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Chicago cops increasingly compliant with vaccine mandate as legal battle drags on

Almost 78% of Chicago police officers are now complying with the city's employee vaccine mandate, even as City Hall and the Fraternal Order of Police continue their fight over the mandate in court.

CHICAGO (CN) — While the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police won a victory last week in its legal battle against the city's employee vaccine mandate, City Hall is winning the fight to actually get police officers vaccinated against Covid-19.

As of Monday, the city reported that close to 78% of all Chicago Police Department employees have complied with the mandate, with more than 71% of compliant employees fully vaccinated.

Despite FOP President John Catanzara's October warning that thousands of police officers would choose to give up their pay and potentially leave their posts instead of comply with the mandate, as of Nov. 8 only 35 officers were confirmed to have been put on no-pay status.

According to Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, the number of police in no-pay status has fluctuated since the mandate went into effect on Oct. 15. Many officers, he said, initially defied the mandate only to later relent and enter their vaccination status into the city's online employee vaccination portal.

"That number has fluctuated up and down, it's been as high as 50 officers in no-pay status but the current number is 35," Brown said in a Monday press conference. "Which means officers who were in no-pay status have come back and complied with the mandate."

Despite more officers complying with the mandate's order to report their vaccination status, however, CPD continues to buck the mandate more than any other department in the city. The Chicago Fire Department, the second-most mandate-skeptical department, currently stands at about 93% compliance. The percentage of fully vaccinated CPD employees has also declined to about 71% of compliant employees, from a high point of 82% in October. Brown said his office was making a priority of increasing that percentage as the city prepares for winter.

"We want people in the portal really as a first step," Brown said. "Finishing out that, we'd like to move the [fully vaccinated] number even more, a bit more beyond 80% or 90% at some point soon."

In a minor status hearing on City Hall's lawsuit against Catanzara and the FOP on Monday, lead city attorney for the case Michael Warner called the uptick in police compliance the "good news" in what he deemed a "bad news, good news situation."

The bad news, Warner said, is that Catanzara continued last week to encourage Chicago police to defy orders from superior officers to comply with the mandate.

"The goal here is to now just inundate the department with just hundreds if not thousands of [complaint] numbers for disobeying an unlawful order," Catanzara said in a Friday Nov. 5 video addressed to police union members. "And it is still unlawful."

No new immediate action in the city's case came out of Monday's hearing in front of Cook County Judge Cecilia Horan, who issued a restraining order against Catanzara in October that temporarily prevented him from making similar comments.

Those comments, "bad news" or not, have legal momentum behind them. Despite the city slowly winning the material battle of attrition with the FOP to actually get police officers vaccinated, since the start of November the FOP and the four police unions that operate within it have held the upper hand in the ongoing legal fight over the mandate.

On Nov. 1, Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell temporarily blocked the mandate's New Year's Eve full-vaccination deadline for police union members, pending arbitration on the issue between the unions and the city. Mitchell's reasoning, mirroring arguments by the FOP's lead counsel Joel D'Alba, was that arbitration over the legality of a vaccine mandate would be moot if the union members opposing it were already vaccinated.

"Once you get a jab in your arm, you can't get it out," D'Alba argued in front of Mitchell last week.

The block on the mandate's deadline only applies to police union members. It remains in place for all other city employees, who must be fully vaccinated or have an approved vaccination exemption by Dec. 31 or face possible termination. A hearing to renew the temporary restraining order is set for Wednesday.

While the legal fight over the vaccine mandate slogs on, the Covid-19 daily case load in both Illinois and Chicago has once again begun to rise after a month of declining spread. According to the Chicago Public Health Department, the last week of October saw a 16% increase in reported daily cases from the prior week. The Illinois Department of Public Health, meanwhile, reported 4,267 new cases in the state on Thursday. That's the most cases reported in a single day since Sept. 16, during a wave of infections caused by the delta variant.

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