CHICAGO — The boss of Chicago’s largest police union is calling for officers to reject the city’s vaccine mandate — and suggesting a standoff with the city will lead to a 50 percent drop in the number of cops on the streets.
The city is requiring all workers, including police officers, to report their coronavirus vaccination status by Friday. Those who do not comply will be placed on a no-pay status, the Mayor’s Office announced last week. Workers are also supposed to be fully vaccinated unless they’ve received an exemption, though those who are not can instead get tested through Dec. 31.
John Catanzara, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, posted a video Tuesday where he urged officers to reject the mandate and not report their status. His comments — released the same day a former police union boss died from COVID-19 — set the stage for a standoff between police officers and the city over the mandate.
“You are under no obligation to do that other than the city’s demand,” Catanzara said in the video.
Catanzara — a controversial figure who is frequently at odds with Mayor Lori Lightfoot — said he’d go without pay from his union role starting Friday in solidarity with officers who follow his urging.
The union will also file a class-action grievance for all affected members, Catanzara said.
Catanzara said he does not think the city should be able to require workers to get vaccinated, nor does he think officers should trust the city with their private health information.
The union president said he expects the standoff over the mandate could lead to about half of officers not working.
That comes as Chicago is struggling with murders, shootings and other violent crime.
“If we suspect the numbers are true and we get a large number of our members to stand firm on their beliefs that this is an overreach and they’re not going to supply the information in the portal or submit to testing, then it’s safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50 percent or less for this weekend coming up,” Catanzara said. “That is not because of the FOP; that is 100 percent because of the mayor’s unwillingness to budge from her hard line.
“Whatever happens because of the manpower issue, that falls at the mayor’s doorstep.”
At an unrelated event Wednesday, Lightfoot held firm on her demands for public safety officers to be vaccinated, saying it protects themselves and the community members with whom they interact. The mayor also noted that four Chicago police officers have died from COVID-19, and thousands have had the virus.
And Dean Angelo, a former president of the police union, died Tuesday from COVID-19.
“We don’t want to lose any more police officers from COVID-19 deaths when a lifesaving vaccine is available,” Lightfoot said. “I’ve seen some of the messaging from the FOP. What we really want to focus on is making sure that we are maximizing the opportunity to create a very safe workplace. Police officers, firefighters, other folks that are in the front line every day interacting with the public, it makes sense for them to get vaccinated.
“The message should be, get yourself vaccinated … the data is very clear. It’s unfortunate that the FOP leadership has chosen to put out a counter narrative. But the fact of the matter is, if you are not vaccinated, you are playing with your life, the life of your family, the life of your colleagues and members of the public.”
Lightfoot announced the mandate in August, and the Fraternal Order of Police immediately voice opposition to the measure. Other COVID-19 safety measures — like requiring officers to wear masks — have also met resistance in the Police Department.
Officials and health experts have said the vaccines are safe and are the best way to be protected against COVID-19 and help end the pandemic.
Everyone 12 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.
COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.
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