CHICAGO — Twenty-one Chicago police officers have been relieved of powers so far for defying the city’s vaccine mandate.
All city workers were required to report if they were vaccinated by Friday; those that didn’t would be put on a no-pay status, officials repeatedly warned. But the president of Chicago’s largest police union suggested officers defy the mandate — leading to a flurry of lawsuits late last week and questions over how many officers might be taken off the streets.
As of Tuesday afternoon, just 21 officers have defied the mandate and been put on no-pay status, Supt. David Brown said during a news conference.
The city announced Monday 64.4 percent of Police Department employees had reported their status, making it the least compliant department in the city. That came out to 4,543 workers who hadn’t reported their status.
The city has already met with “several hundred” of those workers, and most have ultimately opted to report their status, Brown said. Police Department officials still have to meet with “several hundred, if not 1,000” workers, though, he said.
“This is about officer safety,” Brown said. “This virus is no different than the gunfire we take as cops. And I will do everything I can, and I will say anything I need to, to convince officers to do everything they can to save their lives, the lives of their families, the lives of other officers and the lives of the people who we are sworn to protect in this community.
“… We would go against our oath to take this virus into their homes.”
The department has not experienced any staffing shortages as a result of the mandate, Brown said.
Many officers who didn’t previously comply have told their superiors they were “misinformed” about the reporting mandate and have decided to enter their information and keep working, Brown said. Others are reporting in before being contacted.
But it will take several more days to contact every officer and other employees in the Police Department to see if they’ll comply, Brown said. They shouldn’t stop working until they’ve been contacted by a supervisor, officials previously said.
But John Catanzara, president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, urged officers who didn’t comply to “hold the line.”
Rumors of officers being stripped of their guns and badges are overblown, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.
“I really hope that the men and women of the Chicago Police Department, who have been fed a lot of stuff … are not gonna ruin their careers over going to a website and saying ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Lightfoot said at a news conference. “And I think that recognition is starting to occur to folks.”
Lightfoot said the city has contingency plans and she does not anticipate “any disruption in our ability to keep our neighborhoods safe” if non-compliant officers are taken off the job.
Overall, 79 percent of city employees confirmed their vaccination status — and 84 percent of those reported they are fully vaccinated. The city received more than 4,000 requests from people for medical or religious exemptions.
Of the Police Department employees who reported their status, more than 83 percent said they are fully vaccinated.
“I deeply believe that the only way we can maximize safety in our workplace is by getting our employees vaccinated,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t view this as Lightfoot against the [Fraternal Order of Police]. … What this is, is Lightfoot and all of these city commissioners and leaders saying, ‘We’re gonna stand up for public health and public safety, and we’re gonna make sure our workforce is as fully vaccinated as can be.'”
The city’s vaccine mandate has been controversial, particularly in the Police Department.
Last week, Catanzara posted a video where he urged officers to reject the mandate and not report their status. His comments were released the same day a former police union boss died from COVID-19.
The city then sued the Fraternal Order of Police and Catanzara, alleging they were “encouraging a work stoppage or strike.” The union sued back, saying the city, Lightfoot and Brown had not properly negotiated over the mandate.
A judge ordered Catanzara to stop making statements encouraging officers to defy the mandate.
But the deadline passed — and the city started contacting officers who hadn’t complied Monday.
Lightfoot previously said officials will “give the benefit of the doubt” to workers by speaking with them and trying to educate them into compliance. Only if they continue to defy the mandate will they be put on no-pay status, Lightfoot said. She said the process of contacting employees could take several days.
Workers who do stop working prematurely risk losing their jobs, officials said.
Lightfoot and Catanzara have frequently clashed, but their battle over the vaccine mandate has been particularly fraught with tension.
Lightfoot announced the mandate in August, and the Fraternal Order of Police immediately voiced opposition to the measure. Other COVID-19 safety measures — like requiring officers to wear masks — have also met resistance in the Police Department.
Shortly after the mandate was announced, Catanzara compared it to tactics used by Nazi Germany.
“We’re in America, Godd–n it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi f—ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f—ing showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the f—k?” Catanzara told the Sun-Times.
Catanzara later apologized for his comments, which were criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and other groups. Afterward, 44 aldermen voted to generally condemn statements that compare Nazi tactics, like the use of poisonous gas chambers to murder people, to COVID-19 safety measures, like wearing a mask.
In last week’s video, 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.
Catanzara suggested that any violence that happens as a result of having fewer officers on the streets would be the result of Lightfoot’s actions.
But Lightfoot fired back Friday, saying Catanzara has “ruined his career” and “been sanctioned over and over and over again” for breaking rules.
“I do not want to see young officers who are doing heroic work follow his lead,” she said. “He’s yesterday’s news. I want these officers to think about themselves, their families and their careers.”
First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter said officers who don’t comply with the mandate can face discipline “up to and including separation,” or firing.
“For the department to get through this pandemic, we must do it together,” Carter said at Thursday’s news conference with Lightfoot. “Our job as professionals is to provide safety to the residents of Chicago, who we serve and protect.”
Four Chicago police officers have died from COVID-19, and thousands have had the virus. Dean Angelo, a former president of the police union, died last week from COVID-19.
The information that people must submit to the online form is “very basic” and “not intrusive,” Lightfoot said.
Officers who don’t want to follow the mandate can leave the department, Lightfoot said last week. She said she is concerned officers refusing to get vaccinated will hurt efforts to rebuild trust between the department and everyday residents, as residents “have a right to expect that those officers are not gonna get them sick” when they interact.
“It’s an honor to be a Chicago police officer. And anyone who says, ‘We get to do what we want, when we want it. We get to have the kind of policing that we want when we want it,’ that is the kind of policing that has happened in our city for far too long,” and it’s why residents don’t trust police, Lightfoot said. “We’re not having that anymore. It is a new day in the city of Chicago.”
All city workers who are not fully vaccinated must agree to twice-weekly testing through Dec. 31, at which point they are required to be fully vaccinated or they can face discipline. Workers can also apply for exemptions.
The requirement is meant to protect workers and members of the public with whom they interact.
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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