Chicago police union takes fight against vaccine mandate to court as some hold-out cops sent home without pay

(CHICAGO) — A battle pitting the mayor of Chicago and the superintendent of the police department against some officers defying a vaccine mandate for all city employees heads to a courtroom on Wednesday where the police union is asking a judge for a temporary restraining order.

A court hearing over the union’s request for a temporary restraining order was delayed Wednesday, but that did little to ease tensions over the city’s attempt to get all police officers vaccinated.

Police Superintendent David Brown said compliance with the COVID-19 shot mandate by officers and civilian employees of his agency went up to 67% on Tuesday from 64% a day earlier.

“I will say and do anything to save an officer’s life,” Brown said during a news conference on Tuesday. “If it takes going through a counseling session, going to a no-pay status, going to internal affairs or a direct order, if that’s what it takes, I’m willing to do it.”

As of Tuesday, about 2,000 officers had yet to upload their vaccine or testing status on a city online portal and, so far, 21 officers have been stripped of their police powers and sent home without pay, Brown said.

Brown said “several hundred” hold-out officers were summoned to police headquarters this week and given a chance to change their minds and hear of the consequences they face for refusing.

“I don’t know if we’ve changed their minds or if they’ve made the decision themselves to get in the portal,” Brown said.

City officials released an update on the vaccine mandate on Monday showing that 79% of all city employees had complied and registered their vaccine status on the online portal. Officials said 84% are fully vaccinated.

The police department has the lowest level of compliance, officials said.

The mandate set a deadline of last Friday for employees to comply.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents officers, has asked Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cecilia Horan to issue a temporary restraining order against the mandate. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday.

At the same time, the union is asking Horan to recuse herself from the case after she granted the city a temporary restraining order on Friday barring FOP President John Catanzara from publicly telling union members to defy the mandate.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Catanzara’s statements are allegedly putting the public in danger.

“By doing so, and by predicting that 50% or more officers will violate their oaths and not report for duty, Catanzara is encouraging an unlawful strike and work stoppage which carries the potential to undermine public safety and expose our residents to irreparable harm, particularly during an ongoing pandemic,” Lightfoot wrote in a court filing.

Following the ruling, Catanzara posted a video on the union’s YouTube channel informing members that he has been silenced.

“Everybody has to do what’s in their hearts and minds, whatever that is,” Catanzara said in the video. “But I will just leave you with this: policy starts at the top in this city and it has proven time and time again that the top of this city’s policy needs to change.”

Holding up a sign bearing a so-called “Thin Blue Line” flag with the words “John Catanzara for Mayor 2023,” he said “enough is enough.”

With Chicago in the midst of a surge in violent crime with shootings up 9% this year over 2020, some city leaders said they fear Lightfoot and Brown are playing with fire by taking officers who don’t comply with the vaccine mandate off the streets.

“We are simply not in a position to fire 2,000 police officers right now,” Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins told ABC station WLS in Chicago. “We can’t do that. That is not in our best interest.”

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