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Cops must roll up their sleeves to protect themselves and the public

Vaccine resistant cops and their union chiefs, including Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, continue to violate both scientific common sense and fundamental ethical norms.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot along with city commissioners give reporters an update on the COVID-19 vaccination reporting for city workers including Chicago police officers, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot along with city commissioners give reporters an update on the COVID-19 vaccination reporting for city workers including Chicago police officers, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As the number of preventable COVID-19 cases continues to rise, one group of unvaccinated hold-outs has dug in, apparently even if it means losing their lives. Close to 500 police officers in the country have died from coronavirus since the pandemic began. That number is five times the number of officers killed by gunfire.

So far this year, 231 cops have died from complications related to COVID-19. Let’s be clear — it is statistically nearly-certain that none of these officers were vaccinated. They did not have to die. Despite this, police chiefs and union leaders, including Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, continue to double down on anti-science, anti-public health, and antisocial anti-vaccination stances.

Catanzara took to Facebook to encourage his rank and file to defy the vaccine mandate, which went into effect last week. In the video, he parroted the vacuous claims of anti-vaccine misinformation campaigns, reiterating his view that vaccination requirements are some kind of “overreach.”

Catanazara is misinforming his members. He fails to understand both how well COVID-19 vaccines work and that he and his members have an ethical duty to be vaccinated.

It is unclear if he understands that the vaccines are 99.9% effective at preventing death by COVID-19, that billions of people have been safely vaccinated, and that the shots have been subject of the most robust safety research in public health history. Certainly, Catanazara must not recognize the fact that vaccination also significantly reduces the severity of illness and greatly eliminates the chance of viral spread.

Some of his officers may think they don’t need a shot since they had coronavirus or were likely exposed to it. But doctors know that vaccines provide much better immunity than an infection for police officers, their families and the people they work with.

It is also unclear if Catanazara recognizes he is encouraging his members to violate the most basic ethical obligations they have as police officers. Police officers are duty-bound to safeguard lives; we entrust cops with the right to use force to protect members of our community.

In 1829, Sir Walter Peel of London’s Metropolitan Police Department formulated a set of nine ethical principles. These Peelian principles have served as the basis for policing codes of ethics and created the foundation of modern policing. Themes of community trust and engagement have been reflected in police mission statements for two centuries in democratic countries as a result.

Most notably, Peel recognized that the existence of the police is dependent upon public approval and the ability to secure and maintain public respect . Officers are obligated to preserve public respect, not by “catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law” . Community policing strategy and policy have cited the historic tradition that the “police are the public and the public are the police”.

We are now witnessing the continued erosion of ethical policing by FOP leaders who reject time honored Peelian principles by denying science and recklessly placing their members’ and the public’s health at risk.

Vaccine resistant cops and their union chiefs continue to violate both scientific common sense and fundamental ethical norms. It is now up to mayors and police chiefs to enforce vaccination requirements.

Last week, a judge ordered Catanazara to temporarily stop using social media to encourage his members to defy the city’s mandate to enter their vaccine status on the city’s online data portal.

And earlier this week, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said 21 sworn officers have been placed on no-pay status for refusing to report their vaccination status.

That’s a start.

Chicago police have “we serve and protect” painted on their patrol cars. If they mean it, they ought to get vaccinated.

Dominic Sisti, PhD is a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. Cyndi Rickards, EdD is a criminologist at Drexel University. Arthur Caplan, PhD is a bioethics professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.