FILE - Tennessee Highway Patrol

When the Tennessee Highway Patrol began recruiting for its 2022 class, there were more than 100 job openings across the state.

Gov. Bill Lee is offering state-paid relocation costs for out-of-state officers to join the Tennessee Highway Patrol, touting Tennessee’s lack of coronavirus mandates.

In a 71-second video released last Wednesday, Lee encouraged officers in places like New York and Los Angeles looking to avoid COVID-19 vaccine requirements to come to Tennessee.

“We won’t get between you and your doctor,” he said in the video. “In Tennessee, you’ll be given our full support and respect, and I’ll work to make sure your freedoms are protected.”

THP also offers to cover all fees for the training academy and provide complimentary uniforms, equipment and a self-issued vehicle, and a full benefits package.

Florida offered a similar incentive to out-of-state officers last month, when Gov. Ron DeSantis offered unvaccinated officers a $5,000 bonus for relocating.

As vaccine mandates elsewhere in the country have kicked in, hundreds of police officers unwilling to get a vaccine are out of work. Several police unions around the country have challenged vaccine mandates.

Los Angeles’ vaccine mandate went into effect late last month. In response, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said the county’s vaccine mandate is causing a “mass exodus” from the department, noting that 20%-30% of the department’s workforce “is no longer available to provide service.”

San Francisco’s police department placed 533 unvaccinated officers on administrative leave earlier this month.

In New York, 34 of NYPD’s nearly 35,000 officers were placed on unpaid leave earlier this month after defying the city’s vaccine mandate.

“There are many highly skilled law enforcement personnel who want to work in a state that doesn’t get in the middle of personal health decisions yet also provides for a wonderful quality of life,” Lee said in a statement. “As we’ve ramped up efforts to get more state troopers on the road, we want these men and women to consider Tennessee and we will assist with their relocation expenses.”

When THP began recruiting for its 2022 class, there were more than 100 job openings across the state.

“The Tennessee Highway Patrol is a professional and proud law enforcement agency,” said THP Col. Matt Perry. “The THP has a long legacy of providing service, safety and security for our state. If you have a heart for service and are interested in a professional career that offers endless opportunities, then a career as a trooper is meant for you. We want the best men and women to join our ranks.”

Tennessee still falls behind many other states on vaccine uptake. As of last week, 55.1% of Tennesseans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 49% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. Fewer than 1% of children 5 to 11 years old have received a dose of the vaccine since it became available earlier this month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Tennessee 36th nationally for community transmission of the coronavirus.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether unvaccinated officers could inadvertently spread the coronavirus to the public.

Metro Council member Sean Parker criticized the governor’s move on social media, calling it “reckless.”

“Police are basically the only people who can lawfully force close interactions with any citizen. Allowing them to work unvaccinated is dangerous. Encouraging them to do so is reckless,” Parker wrote in a social media post.

According to the Fraternal Order of Police, the coronavirus has killed more law enforcement officers since March 2020 than any other threat that they face in the line of duty. A total of 716 officers nationwide have died of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

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