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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Police already dealing with increasing gun crime is now dealing with something that is hitting police rank and file all around: COVID.

“COVID has hit the Memphis Police Department very hard. We’ve lost about two officers, and one civilian employee at the beginning of the pandemic. So it hit us pretty hard,” said Memphis Police Association President Essica Cage.

She said it has affected the police workforce, which was already hundreds of officers short.

“At one point we had over 200 officers who were out, who either tested positive or who had to quarantine for some reason. So you know it’s an already depleted department that’s getting shorter because of the pandemic,” said Cage.

And some of those cases have turned deadly.

Forty-five year old Officer Bobby Montgomery died of COVID last year, and last month, 35-year-old Officer Jimmie Alexander Shindler died of the illness.

“We still have to respond, whether that’s a pandemic going on, and officers will do their best to stay masked, to sanitize but sometimes if it’s an emergency situation, you know we can’t always be 100% safe,” said Cage.

But still, unions around the country are speaking out against mandating COVID vaccinations. The Memphis Police union is among them.

“We have to protect the interest of our members, and there are some members who cannot, for whatever reasons, get vaccinated, and we have to respect their wishes and their choice to not be vaccinated,” Cage said. “Of course, we encourage you, and we encourage regular testing, frequent testing for those who aren’t vaccinated, but it’s still that individual’s right.”

While the COVID vaccine is not mandated for police, the City of Memphis is offering police and other city employees incentives for volunteering to get vaccinated.

The police union says there is also testing at all precincts and stations for officers and their families.