Police departments in South Florida are deciding how to get more of their officers vaccinated against COVID-19.
Many officers are hesitant to get the vaccine despite the increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths brought on by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Hospital and health care groups say the spread is largely driven by unvaccinated people.
It’s a sensitive issue within departments. Law enforcement leaders and government officials are thinking about whether to only encourage the vaccine or to require it.
Earlier this summer, NBC 6 reported how many police departments were not even tracking vaccine rates of their officers. Fire and Emergency Services departments usually did track and hovered between 50% and 85% of their employees as vaccinated.
According to a voluntary survey of 2,040 Miami-Dade Police Department employees, 1,075 said they were vaccinated, 516 said they were not, and 449 preferred not to answer.
That vaccination rate is lower for county employees overall. 83% of Miami-Dade County employees who responded to a volunteer survey said they were vaccinated.
The numbers reported on vaccination rates in law enforcement are roughly the same as the population in general, around 60% of the adult population in Florida have been vaccinated.
The Miami-Dade Police Department declined an interview request on the topic.
“We have been working hard for months to make vaccines accessible as possible across Miami-Dade and urging everyone who is eligible to get the shot, including our employees,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said last week as she rolled out a new policy to combat COVID-19.
The county will not mandate the vaccine as of now. However, next week employees not in a union will have to test every week unless they are vaccinated. Then they can opt out.
Employees who are part of a union, including law enforcement, will have a similar policy beginning at an undetermined date pending negotiations with the union.
“I think that education is the most important thing. If we can just educate people more about it we can incentivize people to get the shot,” said Steadman Stahl, president of the South Florida Police Benevolent Association.
Stahl says he received a vaccine and personally hopes everyone gets it. However, the association’s official position is against a vaccine requirement.
“I think people would be a lot more comfortable if it was FDA approved,” said Stahl, “But to force people to do something against their will, I have trouble with that.”
Currently, the vaccine is authorized by the FDA for emergency use.
In the City of Miami, police chief Art Acevedo said he supports requiring vaccines for city officers.
“First of all, let’s be real here. How we made a public health epidemic a political issue is beyond me,” Acevedo told local political consultant Sasha Tirador in an interview on her YouTube channel.
Chief Acevedo told Tirador he was working with Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega on a policy for vaccines.
“I’m telling you right now, a lot of our folks are not vaccinated. And if I get my way in the next couple of weeks we’re going to say you must be vaccinated,” said Acevedo. “Could you imagine a police officer or firefighter coming to your home and giving COVID to your loved one and your loved one dies? How angry would you be?”
The City of Miami announced last week city employees would not have to wear a mask at work if they were vaccinated.
A request for comment on the issue from the Miami Fraternal Order of Police has gone unanswered.
Local leaders are weighing this decision as the military is requiring the vaccine for all service members by the middle of September.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office and its employees union have not yet returned a request for comment.