COVID-19 made up 62% of the 295 duty-related law enforcement deaths reported in 2020 to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s database, which tracks law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty, according to a new University at Buffalo study.
The study, published last month in Police: an international magazinealso found that COVID-19 is responsible for 82% of deaths among black law enforcement members and 77% of deaths among Latino police officers, much higher than the 48% of deaths among white police officers.
These numbers are consistent with CDC data that found race and ethnicity to be risk markers for higher COVID-19 mortality rates, along with socioeconomic status, access to health care and exposure to the virus associated with an individual’s occupation.
John Violante, PhD, the study’s first author and professor of epidemiology, said that while the study specifically looked at COVID-19 deaths among law enforcement members in 2020, there are important lessons for police and other first responder organizations moving forward. and Environmental Health in the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Buffalo.
It is the first study to examine law enforcement deaths from COVID-19 nationally, demonstrating the prevalence of the COVID risk that officers face in their work.
Furthermore, Violanti says, COVID has proven to be another source of stress for a professional group already facing many stressors affecting job performance and overall health. (Fire shots, car accidents, and physical stress were among the leading causes of death among law enforcement agencies other than COVID-19.)
“The study’s finding that the majority of law enforcement deaths in 2020 were from COVID-19 reveals the additional danger that law enforcement faces during this pandemic,” added Violante, a retired New York State soldier and expert on police stress.
“Law enforcement has consistently exposed to disease and has been tasked with helping others with prevention and treatment. The study should urge police and other organizations to make informed decisions about preparing for any future outbreaks,” he said.
COVID-19 has also been reported in deaths among corrections officers, Violanti and co-authors from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported. The researchers wrote that prison overcrowding may be one possible explanation for COVID deaths among corrections officers given that incarcerated people are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their close proximity to each other. Another factor is the alarmingly high rate of corrections officers who refuse to be vaccinated.
The majority of law enforcement officers who died of COVID-19 were men (94%) over the age of 50 (61.6%) with more than 20 years of service (54%) and residing in southern states.
Additionally, the national rate of deaths from COVID-19—12.8/100,000 for law enforcement officers—was higher than for all other causes of death combined, at 8.0/100,000.
Given the complexity of personal exposure to COVID-19, researchers suggest that the percentage of service-attributed COVID deaths may actually be higher or lower.
While this particular study looked only at law enforcement officers, the results suggest that other first responders, such as firefighters and EMTs, may also be disproportionately affected, the researchers note.
“To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that organizations implement multiple layers of controls including vaccinations, wearing masks, social distancing, and increased ventilation in situations where police, first responders, and other vulnerable workers are likely to be in contact lengthy and close with the audience.”
Study finds that more active-duty police officers died of COVID-19 in 2020 than all other causes combined
John M. Police: an international magazine (2022). DOI: 10.1108 / PIJPSM-02-2022-0022
Provided by University at Buffalo
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