Study: Coronavirus the leading cause of death for police in 2020

Last year, COVID-19 related fatalities were the highest cause of officer line-of-duty deaths, according to a the 2020 law enforcement officers fatalities report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

There were 264 officers at all levels who died in the line of duty in 2020, which was a 96% increase from the previous year and the most since 1974, according to the report. Of those deaths, there were 145 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the report said.

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State and local leaders said the statistics hammered home what they have stressed for months - vaccinating peace officers should be a priority.

“It must be noted however, as the pandemic rages on, NLEOMF has already identified a significant number of additional Covid-19-related fatalities,” the group said. “Once these cases are confirmed, NLEOMF projects that the total number of Covid-19 fatalities and the total number of line-of-duty deaths will grow significantly.”

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Supporters of law enforcement vaccinations include Ohio Attorney General David Yost, who tweeted recently, ”Ohio we haven’t vaccinated our police. We nee a half time adjustment to fix that.”

Last week, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office mourned the death of Deputy Donald Gilreath III of coronavirus complications. He was a jail service deputy during the pandemic.

On Friday, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he tested positive for COVID-19 and headed home to quarantine. He has been vocal about the need for law enforcement officers to be vaccinated.

Jones said his staff is exposed to the virus daily in the jail and patrolling the streets but hasn’t been vaccinated before employees in other careers.

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“They are not on the first tier, we don’t know when they are going to get it or if there will be any vaccine,” Jones said.

Jones pointed out hospital workers are being vaccinated because “they are close to where the corona is but they are not giving shots to corrections officers or police officers.”

He said he doesn’t understand why those in law enforcement are not considered first responders, a group that has been eligible for vaccines because they provide medial services.

“They arrest people, they stop people, they transport people and all of a sudden they are not supposed to be less in danger than school teachers,” he said.

At age 67, Jones said he will not get the COVID-19 vaccine before his deputies and other police officers are eligible.

In January, Yost set a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine asking him to add law enforcement officers to the list of the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

“CDC guidelines prioritize vaccination for medical first-responders. Certainly, Ohio’s law enforcement officers are medical first-responders,” Yost said in the letter. “Typically, they are first on the scene of an accident, disaster or violent incident and begin administering first aid long before emergency medical personnel are summoned.”

On Thursday, Yost invited citizens to sign a petition Protect our Heroes to urge vaccination of police officers. He told the Journal-News he knows the vaccine distribution is complicated.

“Everyone who wants a vaccine, wants it now, but officers can’t socially distance in their work, they are not allowed to stay at home and shelter in place, they can’t work from home and they seem to me to be people that ought to be at the front of the line or at least in line,” Yost said.

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DeWine defended the decision not include police officers in the first phase of vaccine distribution in a press conference last month, stating law enforcement officers who on average are much younger are at a lower risk of having severe case and would take the opportunity away from older people at higher risk.

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