N.J. Police Unions Still Oppose Vaccine Mandates as 22 Officers Die From COVID Last Week

Twenty-two police officers in New Jersey died from COVID-19 last week as police unions across the state continue their opposition of vaccine mandates.

New Jersey State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said during a virus briefing Monday that last week saw the most officer deaths in a single week years. In total, 23 officers died—22 of the deaths were related to the virus.

While he does not know the vaccination status of the officers who died, he said he believes vaccine hesitancy has played a role.

"I do think the reluctance to get vaccinated has contributed," he said. "I don't think I could land on any other conclusion there."

Police unions have expressed opposition to local vaccine mandates, even as COVID-19 cases in the Garden State rise. In Newark and Wayne—both in the northern part of the state—police unions launched legal challenges to the mandates, according to the New Jersey Monitor.

When the Monitor reached John Barrows, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police's Wayne chapter, he declined to comment on the number of officer-related deaths, citing the nature of the ongoing legal battle, the newspaper reported.

The city of Newark was required to negotiate parts of the vaccine mandate with unions, which have argued that the mandate would violate the state's Employer-Employee Relations Act, the Monitor reported. Newark Fraternal Order of Police President James Stewart Jr. told Tap into Newark, the opposition does not have anything with vaccines themselves, but rather employment conditions.

"This issue is about terms and conditions of employment. It has nothing to do with vaccine pros and cons," he said. "We need to sit across from the table. We need to have meaningful negotiations and try to come to a resolution moving forward."

After Newark Mayor Ras Baraka issued an order requiring city employees to get the vaccine within 30 days in August, both police and firefighter unions protested the decision on September 8.

"This isn't about vaccinations, this is about being bullied, and we're not going to be bullied," International Association of Firefighters General President Edward Kelly said at the protest.

New Jersey has a vaccination rate higher than of the United States as whole, as about 64.5 percent of the state has been fully vaccinated. Still, cases have increased. The state had a seven-day-average of 2,138 new cases per day Monday. Two months earlier, that number was 354, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Newsweek reached out to police unions in Newark and Wayne for comment Tuesday morning but had not heard back by publication. This story will be updated with any response.

Police unions across the country have voiced opposition to vaccine mandates.

The head of the Chicago police union, John Catanzara, compared the city's vaccine mandate to Nazis, saying, "We don't want to be forced to do anything." The police union in Tuscon, Arizona, also sued the city after it passed an ordinance mandating vaccines for all city employees.

New Jersey Police
Twenty-two New Jersey police officers died last week due to COVID-19 as police unions continue to resist vaccine mandates. Here, a police cruiser is seen in Paterson, New Jersey, in November 2017. EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP via Getty Images