Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico State Police officers have been on the front lines when it comes to enforcing public health orders during the pandemic.
However, only about 57% of State Police officers were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of last week – a figure that’s well below the statewide rate of 68.3% among residents 18 and older.
State Police Chief Tim Johnson said Tuesday only one uniformed officer and a few civilian employees have left the agency’s ranks due to an executive order issued in July by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that requires weekly virus testing and regular wearing of face masks for unvaccinated state employees.
He also said State Police’s fully vaccinated rate has ticked up to about 60% since last week as some employees have gotten their second required dose – and said it could go up more in the coming weeks.
But he acknowledged some reluctance among officers to get vaccinated despite the agency’s attempt to provide them with accurate information about the vaccine.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of following the public health order the best we can,” Johnson told the Journal. “I don’t think we’ve been perfect at it like some other agencies, but I don’t think we’ve been bad at it either.”
Johnson also said the agency has faced challenges securing access to regular testing, adding the weekly testing requirement has been particularly problematic for some officers based in rural New Mexico.
“Getting a test for an officer who’s on a graveyard shift is probably not as easy as (getting one) for an officer working a day shift or a swing shift,” Johnson said.
As of last week, 56.9% of State Police employees were fully vaccinated – or 366 out of the 643 individuals employed by the agency, according to data provided by the Department of Public Safety in response to a public records request.
An additional 18 employees were still awaiting their second dose or for two weeks to elapse after getting their second shot, which is the time period necessary for the vaccine’s protection to fully kick in.
Meanwhile, other law enforcement agencies nationwide have also seen widespread reluctance to get vaccinated.
Police union leaders in Chicago and New York, among other locations, have pushed back against vaccination requirements. And only 47% of New York’s uniformed and civilian police employees had reportedly been vaccinated as of this month.
The low vaccination rates among law enforcement employees has raised public health concerns, since their jobs typically involve a large amount of interaction with the public.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, described New Mexico State Police officers as “invaluable public servants” and suggested the agency’s vaccination rate compares favorably to that of other law enforcement bodies around the state.
“Our office, along with state health experts, will continue working with state agencies and state employees to answer questions about vaccines and educate state employees on the benefits and protections of getting vaccinated, just as we continue to work to do with New Mexicans statewide,” Sackett said.
“In the meantime, rigorous testing and masking requirements will help minimize the risks that unvaccinated individuals in any circumstance create for the general population,” she added.
In addition to state employees, the Democratic governor’s administration has imposed a separate vaccination mandate for hospital workers, corrections officers and people working in other group home settings.
Teachers and school workers also face a similar vaccine or regular testing requirement under that same public health order, which was issued last month by acting Health Secretary David Scrase.
Among New Mexico State Police officers and civilian employees, only a small group have balked at the state-imposed mandates, Johnson said.
But he added even a few resignations can have implications for an agency that has only been able to hire a small number of recruits during the pandemic and was recently directed by the governor to help stem violent crime in the Albuquerque area.
“We can’t afford to lose anyone else under these circumstances,” Johnson said.