JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At least eleven first responders in our area have died of COVID-19.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, the coronavirus has killed more law enforcement officers this year than gunfire, car crashes and assaults combined.
“It’s actually an epidemic in our business,” said Stephan Dembinsky, director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams himself recently recovered from a breakthrough case.
“Fortunately, being vaccinated, I think it made the case lighter. You know, down for a few days, but I was able to bounce back quickly,” Williams said.
He said that at the most, about 2% of his officers have been affected by COVID-19 at the same time. Two officers have died.
The sheriff told News4Jax he will be not be issuing any vaccine or mask mandates.
“What we’ve done is allow people, provide them masks if they want one, and we have several people that do on a regular basis,” he said. “But, again, we are going to leave that up to individual officers.”
Clay County has also lost two deputies to the virus.
“We don’t have the option to stay at home,” said Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook. “We have to be out there protecting and serving our communities.”
Cook said that her office is offering gift cards to motivate her deputies to receive the vaccine, but a mandate isn’t in the cards for now.
“I don’t see a mandate in the near future. Maybe in the far future, it could be a condition of employment or something like that,” she said.
The rural Putnam County Sheriff’s Office has not lost any deputies to COVID-19 and isn’t requiring vaccinations. A spokesperson said they screen employees for COVID-19 risks, require officers to wear masks when they have a suspect in their patrol cars, provide rapid tests and offer hazard pay for deputies exposed on the job.
“It’s just encouraging frequent testing, encouraging the protocols, encouraging, you know, the vaccinations,” said Col. Joe Wells with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
Nationally, Jimmy Holderfield, secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police, said FOP agrees with our local law enforcement leaders — despite deaths, the decision to get vaccinated should be left up to officers.
“Certainly, if a law enforcement officers is healthy and it doesn’t violate any of their religious beliefs, we encourage them to be vaccinated,” Holderfield said.
Florida Police Chiefs Association’s provided this statement to News4Jax on its position on vaccinations:
“The FPCA supports the protection of our officers from all the occupational hazards they face on the job and COVID is now the leading cause of line of duty deaths. The FPCA recognizes that getting vaccinated is a personal decision and encourages all law enforcement officers to consult their physician so they can make the best decision to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
Williams and Wells said their agencies do not keep track of how many officers and deputies are vaccinated against COVID-19.