September 4, 2021

Where is the sense of urgency about COVID deaths of police officers?


Dear PERF Members,

I received a lot of comments from my column last week about the unrelenting loss of cops’ lives because of COVID-19. 

The more I think about this, the more upset I get, because I’m just not seeing the sense of urgency that this issue needs.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear about the tragedies that are unfolding in police departments and sheriffs’ offices around the country.

Some of the national police groups seem to have been silent on COVID. Others provide information and mildly encourage officers to consider vaccinations. Many local police unions are challenging vaccine mandates. But a growing number of police chiefs are endorsing vaccine mandates as a way of saving the lives of officers and professional staff.   

Why don’t we stand together, and put aside our differences to save cops’ lives? If there ever was a time to stand together, now is the time. 

Take a look at this chart, with data from the Officer Down Memorial Page, which shows that COVID deaths outnumber all other line-of-duty deaths combined. 

Of all the 613 line-of-duty deaths in 2020-21, 374 deaths – that’s 61 percent – were due to COVID-19:

  2020 2021
Total Line of Duty Deaths 371 242
9/11 related illness 14 1
Aircraft accident 1 0
Assault  1 4
Automobile crash 19 15
COVID19 242 132
Drowned 4 4
Duty related illness 5 2
Gunfire 45 39
Gunfire (Inadvertent) 5 1
Heart attack  7 12
Heatstroke 1 0
Motorcycle crash  4 3
Stabbed 0 3
Struck by vehicle  8 10
Training accident  0 1
Vehicle pursuit  2 0
Vehicular assault  13 15


So it’s no wonder the Officer Down Memorial Page has a banner headline across the top of its website, saying:

“COVID is the #1 killer of LEOs in 2020 and 2021. 

Getting vaccinated is just as important as wearing your vest and your seatbelt. 

Don't wait any longer… Please get vaccinated today to protect yourself, your family, and your fellow officers.”

Over the past week, I received many thoughtful comments from PERF members about the need for police chiefs and police union leaders to look for common ground on vaccine mandates. Some chiefs are taking steps to increase vaccinations in their departments.  Here is what we heard from a number of folks who wrote to me.


First, I heard from John Camper, director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. John expects that his employees will soon be required by the state either to get a COVID vaccine or to receive COVID testing twice a week.  He told me he agrees that this is a safety issue, and he was drafting a message to his officers and professional staff about it.

“What kind of Chief would I be if I didn’t put citizen and officer safety at the very top of my priority list?” he asked. "What kind of Chief would I be if I didn’t equip my officers with the tactical training and weaponry that they need to face the dangers of increasingly high-risk calls?  If I didn’t mandate that my officers wear ballistic vests to protect themselves, despite the cost and the hassle and the discomfort?  Knowing that suicide kills more officers every year than felonious assault, what kind of Chief would I be if I didn’t do all in my power to develop and encourage Peer Support, and contract with professional psychological services?”  

“Knowing that COVID-19 killed more cops last year than all other causes combined, to include traffic accidents and being shot, what kind of Chief would I be if I didn’t consider it to be the singular most critical Officer Safety issue of our time?" 

John went on to say, "I support those who have legitimate and heartfelt medical and religious reasons for not getting vaccinated.  For all others, I know I’m supposed to be gracious and say that I support your decision not to be vaccinated, but frankly I don’t.  What kind of Chief would I be if I did?"


Next, I heard from Norwood, MA Chief Bill Brooks, who set an example and publicly received a vaccine way back on January 11.  

Recently, on August 13, Bill issued an order requiring his officers to receive vaccinations by August 31. The order provided that any officer who wished to apply for an exemption based on medical or religious grounds had to submit a request in writing, “along with sufficient documentation to support the request.”

“I only had a handful who were hesitant, each, it seems, for different reasons,” Bill told me. “Obviously, I started by notifying the union of my intent and sitting down with them. I have a very good working relationship with both unions (superior officers and patrol/detectives). They raised several issues. They asked what would happen if someone got sick as a result of a side effect of the vaccine. So I told them that anyone getting vaccinated from this point on would be given the following shift off without asking, and without it being charged to their sick leave or vacation leave.”

