Police officers across the country were among the first to become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, but some are still declining the shots, leaving them clashing with city leaders as immunization mandates go into effect.
In Chicago, days before police officers were due to report their vaccination status following a citywide mandate, the head of its police union urged officers to ignore the deadline and “hold the line.” Thousands of Los Angeles Police Department employees say they’ll seek vaccine exemptions after police officials filed a federal lawsuit against the city over vaccination and mask mandates.
At least 150 officers, the Massachusetts police union recently reported, have resigned or submitted paperwork to do so over that state’s immunization requirements. And last week, the president of New York City’s largest police union said it plans to sue Mayor Bill de Blasio for requiring all city employees to get their first vaccine doses before Nov. 1.
But there is one more state willing to take in unvaccinated law enforcement personnel who are terminated if they choose not to get immunized: Florida.
On Sunday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to offer unvaccinated officers $5,000 bonuses to relocate to his state and join the police force.
“We’re actually actively working to recruit out-of-state law enforcement, because we do have needs in our police and our sheriff’s departments,” DeSantis said during an interview on “Sunday Morning Futures” with Fox News host Maria Bartiromo.
DeSantis, who told Bartiromo he hopes to sign such a bill in the next legislative session, urged officers in New York, Minneapolis and Seattle to relocate to Florida if their departments do not offer accommodations to those declining the coronavirus vaccine. A spokeswoman with the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late Sunday.
“If you’re not being treated well, we’ll treat you better here,” DeSantis said on Sunday. “You can fill important needs for us, and we’ll compensate you as a result.”
COVID-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths last year, killing at least 182 officers, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, which tracks such deaths, The Post reported. That’s nearly twice the number killed by gun violence and vehicle crashes combined. At least 133 officers have died of COVID-19 so far this year, according to the organization.
The Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit honoring American law enforcement personnel who have died in the line of duty, also reported COVID-19 as the top killer of police officers in 2020 and 2021. “Please get vaccinated,” the organization tweeted in August.
The national Fraternal Order of Police has also urged officers to “seriously consider receiving the vaccine to protect themselves and others from becoming seriously ill,” although its president, Patrick Yoes, has said the organization “vehemently opposes” mandates from any organization, employer or government agency.
A spokesperson for the organization did not immediately respond to a message from The Post seeking comment on DeSantis’s announcement.
DeSantis has opposed vaccine and mask mandates throughout the pandemic. He banned Florida school districts from requiring students to wear masks and last week called for a special legislative session in Florida to block federal vaccine requirements.
“Nobody should lose their job based off these injections,” DeSantis said on Sunday.
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The Washington Post’s Mark Berman contributed to this report.