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Chicago police leaders threaten consequences for unvaccinated officers

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has spent the week urging officers to defy the city’s Friday vaccine mandate deadline. The police department said those who do so will be punished.

CHICAGO (CN) — Leaders with the Chicago Police Department threatened Thursday there will be consequences for officers who fail to comply with the city's Oct. 15 vaccine mandate deadline.

The mandate stipulates that all city employees – except those with medical, religious or conscientious exemptions – must either be vaccinated by Friday or be willing to submit themselves to twice-weekly testing for Covid-19 infection.

City employees are also supposed enter their vaccination status into an online city employee portal by midnight on Friday, or they will be put on a non-disciplinary, no-pay status.

But now it seems the non-disciplinary portion of that stipulation may be up for review.

"I know there are concerns that police officers will not comply with the city's Covid-19 vaccine mandate and will not show up for their scheduled shifts... but it is our expectation that all officers will comply with the city's vaccine mandate," CPD First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter said at a Thursday afternoon press conference. "Members of this department who refuse to comply with the requirements of the mandate may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including separation."

The strong words from Carter - effectively threatening to sack city police officers who don't abide by the vaccine mandate - come after weeks of fighting between City Hall and CPD leadership and leaders of the four police unions of which all badged CPD officers are members.

John Catanzara, president of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, has been particularly vehement that officers should refuse orders to comply with the mandate.

"Do not fill out the [vaccine mandate] portal information," Catanzara said in a Tuesday afternoon YouTube video also released on the FOP's Facebook page. "You are under no obligation to do that, other than the city's demand."

In that same video, Catanzara also said the union would be pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the city to try and kill the vaccine mandate requirement for police. That litigation has yet to be filed in Cook County Court, though Catanzara also said that a labor grievance had already been filed on the FOP's behalf.

Catanzara telling police to defy a direct order by the city was not taken lightly by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who told the FOP to "bring it" on Wednesday, and repeated to reporters on Thursday that she would not back down from a legal fight with the police unions, if it came to that.

"If the FOP is threatening litigation, I don't fear that," Lightfoot said. "I'm a 30-plus year litigator... I am confident that we have the law and the facts on our side."

While the litigation is pending, Catanzara said Tuesday that the police were not going on strike in response to the mandate or doing any "of that illegal stuff." He encouraged officers to report for work on Friday regardless of whether they had filled out the employee vaccine portal. However, he also said that any officer who was informed that they were on a no-pay status should go home.

"You have to show up to work on and have the city - lieutenant, sergeant, whoever - send you home because you are in a no-pay status," Catanzara said.

Lightfoot declined to answer on Thursday whether she would consider this plan a strike after Catanzara warned that up to 50% of police would end up not working over the weekend. She said she expected most officers to comply and insisted that any who refused orders or played hookie would face severe consequences.

"My expectation is that [police]... are going to show up, they're going to report for duty, and they're going to comply with a legal directive from the city and an order from the police department," the mayor said. "Anything less would be insubordination."

It was not five minutes after the mayor's press conference concluded on Thursday that Catanzara instructed city police on YouTube to defy the mayor's orders - and if need be, those of their superior officers.

"The new thing seems to be that [the CPD] is going to have supervisors give direct orders to enter information in the portal. I am telling you right now, it is an improper order... refuse that order," Catanzara said Thursday. "Get it on body cam. Whether it's from a sergeant, a lieutenant, a captain... I don't care if it's Superintendent [David] Brown. If somebody orders you to go into the portal, refuse that order."

Chicago police officers' disdain for vaccination is not an aberration. A 2020 survey by law enforcement news site Police 1 found that only 38% of police officers across the U.S. would willingly get vaccinated. An additional 38% said they would refuse vaccination, while 13% said they would only get vaccinated if required by their department. Eleven percent were unsure.

Chicago leaders' threats of comeuppance for police officers refusing vaccination is also not unique to the Windy City. On Wednesday, the San Francisco city government told police that officers who refused to get the shot without a valid waiver could face termination.

When asked what would happen if mass numbers of police really did not show up for work - or only showed up to immediately get sent home - Lightfoot said there were contingency plans in place, but refused to elaborate. Instead she bemoaned what she saw as police union leadership spreading fear and disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.

"I hope that members of the department are not led over the cliff without a parachute by anybody who tells them they can just ignore legal, proper direction," Lightfoot said.

"The union alliance is still strong," Catanzara said in response on Thursday, "and we're going to keep fighting this mandate and this dictatorship."

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 5,836 Chicago residents have died from Covid-19 infection since the pandemic began. Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, places the death toll higher at 6,012 residents. Most of those deaths have been among unvaccinated people, according to the IDPH.

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