COVID-19 has become the No. 1 cop killer

Law enforcement leaders are trying to convince their staffs to get vaccinated as more and more officers get sick with COVID-19 and die. South Florida recently lost five of them.

MIAMI – COVID-19 has been the number one killer of law enforcement officers in 2020 and 2021 to date, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks line-of-duty deaths.

In South Florida alone, five officers were recently lost in just one week.

“It is the most important officer safety issue of our lifetime,” said Miami Police Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar, who is among the leadership pushing for police to get vaccinated.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund says they are witnessing a continued increase in COVID deaths with more and more cases coming in every day. The organization says more officers are lost to COVID in the line of duty than any other cause combined, including gunfire.

The National Fraternal Order of Police is encouraging members to get vaccinated, as infectious disease experts say officers are at a clear risk with the delta variant continues coursing through our communities.

“These are people who are on the frontlines,” said Dr. Aileen Marty of Florida International University. “Their work is a real occupational exposure for COVID-19.

“As in all cases with COVID, primarily the unvaccinated have the highest risk.”

[RELATED LINK: Fallen Officers From the COVID-19 Pandemic]

Florida State Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Jenkins was hospitalized with complications of COVID-19 over the weekend, the lodge confirmed, saying he is “expected to make a full recovery.”

“President Jenkins was vaccinated, however, the very nature of his job requires his interaction with a large number of Law Enforcement Officers on a daily basis and he has unfortunately become one of the few breakthrough cases of COVID-19,” the FOP’s first vice president said in a statement.

Back in April 2020, Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy Shannon Bennett was the first South Florida officer to die of COVID-19.

Back then, there was no vaccine. Now there is.

But that doesn’t mean all officers have taken advantage of that protection.

“COVID-19 has been devastating for law enforcement,” Aguilar said. “Many people in my profession have not taken the time to take a look at what is most likely to make them lose their life in the line of duty. We think about being shot in the line of duty, but what we really want to do is get our first responders to think about COVID.”

While the Miami Police Department has not lost an officer to COVID, Aguilar said they are encouraging employees to get the shot — and to rely on reliable sources of information when doing their research.

[RELATED LINK: Law enforcement fatalities broken down by state]

“There are times where social distancing where makes wearing just isn’t enough,” he said. “Officers do eventually have to make arrests get within that 6-foot or 3-foot gap and put hands on someone. We have to help people who are undergoing medical emergencies. We have to investigate crime scenes where we are in someone’s home and we don’t know the COVID status of the people in those homes.

“So the best defense is a great offense in getting fully vaccinated to make sure we don’t become victims ourselves, and if we do that, we don’t end up being one of the fatal cases.”

As of Thursday, of the Miami police force’s 1,800 sworn and civilian workforce, 678 people have had at some point tested positive for COVID-19 and 71 are currently positive.

“We are looking at everything from incentivizing [vaccines] to mandating to encouraging as we are doing right now,” Aguilar said. “Just hoping that they will do the right thing for themselves for their families for the public that they serve. We are one of the professions that even during the early days of COVID-19 did not go home. No matter what happens, we are out there we are out in the community we are getting exposed to other people and we are potentially exposing the people we are sworn to serve. It is our responsibility to make sure that we are not ourselves spreading COIVD-19, not bringing it home to our families, and inadvertently harming other people that we are sworn to protect.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."