Coronavirus

Charlie Baker downplays claim that ‘dozens’ of Massachusetts state police troopers are resigning over his vaccine mandate

"We've seen pretty significant numbers of retirements over the course of the past couple of years."

Mass. State Police Headquarters in Framingham. John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe

Gov. Charlie Baker says he isn’t too concerned about the Massachusetts state police union’s claims that “dozens” of troopers are resigning in the wake of the administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state employees.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, Baker suggested the primary reason for any such exodus was “demography,” as baby boomers naturally age out of the force and said the state would “recruit aggressively to refill the ranks.”

“The baby boomer population is basically between the ages of 75 and 55,” Baker said. “And if you think about when state troopers generally start to consider and think about retirement, it’s about during that period, and we’ve seen pretty significant numbers of retirements over the course of the past couple of years.”

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The Republican governor expressed confidence that the retirements could be offset by new recruits, noting that the state police added 240 officers last year, its largest graduating academy class in a quarter of a century.

His comments come after Michael Cherven, the president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, said  “dozens of troopers have already submitted their resignation paperwork” after a judge rejected the union’s lawsuit to delay Baker’s strict vaccine mandate for 44,000 Executive Branch employees and contractors.

The union had sought exemptions allowing officers who refuse to get vaccinated to submit to regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering on the job instead, as well as additional benefits for those who get sick from COVID-19.

Currently, the mandate includes no alternatives for vaccine holdouts; if they can’t show proof that they’re fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, state workers can face discipline, including the loss of their job.

While a lawyer for SPAM said last week that roughly 80 percent of the roughly 2,000-member state police officer were already vaccinated, Cherven said that “dozens” on the “already critically short staffed” force were resigning to return to municipal police departments in Massachusetts that allow regular testing and masks as an alternative to vaccination. According to Cherven, state police leaders have already been forced to reassign officers from specialty units to cover shifts.

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Baker downplayed the impact of such reassignments Monday.

“I have tremendous faith in [Massachusetts State Police Colonel Christopher Mason] and his leadership team to be able to make sure that the state police are properly deployed in ways that make sure they maximize their effectiveness, and I think he delivered that over the course of the last year,” he said.

Baker reiterated that the reason for the vaccine mandate — which does include exemptions for individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to a medical condition or a sincerely held religious belief — is because he thinks it’s “really important” for state officials who interact directly with the public to be vaccinated, given the data showing that the vaccines greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.

“I think in many ways the debate in the argument about mandates is a perfectly legitimate debate to have,” he said. “But I look at the data that I see out there, and it’s very clear to me that the fastest path back to normalcy — the fastest path back to the life everybody wants which is the one they had before the pandemic began — is to get more and more people vaccinated and to continue to build on the success we’ve had here in the Commonwealth.”

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Baker added that “there’s a reason” that Massachusetts, despite its dense population, has the fourth-lowest case count per capita in the country, as well as the second-lowest hospitalization rate and “one of the lowest death rates to COVID.”

“It’s because so many people here in Massachusetts did the right thing, and got vaccinated for themselves, their families, their friends, and their co-workers,” Baker said.

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