On Tuesday, around a dozen former Washington State Patrol (WSP) troopers laid their boots and uniform hats on the steps of the Washington State Capitol in memory of those troopers lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wait, you think we mean lost as in died of the virus? We mean they lost or ragequit their jobs after refusing to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s requirement that all state employees get the coronavirus vaccine or otherwise present a valid reason for exemption, such as disability or religion. In other words, they were given the choice of being a cop or an anti-vaxxer and chose the latter.
According to local station KING 5, roughly 127 people who worked for the WSP were fired for failing to provide documentation of vaccination or otherwise left their positions, including 67 officers, six sergeants, one captain, and 53 civilian employees ranging from dispatchers to instructors and administrative staff. A WSP spokesperson, Chris Loftis, told Gizmodo via email that in the last three months, an additional 32 employees had “voluntarily” separated, including 15 resignations and 17 retirements “who listed the mandate as being at least a part of their decision to leave.”
All of the separations were “non-disciplinary,” Loftis added, meaning “their benefit package would be the same as any state employee who separates from employment.” As the WSP employed around 2,200 people, that means a significant percentage of the overall staff, over 5%, is no longer there.
(Loftis said that while departing officers must turn in their badges, the hats are considered disposable personal property that the ex-cops can do with as they wish.)
Some of the troopers, along with corrections workers and a few others, had previously sued the state in an unsuccessful bid to stop the mandate from going into effect. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the country, urged police on Oct. 18 to get vaccinated as “more police officers die of covid than they do in other causes of death.”
WSP appears to be disproportionately represented in the number of Washington state ex-employees, at least as of Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, data released by the state’s Office of Financial Management showed approximately 3%, or 1,887 of roughly 63,000 employees, had left their jobs due to the mandate. (Another 2,887, or 4.6%, were on pending status, meaning they were in the process of requesting an accommodation, planning to retire, are awaiting separation, or are just going to get the vaccine.)
“We’ve lost good people with good hearts,” Loftis told KING 5. “... We’re well prepared to make sometimes large, and quick, and rapid personnel movements. But the reality is, this isn’t an event, this is a situation that goes forward and it’s going to have lasting impacts.”
“It’s like going to the Washington Memorial after we lose one,” 24-year WSP veteran Barbara Werner told KING 5, “because we’ve lost so many.
“What I do with my body is my business,” Werner added. “ It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, and I’m just gonna carry on.”
Another WSP officer, Robert LaMay, went viral with conservatives after recording himself melodramatically signing off via the police dispatch system. LaMay told his colleagues he was “being asked to leave because I am dirty,” adding, “This is the last time you’ll hear me in a state patrol car. And Jay Inslee can kiss my ass.”
According to the Washington Post, LaMay has pushed debunked theories about coronavirus vaccines, such as: “The problem is, we don’t know what this is going to do. Is it sterilizing your daughters? Is it sterilizing your sons? We don’t know.” (We do know this is complete bullshit, though anti-vaxxers are convinced otherwise.) LaMay also says that he and his family “put it up to prayer” as to whether he should get vaccinated and took other job offers he received as God’s answer.
“This is where we’re supposed to be; this is what we’re supposed to do,” LaMay told the Post. “God will provide—you put it in his hands, and he’ll take care of you. That’s basically what he’s been showing.”
In a statement to the Post, Loftis said the troopers were “uniquely dedicated to their profession, so a separation of employment is very emotional and might lead a person to express their frustrations in a less than private or diplomatic manner,” but “we must all remember, covid has hurt everyone in our state and indeed in our country and world.”
Anti-vaxxers and conservatives have vehemently opposed coronavirus vaccine requirements like that in the state of Washington or a forthcoming federal employer mandate from President Joe Biden’s administration that will require large employers and federal contractors to have their employees certify they are vaccinated or take coronavirus tests once a week. A Pew Research Center poll released in September found a clear partisan breakdown on vaccination rates, with 86% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they had received at least one dose of a vaccine by mid-August as opposed to around 60% of Republicans and sympathizers.
Republicans have argued that Biden’s mandate will punish workers and result in large numbers of terminations, but most workers are expected to have received their shots by the time the mandate kicks in. University of Florida researchers wrote for the Conversation late last month that although up to 16% of poll respondents said if “vaccines were required” by their employer, but anecdotal data at companies that have implemented requirements showed that only a relative handful of workers actually follow through. Many workers may also simply be allowed by their employers to opt for weekly tests.
University of Michigan public health professor Ken Resnicow was one of the authors of a study that showed a correlation between belief in conspiracy theories and/or the apocalypse and a person’s willingness to take action against the virus, such as by social distancing, wearing a mask, or getting vaccinated. He told NPR, “Somehow it has morphed into not getting the vaccine as a way to defend their freedom and resist this ‘tyranny. There’s not many countries that have this dynamic.”
“There’s a sensitive issue—that it’s conflated with religion and evangelicalism, and people are scared to touch that third rail,” Resnicow added. “And I think we have to confront how religion and science are now at loggerheads, and that wasn’t always the case.”
The officers and other WSP employees “leave with our appreciation and respect as well as our high hopes for safe and successful futures,” Loftis told Gizmodo. “Covid is definitely a killer and we hope that the mandate is effective in stopping the spread of the disease as the cost of the effort has certainly been very high.”