been vaccinated.
But it helps to have messaging from police leaders pushing for this. Acting Police Chief Jeffrey Norman has made no statement urging officers to get vaccinated, nor has the Milwaukee police union. In response to questions from Urban Milwaukee, the Police Department declined to estimate the number of officers vaccinated, and offered this statement: “The Milwaukee Police Department takes the health and well-being of its members, as well as the public, as one of its upmost priorities.” The statement noted that the police union is now in negotiations with the city. As for the union, it did not respond to requests for comment.