Alarmed over the skyrocketing number of covid-19 infections and deaths at its meatpacking plants, Tyson Foods in August mandated that all employees — from executives to workers on the kill floor — be vaccinated. The union representing meatpackers at first expressed some concerns, but it sat down with the company and reached an agreement. The company offered some new benefits, including paid sick leave, and the union supported the requirement for vaccines.

Contrast that responsible stewardship of the interests of its members with the opposition to vaccine mandates by police and other law enforcement unions. Even as the coronavirus has ravaged the rank and file of law enforcement agencies across the country, police labor leaders have threatened to go to court and called for defiance from union members. The response to the coronavirus has tragically been politicized — starting with the absurd demonization of masks — but the refusal of these police unions to abide by vaccine mandates, recognized by other unions including those representing teachers as a vital tool to safeguard public health, represents a new low.

Covid-19 has been the No. 1 killer of law enforcement officers in 2020 and 2021. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks the on-duty deaths of police officers in the United States, more than 470 have died as a result of contracting the virus in the line of duty since the start of the pandemic. That is more than four times as many officers who have died from gunfire. Among the covid-19 fatalities: Louisiana Police Lt. DeMarcus Dunn, 36, who died the day before his wedding; Edgardo Acosta-Feliciano, 48, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who leaves behind a wife, a daughter and two sons; Michael Weiskopf, 52, a traffic homicide investigator for the St. Petersburg police remembered for his kindness in dealing with people involved in serious crashes. None had been vaccinated.

“If this was cops getting shot on the streets of America today at this number, there would be outrage,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the New York Times. “This is an issue that begs for leadership and putting politics aside. And that’s exactly the opposite of what’s happening right now.” So on the same day that the former head of Chicago’s police union died from covid-19, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara — who once compared the city’s vaccine requirements to Nazi Germany — urged his members not to comply with the mayor’s order to submit proof of vaccination. Brandon Judd, president of the union that represents border patrol agents said he is saddened by the rise in deaths — five agents died of covid-19 in September alone — but he insists vaccines are a personal choice.

It should be expected that organizations whose purpose is the protection of the health, safety and welfare of its members would actually try to live up to those ideals. And that a profession whose motto is to protect and serve would recognize the danger that is posed to the public by officers who refuse to get vaccinated against a deadly virus.