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Opinion: L.A. cops, get vaccinated or keep losing the public’s trust

Los Angeles Police officers during a vaccine protest downtown.
Los Angeles police officers watch over protests involving both anti-vaccine demonstrators and people who support mandates in downtown L.A. on Aug. 14.
(Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Los Angeles is on the downslope of its latest COVID-19 surge, no thanks to the city’s police or fire departments. In fact, for the police, the 20-plus months of this pandemic rank high up there among the LAPD’s longest periods of sustained crises, which is really saying something for this department. Last summer, there was the brutalization of citizens protesting police killings of Black people. Last March, there was the handcuffing of journalists covering the removal of the Echo Park Lake homeless encampment. Now, thousands of Los Angeles Police Department employees are seeking faith-based exemptions from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a rule that some officers and firefighters are suing over. The comically conspicuous portion of cops demanding these dispensations prompted The Times Editorial Board to support disallowing all COVID-19 vaccine religious exemptions because “there is no Church of Moderna Disbelievers.”

More importantly, this gets at a few fundamental issues of law enforcement that have been raised by our readers in letters to the editor, namely the fraying trust between civilians and the police, and whether there is a culture of service and honesty among LAPD officers. One reader’s scathing letter connected the department’s apparent overuse of dispersal orders against protesters (including its failure to adequately maintain records of them) with its vaccine mandate flap to say this “reflect[s] a long-standing lack of moral leadership and a startling lack of concern by the rank-and-file for the risks they pose to the public they supposedly serve.” Another raised a troubling question: With so many cops dubiously seeking vaccine exemptions, what might they also be willing to lie about while on the job?

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These and other concerns about first responders’ sense of service toward the people they protect weren’t raised by a handful of excitable readers — rather, almost every one of the letters commenting on this issue has expressed unqualified disapproval of public safety workers who refuse vaccination. (I know this because I am The Times’ letters editor.) One brief missive sympathizing with police and firefighters on vaccines drew a chorus of howling rebuttals, including one that suggested The Times was wrong to have published that letter at all.

Of course, letters aren’t a poll, and a decisive tilt on our page against the police department doesn’t necessarily reflect a broader shift of public opinion. But I am about as pro-vaccine as they come, and even I’m surprised by the outpouring of anger over anti-vaccine cops and firefighters. (This might come from years of reading letters from people who always give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt, even when almost none exists.) Some readers for whom a COVID-19 infection would be a death sentence are saying they are now afraid to call 911, and others have wondered if they should refuse to roll down their windows in a traffic stop.

Just thought L.A.’s cops and firefighters would want to know this.

Don’t like mandates? What if the police pinned you down and injected you? Columnist Nicholas Goldberg says there’s a difference between making people who refuse vaccination face consequences, and actually forcing the vaccine into people, which is happening in China: “Physical coercion is an unethical and counterproductive way to accomplish the goal of reaching herd immunity, a goal that all countries should be striving for through education, persuasion and adherence to science.” L.A. Times

The vaccines work. The call for booster shots doesn’t change that. President Biden recently rolled up his left sleeve and publicly took a COVID-19 vaccine booster. He also said it was important for those who still haven’t been vaccinated to get their first doses, a message that might fall on deaf ears since many of the holdouts see the existence of boosters as evidence that the shots are still unproven medicine. That is, of course, completely wrong, says the editorial board: “A third shot for those who are medically vulnerable? Sure. But better yet, unvaccinated Americans need to look around, see how far we’ve come during this pandemic and then be willing to take this nation the next step toward health by offering up their arms.” L.A. Times

Southern California’s beaches are running out of sand. So we’re losing our majestic mountain forests and our beaches now? The difference with the disappearing sand is that so far, climate change isn’t the proximate cause, writes UC Irvine engineering professor Brett Sanders: “Local development and land use have altered natural processes that would have otherwise replenished the beaches. Sand on beaches is a lot like money in a bank account. It flows in and out, and the balance needs to stay in positive territory to avoid a calamity of problems.” L.A. Times

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John Eastman deserves to be shunned. In the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, the then-law professor was condemned by some of his Chapman University colleagues for addressing rally-goers before the U.S. Capitol was stormed. Now, with the recent revelation that Eastman wrote a memo advising Vice President Mike Pence to effectively overturn the 2020 election, UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky calls on the California Bar to consider disciplinary actions and legal scholars to condemn Eastman: “This is not an ideological disagreement. I differ with Eastman on virtually every issue but was always glad to debate him. This is about recognizing the grave seriousness of what happened on Jan. 6.” Sacramento Bee

L.A.’s mayor race will be a Rorschach test for the city. Candidates, including several very capable, experienced ones, have already declared they’re running for mayor in 2022. This is a good thing, says the editorial board, because Los Angeles is at an inflection point as it emerges from the pandemic and needs adept leadership: “Angelenos elected Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013, and it was a very different time for the city. The candidates were pressed for their positions on dense development around transit stations, the city budget and the power of city employee unions — topics that will surely be revisited this time. But it was before the homeless and housing affordability crises exploded. Before COVID-19. Before George Floyd. Before President Trump. The stakes feel higher in 2022.” L.A. Times

Stay in touch.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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