Op-Ed: Top Cops Fighting COVID Vaccine Mandates Are A Public Health Crisis

Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Cecil Rhambo takes Sheriff Alex Villanueva to task over his stance on COVID

One out of every 500 Americans has lost their life to COVID-19. And yet across the U.S., defiance against vaccine mandates stands in the way of our communities moving beyond the threat of coronavirus. This troubling trend seems to be particularly true for law enforcement officials and other first responders, many of whom are being encouraged by their leaders.

While no one wants to be enforcing mandates, the reality is that over the past 18 months, we have been confronting a deadly virus that has killed millions of people across the globe. The science is clear: the best way to prevent COVID-19 deaths, protect lives, and keep our first responders and the people we serve as healthy as possible is to get vaccinated.

This issue is extremely personal to me. My biological father, who I was only recently able to establish a relationship with, was one of many who died from this horrible virus. In between his two vaccination shots, my dad came down with COVID-19 and died within the week. I was heartbroken and shocked by the speed the virus killed him.

I recognize the skepticism some officers may have, as there are a variety of reasons why someone may be resistant to the vaccine, but it’s incredibly frustrating and genuinely infuriating how the issue is being politicized by bad-faith people in positions of power who encourage them to refuse to comply with the law. The science is clear; the best scientists in the world agree that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

This is especially critical given that studies show that COVID has become the leading cause of death among law enforcement personnel over the last two years. I’ve been to funerals of fallen officers who lost their lives due to COVID-19, and I know many other top law enforcement officials have too. That experience alone seeing the grieving families should influence them to urge rank-and-file officers to take vaccines. It’s clearly the best way to keep the public, and deputies, safe.

While I can’t testify to the intensity of the opposition in each department’s ranks, some of the threats seem to be greatly exaggerated. In L.A. County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva is, without evidence, threatening a “mass exodus” of officers due to the county’s vaccine mandate, even ignorantly claiming that he doesn’t believe Sheriff’s deputies have transmitted COVID to the public because there has been no concrete evidence of it.

In New York City, police unions warned that vaccine mandates would pull around 10,000 officers off streets, but when push came to shove and officers were informed about the benefits of the vaccine, only 34 officers elected to be placed on leave rather than get vaccinated.

Vaccination and mask mandates, like seatbelts and helmets, are public safety measures that save lives and must be treated as such. If the number one job of law enforcement officials is to keep people safe, then deputies should be encouraged by their leader to follow the public health mandate, not to defy a safety protocol.

If officers were overwhelmingly dying from gunfire, car accidents or literally anything else and a solution was out there that could greatly reduce fatalities, top officials would be demanding that we implement these common-sense safety measures. But for some reason when it comes to COVID-19 and the vaccine, protecting the lives of officers and the public are no longer a priority. It’s incomprehensibly irrational and betrays the oath we take as officers.

At the end of the day, self-serving top cops like Alex Villanueva should not be leading their officers down a path where they might compromise their health or their lives. And as unvaccinated individuals are more likely to spread COVID-19, frontline workers like law enforcement officers that interact with the public often put more people in harm’s way. Law enforcement leaders can either assist their deputies in this problematic thinking and lead them in a direction that could potentially lead to their death, or stand with experts and policymakers to help bring an end to the pandemic.

As Sheriff, I’ll not only lead by example and encourage officers to get vaccinated, but also work to ensure officers are taking the necessary steps to enforce mandates throughout the County.

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