“Currently, I have one officer who is pursuing a medical exemption,” Bill added. “The others are all getting their shots.”

Bill made another point: This isn’t just about officer safety; it’s about public safety.  “The week before the order was issued, I was making my rounds on foot patrol talking to people, and three times, senior citizens asked me if our officers were vaccinated,” Bill said. “It struck me that they were concerned that if they called 911, an officer who was infected might respond. So it became very clear to me that the public was concerned about this issue.”

“In the end,” Bill concluded, “I told the officers that the order was in the interest of their health and safety, the health and safety of their families, and the health and safety of the public. And they really have been great about it.”


I also heard from Los Angeles Chief Michel Moore, who said that vaccines are simply “the right thing to do.”  

Mike forwarded me a message that the LAPD’s Chief Police Psychologist, Dr. Edrick H. Dorian, is sending to LAPD employees. Excerpts below:

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late…

Some of our most prominent conversations in the Department center around the impending mandates for vaccination… We at Behavioral Science Services have witnessed an extraordinary amount of personal suffering, fear, and guilt over the past many months. These stories are often not publicly shared, as they involve feelings of embarrassment and shame, coupled with fears of judgment and ridicule about the consequences of coronavirus-related choices and behaviors. 

If you have not vaccinated by now, … it is OK to change your mind, if only because you want to protect others’ safety or because you do not want to jeopardize your livelihood. Getting vaccinated now is an easy way to remove one major area of worry for your family.

If you think you will be judged for getting the vaccine, the unvaccinated who became ill when vaccines were widely available will tell you that the alternative is often much worse. You have a choice. Don’t wait until it’s too late…please vaccinate. 

Two of the greatest points of pride for officers are in exercising good judgment and being among the few in society who are trained in, and committed to, protecting safety. When we know that vaccines are effective, immediately available, and a form of invisible body armor against serious illness or death, it is tough to look back with regret.


I also heard from Volusia County, FL Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who told me about 37-year-old Daytona Beach Officer Adam Webb. Mike hired Adam when he was chief in Daytona Beach. Adam was an enthusiastic young man who got along with everyone. Three weeks ago, he got sick and was put on a ventilator, and he died on Wednesday.  

We know that many of these deaths are preventable. That is the tragedy. 

Every day, we see new heart-wrenching stories

As of September 3, there have been 622 deaths of officers from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the FOP. (The counts from various organizations differ slightly, because some are based on news media accounts, some include professional staff and others do not, etc.)

According to the FOP’s count, Texas has had more officers killed by COVID than any other state, with 143 fatalities, followed by California (56) and Florida (56).

In last week’s Trending, I noted that the pace of deaths of officers seem to have been accelerating in recent weeks. PERF found news media stories about 31 officers dying in the 11-day period of August 16-26. An online search found more COVID fatalities since August 27:

If you click on the news stories above, you’ll find they’re difficult to read.  Officer Weiskopf’s widow, speaking to approximately 100 family members and police officers at his funeral, said, “This was not Mike’s time. He made a risky decision not to vaccinate. I promise you, [the COVID virus] is grueling, dangerous, and it will destroy you.” 

Perhaps the saddest recent story was that of Officer Castro in Overland Park, if only because he was only 23 years old. This young man spent 35 days on a ventilator, suffering multiple heart attacks and strokes, before the virus finally killed him.   

Overland Park Chief Frank Donchez, announcing this tragic death, said that Mr. Castro first expressed interest in becoming a police officer before he was 21, so he was invited to become a civilian motorist assist officer until he could apply to be a police officer. He eagerly took that offer, and received letters and commendations about the great job that he did, such as helping a paraplegic man whose van had broken down on an Interstate to get back home.

“To lose such a bright young man with such a future ahead of him….,” Chief Donchez said. “He always had a smile on his face, because he loved what he was doing. He loved being a police officer. He couldn’t wait to be one, he loved being one, and it just breaks my heart to have to come and tell you that Freddie has passed today.” 

As I said last week, it’s a plain fact that vaccines, and vaccine mandates, will save the lives of many police officers. What makes me hopeful is that PERF has great leaders who step up when we’re most challenged.  Chief Brooks, Chief Camper and Chief Moore are showing how leadership can make a difference.

Weekend Clips are below.