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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

If cops need sidearms, why not jabs?

A Suffolk Police officer gets a COVID-19 vaccine

A Suffolk Police officer gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Stony Brook University in December 2020. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Since the omicron version of the COVID virus surfaced late last month, 90% of everything written about it seems to simply list what we don’t know.

That’s par for the COVID course, and at this point few of us would be surprised to read "Epidemiologists aren’t certain whether the new variant means the end of human civilization, or widespread sniffles. They are divided between the cautiously optimistic, the incautiously pessimistic and the emotionally shattered."

But as of Wednesday, the best guess was that omicron spreads much faster and more easily than earlier variants. It may cause serious illness less frequently than earlier variants, and while data suggests that a two-shot regimen prevents debilitating illness and death, it may demand a booster to prevent infection.

As our understanding of omicron improves, more vaccination mandates are considered and issued. And as with any seriously unpopular movement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is at the forefront.

Monday, de Blasio announced a vaccine mandate for private-sector employees. On Oct. 20, he’d mandated that city employees, including cops and firefighters, have their first shot by Oct. 29 to keep working.

Both rules are under siege in court, with hearings scheduled on the employee mandates next week, but with cops and firefighters, de Blasio’s move has largely done its thing: At this point between 85% and 90% of city employees have complied, and the others have either filed for a religious or medical exemption or quit.

But on Long Island, neither county has required vaccination for police officers. County executives have not spoken in favor of mandates, and the police commissioners have deferred to county executives. Union leaders mostly say it’s a personal choice, and fighting such mandates has become a hot cause with the Island’s right-wing activists.

But there isn’t much "personal choice" in policing. The uniform, the hours, the duties, the rules of engagement, fitness standards, gathering evidence, how cops drive, how they shoot, what they carry …it’s nearly all mandatory.

Including, for instance, the hepatitis vaccinations the Nassau department began mandating a decade ago, with no resistance.

Many policing leaders have said they think vaccinations for cops are a personal choice.

That, in many ways, is no different than arguing that whether or not to carry a firearm should be a personal choice for officers.

Imagine the argument, in a nutshell: "Sarge, I’ll be a lot safer and my fellow officers will be a lot safer if I don’t carry a sidearm. I feel carrying a gun makes it more likely that someone will shoot me, and more likely that I’ll shoot an innocent bystander or another officer. I’m just not comfortable with the risk. It escalates everything. And if my preference is not enough, I’ll take a religious exemption from carrying a firearm based on the biblical commandment "Thou shalt not kill."

But most Blue backers who argue vaccination is a personal choice would not think the same about cops carrying sidearms.

Over the past two years COVID has killed far more police officers in the United States than any other cause, with about 650 deaths so far, 50 of them in New York. Both the Suffolk and Nassau departments have lost officers.

And if gun violence had killed 650 cops and 780,000 people in the United States over the past two years, departmental directives meant to keep officers and civilians safe would be issued. And following them would not, for cops, be a matter of personal choice.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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