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Another Arizona police officer dies from COVID-19 complications

Officer Mathew Hefter, a 24-year veteran of Phoenix police, died on Aug. 7 from a COVID-related illness.
Credit: Phoenix Police Department

PHOENIX — Another Valley police officer has died from a COVID-related illness.

The Phoenix Police Department announced on Tuesday that Officer Mathew Hefter died on Aug. 7 as a result of a medical issue. 

A family member confirmed to 12 News that Hefter's death was due to a COVID-19 infection. 

Hefter started with the Phoenix Police Department in 1997 and planned to retire at the end of this year.

"Caring, compassionate," said Sgt. Vincent Cole. "Just a joy of a person to be around. Kind of a jack of all trades."

Sgt. Cole was one of Hefter's former supervisors. Hefter was a patrol officer before spending his last several years with the department at the front desk.  He was likely the first person you'd see at Phoenix Police Headquarters if you went in to talk with an officer. Sgt. Cole explained he was a "people person" and had a background in acting and creative writing.

"There’s definitely a void," Cole said. "And I felt that here immediately."

It’s not clear if he was vaccinated, but friends shared he encouraged others to get the shot before he died.

We’re told he documented his brutal battle with COVID from the hospital, posting that the "virus is a beast."

Phoenix police couldn't comment on whether or not any officer is vaccinated, but told 12 News that vaccines are not mandatory for officers, but they are available to anybody who would want one.

The city of Phoenix says 34% of police department employees have turned in proof of vaccination, earning what the city is calling a “safety reward” of $75.

But the city does not require to report whether you’ve been vaccinated.

In fact, it’s data that most valley police departments aren't tracking.

Of the 12 agencies 12 News heard back from, Phoenix and Gilbert were the only municipalities that had any sort of data on vaccine rates.

Gilbert police reported 31% of officers were vaccinated through their town-sponsored vaccine sites, but didn’t have information on officers who may have been vaccinated at state-run or other sites.

Departments in Peoria, Chandler, Surprise, Mesa, Scottsdale, Goodyear, Tempe, Paradise Valley and Avondale all said that their agencies or municipalities do not track vaccine rates among employees and officers.

DPS also reported they don't track this information.

RELATED: Valley remembers Glendale Officer Lonnie Durham who died of COVID-19

Hefter is the third officer in Arizona to succumb to the contagious virus in recent weeks.

Officer Lonnie Durham of the Glendale Police Department died on Aug. 2 after battling the coronavirus for several days.  

On Aug. 6, Lt. Nick Sessions of Bullhead City passed away after a prolonged fight against the virus.

The ongoing pandemic has caused officer deaths to spike nationwide by 300% over the last year, making 2020 one of the deadliest years for law enforcement since 1974, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

More than 140 officers from across the country died due to the virus in 2020, including one from the Navajo Police Department and another from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

RELATED: ‘He was our superman’: Friends, family say goodbye to Chandler officer who died of COVID-19

Remembering the Arizonans we lost to COVID

More than 17,000 people in Arizona have died from COVID-19. Here’s a look back at a few of the Arizonans we lost to the coronavirus.