In Brief

N.J. top cop notes COVID-related deaths among police as unions continue anti-mandate push

By: - September 14, 2021 6:27 am

State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said vaccine reluctance is a factor. (Courtesy of New Jersey State Police)

An earlier version of this story said New Jersey experienced a spate of COVID-19-related deaths among police officers in the last week, citing State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan’s comments at a Monday press briefing. The New Jersey State Police clarified Tuesday to say Callahan was referencing nationwide deaths.

There was a spate of virus-related deaths among police officers last week as law enforcement unions in some corners of the state fight to head off vaccine mandates, State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said at Monday’s virus briefing.

Twenty-three police officers at varying levels of government died last week, Callahan said., and 22 of the deaths appear related to COVID-19. The New Jersey State Police said Tuesday afternoon Callahan was speaking about nationwide figures, not those specific to New Jersey.

The current 7-day moving average of new deaths in the United States is 1,077, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I do think the reluctance to get vaccinated has contributed,” he said, adding, “I don’t think I could land on any other conclusion there.”

Police unions locally and nationwide have emerged as fierce opponents of vaccine mandates enacted as COVID-19 cases continue their Delta variant-fueled climb.

Unions in Wayne and Newark launched legal challenges to local vaccine mandates, and while those bids were unsuccessful in blocking immunization requirements, the Public Employment Relations Commission has ordered certain provisions of the policies be negotiated, like discipline for non-compliance.

The mandates vary. Wayne’s order allows employees to forgo vaccination but requires they mask and submit negative COVID-19 tests on a weekly basis. Newark’s mandate does not include a testing option.

Reached by phone, John Barrows, president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Wayne chapter, declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the union’s legal fight. Asked about matters unrelated to that action, he abruptly ended the call.

It’s not clear how many of the state’s police officers have been vaccinated, nor is it apparent that the vehement opposition seen in Wayne and Newark extends across the state. Newark officers joined firefighters and other New Jersey public union workers to protest the city’s mandate last week, chanting, “My body, my choice.”

Top officials at three other police unions — the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, and the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police — did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Law enforcement officials were among the first groups to become eligible for vaccination, trailing only health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.