Several law enforcement agencies across the country are requiring their officers to get vaccinated. But Tennessee is spreading a different message.
In a new ad, Gov. Bill Lee says cops from New York to Los Angeles are welcome in his state, regardless of their vaccine status. He notes there’s a low cost of living and no income tax, and he says the Tennessee Highway Patrol will even cover their moving expenses. Plus, Lee says the state won’t get in between officers and their doctors.
“In Tennessee, you’ll be given our full support and respect, and I’ll work to make sure your freedoms are protected,” the governor says. “We stand with our law enforcement, and we’ll stand with you, too. If you’re looking for America at its best, come to Tennessee.”
There’s no national data on law enforcement vaccination rates, but many officers have threatened to quit rather than get the shot. Multiple unions have also challenged mandates in court.
That’s even though COVID-19 is the leading cause of on-duty deaths for officers. More than 500 police have died from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks line of duty deaths. About 100 have died from shootings during the same time period.
At the Metro Nashville Police Department, there’s no mandate. But Chief John Drake says he’s asked everyone to get vaccinated.
“I took my vaccination. I made it public,” he said during a public Zoom call with the Urban League of Middle Tennessee earlier this week. “I want to lead by example. I didn’t want to ask them to do something that I wasn’t doing myself.”
Nashville Fraternal Order of Police President James Smallwood has said on Twitter that the vaccine works and that the union is encouraging officers to get it. However, he added that “it is a personal decision they should make after consulting with their physician” and called mandates “wrong on every level!”
The governor’s new offer only applies to the state highway patrol, which has also declined to require vaccines. The agency has come under scrutiny for its attitude toward the virus, after Trooper Harvey Briggs was arrested for yanking a mask off a protester’s face during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the summer of 2020. The trooper’s captain said he had embarrassed the department, and Briggs was ultimately fired.
Now, THP is offering moving costs, full benefits, a car, free uniforms and free training to qualified applicants, including those who have to leave other departments because they haven’t gotten the shot.
Florida has taken a similar approach. Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis — also an outspoken critic of vaccine mandates — announced that unvaccinated officers could come to the state and get a $5,000 bonus.