COVID-19 2021 was the deadliest year for law enforcement across the country in nearly a century, according to a new preliminary report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The report found that 301 of the 458 officers who died on duty last year died from the virus, increasing deaths from the virus by 65% in 2020. That made COVID-19 the leading cause of death for officers. above everything else.
“I think the numbers are staggering when you look at 458 officers who died on the job, 301 [of them] COVID deaths,” said Troy Anderson, executive director of the office for safety and wellbeing at NLEOMF. “There are a number of COVID deaths from law enforcement agencies across the country that have yet to be reported. And so we take it in almost every day.”
NLEOMF reports annually on law enforcement deaths, and the 2021 report identified COVID-19 as the leading cause of death.
“The number was, I think, a shock to many, and I think that number will unfortunately continue to rise,” Anderson said.
According to the preliminary report, Florida is in the top seven states with high officer deaths from COVID. The virus killed 43 of the 52 officers, affecting agencies such as the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
“We lost a law enforcement officer who was only 32 years old and in excellent physical condition. He was very healthy, he had no underlying problems and he died as a result of COVID,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Sheriff Judd said officers don’t shy away from that risk.
“We need to move forward and protect and save lives and serve people and come face to face with them directly. If someone with COVID has a sudden death, we don’t give them CPR directly because it’s the right choice to do,” said Judd, adding that the agency also has COVID protocols in place.
Some law enforcement industry leaders, such as Anderson, said the report shows that something needs to change.
“It’s not just the law enforcement community that needs to pause and look at these numbers. It should be society as a whole,” Anderson said. “And while law enforcement is looking at this, they should stop and say, ‘What else can we do to push these numbers in a different direction? Because right now they’re going in the wrong direction.”
Sheriff Judd said PCSO has set up vaccine stations for employees and has vaccine education in the office. Judd said he encourages deputies to talk to their doctors about the shot.
“I don’t think as a government official I have the right to tell you how to manage your personal health,” Judd said, “but I strongly encourage the vaccine.”