When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s public employees would be mandated to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of October or be placed on unpaid leave, the New York Police Department’s union threw a fit.
“10,000 cops set to be pulled from streets,” they lamented in an exaggerated press release over the mandate last week. The union then claimed that the officers’ removal would be dangerous, despite no evidence that more police lead to more safety; for many people, police interactions lead to further danger and even death.
As the deadline passed this week, however, nowhere near the union’s projected 10,000 unvaccinated police were pulled from the streets. Instead, only 34 were placed on unpaid leave.
With a total of about 35,000 uniformed officers on the force, that means that less than 0.14 percent of the uniformed force went on leave. The numbers were similarly insignificant for civilian staff, with only 40 out of about 17,000 officers going on leave this week, according to the police commissioner.
The fact that such a negligible number of officers were placed on leave due to the mandate, even after the union had made such dire threats, is revealing for two reasons: It indicates that the vaccine mandate was largely successful in swaying officers to get vaccinated, and it showcases that cops lie or exaggerate in attempts to avoid consequences or compliance with the rules.
The union said last week that 10,000 cops were unvaccinated, or about 29 percent of the force. This week, the commissioner announced that about 85 percent of staff are vaccinated, with others claiming or awaiting exemptions — meaning that the number of unvaccinated staff is now down to about 15 percent.
Although there has been widespread opposition from cops to getting vaccinated, the commissioner’s statistic means that since the vaccine mandate went into place, the city’s police are no longer vaccinated at a lower rate than the rest of the population; now, their vaccination rate is about on par with the rest of the city’s adults.
Taking both the union’s and the commissioner’s statistics at face value, that would mean that about 14 percent of NYPD’s officers — or 4,900 officers — were vaccinated over just the course of a few days, before the mandate’s deadline kicked in on Monday.
Of course, as police and prison abolitionists have noted many times over the years, not only do police lie, it’s also an indispensable element of police culture to do so. Police are legally allowed to and trained to lie, often to push a narrative that they favor, to reinforce their racist preconceptions, or to avoid facing consequences for enacting brutality and violence.
In this case, the union’s exaggerated fearmongering bolstered the widespread — and disproven — conservative narrative that the COVID vaccine and associated mandates are a form of government control, or one step on the way to authoritarianism. Instead, vaccine mandates are about protecting everyone in the U.S., especially those most vulnerable to the virus, and it is police and the right wing who are the servants of authoritarianism.
Vaccine mandates have not ushered in an unprecedented era of authoritarianism nationwide; instead, they have largely been successful in getting a larger portion of the population vaccinated. Overall, only about 9,000 New York City employees out of about 378,000 were placed on administrative leave on Monday, with 12,000 people granted religious or medical exemptions. This means that 91 percent of the workers had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine by Monday.
De Blasio said that he’s optimistic that those who chose not to get vaccinated may still be compelled by the mandate. “Now, remember at any hour, any of those 9,000 can say, wait a minute, I’m willing to get vaccinated and come back, and we saw over the weekend, a lot of that happening, thousands of people changing their mind coming back,” he said.
Meanwhile, even some of the most vaccine-hesitant people have been getting their shots because of various government and corporate mandates.