COVID-19 was the leading cause of law enforcement deaths in the first six months of 2021, higher than the next two top causes combined, according to a report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The report states that 71 officers died nationwide in the first six months of the year as a result of contracting the coronavirus while executing official duties. That marks a 7 percent decrease compared to 2020, when 76 officers died of COVID-related causes during the first half of the year and no vaccines were available.
“However, this would still make COVID-19 related fatalities the single highest cause of law enforcement deaths occurring in the first six months of 2021,” the report released this summer states.
Last year, COVID-19 killed more officers in the line of duty than any other cause. Out of the 295 officers who died in 2020, 182 were COVID-related deaths, according to data from the memorial fund.
But even as the Delta variant surges around the country, some police departments are struggling to get employees vaccinated against COVID-19. While 75.7 percent of adults in the United States have had at least one dose and nearly 65 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, police departments in New York and Los Angeles are reported to have substantially lower rates of vaccination.
Just 51 percent of the Los Angeles Police Department had been vaccinated as of Aug. 31, according to the Associated Press. And “an estimated 47 percent” of the New York City Police Department had been fully vaccinated under NYPD-administered programs as of Aug. 24, according to Time magazine, though that does not include those who may have been vaccinated outside of work. (The NYPD does not require its employees to self-report their vaccine status.)
“Despite the deaths, police officers and other first responders are among those most hesitant to get the vaccine and their cases continue to grow,” the Associated Press reported. No national statistics for COVID-19 vaccination rates among first responders are available.
The Boston Police Department does not have current vaccination statistics available, according to Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman.
Back in March, the Globe reported that roughly 30 percent of the Massachusetts State Police had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 at department-run clinics, despite being among the first groups eligible for the shot. But it’s possible that some of those employees got the vaccine elsewhere, such as through the military or at community clinics.
“We have not held any clinics since that time, so our numbers are about the same,” State Police spokesman Dave Procopio wrote in an e-mail to the Globe last Monday. “Our rate is approximately 70 percent vaccinated at MSP clinics. (I believe sworn personnel are just a point or so under that and civilian personnel a shade above that, for an average of about 70.) We do know anecdotally that some members did receive vaccines through the military or community clinics, but do not have that number.”
In Watertown, 85 percent of the city’s police department is vaccinated, according to Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn.
One local community has ensured high vaccination among its officers by requiring the shot. In Norwood, Chief William G. Brooks III issued an order mandating the 60 officers in his department get vaccinated by Aug. 31.
“We only had a few officers who were not vaccinated,” Brooks said in a telephone interview last week. “They had a few concerns, and we had some good one-on-one conversations.”
Before issuing the order on Aug. 13, Brooks also met with the police unions to discuss the topic. In the end, only one officer in the Norwood Police Department sought an exemption from the vaccine requirement. The rest agreed to get vaccinated.
“I was very happy about that,” Brooks said.
In Cambridge, police officers are not required to be vaccinated but the city has “had strong rates,” according to Jeremy Warnick, a department spokesman.
As of March 18, 80 percent of the Cambridge Police Department’s sworn staff and 89 percent of its professional staff had been fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine, he said.
“We have an officer who also serves as a part-time nurse at Mount Auburn Hospital, and he was an instrumental internal resource in the early stages, as he made himself available addressing any questions and concerns,” Warnick said in an e-mail to the Globe.
Traffic-related fatalities were the second-highest cause of law enforcement deaths in the first half of the year, followed by firearms-related deaths.
According to the preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 38 officers died from traffic-related causes, such as vehicle collisions, motorcycle crashes, and being struck while working, and 28 were shot and killed during the first six months of the year. Ten officers died from health-related illnesses (such as heart attacks and strokes); three officers were beaten to death; three drowned; and two were stabbed to death, the report states.
The report says that a total of 155 federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers died in the line of duty from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2021, which marks a 10 percent increase from the same period in 2020.
“The 155 line-of-duty deaths are on a pace to exceed the 295 law enforcement fatalities recorded in 2020, which was the second highest total on record,” the report states. “At this rate, officer line-of-duty deaths could near the 1930 toll of 312 fatalities, which is the most ever recorded by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in a single year.”
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.