PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They’re known as the “Thin Blue Line,” protecting us from danger.
But across America, a high percentage of law enforcement officers refuse to be vaccinated despite the pleas from their bosses, who say they’re putting themselves and the public at risk.
“It’s extremely important because the people we deal with can make people sick and bring it home to their family,” Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen said.
Over the past 19 months, Allegheny County Sheriff’s deputies have routinely transported inmates with COVID-19 from the jail to the hospital. But despite the urging of Mullen, 35 percent of his deputies have not been vaccinated.
In the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, the city estimates more than 40 percent of its officers are unvaccinated.
“By being a cop for so long, they just don’t trust people. They don’t trust what people are telling them. They’ve been lied to so many times. I think the mistrust is ingrained,” Mullen said.
Across the country, law enforcement officers lag behind other public safety workers in getting the vaccine, with some city police departments reporting vaccination levels as low 50 percent, and it may be having fatal consequences.
According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, 692 police officers have died of COVID-19 across the country, making the virus the number one cause of death among police.
In a letter to the bureau this week, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert confirmed that Officer Brian Rowland died of a COVID-19-related illness. And still, the FOP has resisted mandatory vaccinations or routinely testing officers.
“It is the position of the National FOP that vaccinations work to prevent people from becoming infected by COVID-19. However, the National FOP asserts that whether or not to accept the vaccine is a personal decision that our members should make for themselves after consultation with their doctor or other medical professionals,” the FOP said in a statement.
“I’d say right now, the firefighters in Pittsburgh are about 80 percent fully vaccinated,” Pittsburgh Firefighters Union Vice President Tim Leech said.
The reluctance of the police stands in marked contrast to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. The union has pushed hard to have its members vaccinated, reaching out to firefighters individually and holding vaccination clinics.
“We’re in the public’s homes, we deal with them hand-and-hand every day,” Leech said. “And I think the fire union and city have the same goal to protect the citizens of Pittsburgh and the firefighters.”
Any mandatory vaccination order must be negotiated with the unions. The city is not asking for that, but the mayor’s chief of staff told KDKA’s Andy Sheehan that the office is in talks with the unions to increase vaccinations.