CHICAGO (CN) — A full third of Chicago's police force is defying City Hall's vaccine mandate for municipal employees, a report from the city revealed, and some officers have already been placed on unpaid leave.
Of Chicago's 12,770 police employees, the report found that by Monday a little more than 64% - about 8,173 employees total - had submitted their vaccination status to the city employee data portal per vaccine mandate stipulations.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown adjusted that number slightly at a Tuesday press conference, saying that by Tuesday afternoon slightly over 67% of police employees had submitted their information to the employee portal. This figure is still the lowest compliance rate among all city workers. The second-least compliant department was the Chicago Fire Department, where about 72% of employees have reported their status to the portal as of Monday.
The vaccine mandate ordered all city employees to enter their Covid-19 vaccination status into the employee portal by midnight on Oct. 15. Those that refused to do so would be placed on a no-pay suspended status.
Of the two-thirds of Police Department employees who have entered their vaccination status in the portal, about 82% are vaccinated. The city's mandate states that any employee who declines vaccination for any reason will have to submit to twice-weekly Covid-19 testing.
The threat of being placed on a no-pay status - and for CPD officers, possibly even termination - did little to dissuade leaders of Chicago's police unions from publicly rebuking the mandate.
John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police under which the city's four police unions operate, went so far as to spend much of last week urging police officers to defy the mandate over YouTube and social media. In several public videos, he decried the vaccine mandate as a violation of the police unions' collective bargaining agreement with the city and told officers to not enter their vaccination status into the portal, even if ordered to do so by a superior officer.
"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 in an Oct. 14 YouTube video. "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."
The FOP and City Hall also filed dueling injunction lawsuits against each other on Oct. 14, each declaring the other's actions - the vaccine mandate and the FOP's defiance of it - to be illegal. The first round of hearings resulted in a minor victory for the city on Friday, when Cook County Circuit Judge Cecilia Horan issued a temporary restraining order against Catanzara, prohibiting him from publicly encouraging city police officers to defy the vaccine mandate or to defy orders to comply with the vaccine mandate.
Catanzara's restraining order did not stop the FOP continuing his message. The organization's first vice president, Michael Mette, issued another email to police on Tuesday, telling them to partially refuse orders from superior officers to fill out the vaccination portal. Instead, Mette's email stated that officers should force their superiors to order them to go to CPD headquarters directly.
"DO NOT COMPLY at the District or Unit Level on going into the portal. Make them give you a Direct Order to go down to 35th Street for a counseling session," the email said.
Neither Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office, the Chicago Police Department nor the FOP returned request for comment on Mette's email.
At the Friday injunction hearing, city attorney Celia Meza said that while the employee vaccine mandate went into effect on Oct. 15, it would take time for the city and CPD to assess who was in compliance with the mandate and who was not.
"We still have... a few thousand to get to," Superintendent Brown said on Tuesday.
Accordingly, though over 4,200 police officers were in violation of the mandate as of Tuesday afternoon, Brown said only 21 officers were confirmed to have been put on a no-pay status.
The chief also stated Tuesday afternoon that moving forward, noncompliance with the vaccine mandate by police officers will be handled as a "process" of escalating severity. First, those who refuse to comply will be sent for a counseling session on the importance of the vaccine mandate, as Mette alluded to in his email. Following that, officers will be put on a no-pay status until they agree to enter their vaccination information into the portal. Those put on no-pay status will also be directed to the department's internal affairs office and given a direct order to enter their information in the portal. Refusal at this point could result in a number of consequences, including termination.
"We've given them the time and given them the information as best we can," Brown said.
Brown said that at any point in this process, police could avoid these consequences by agreeing to comply with the vaccine mandate. He framed the decision to impose consequences as a way to save police officers' lives, even if it meant firing them. Covid-19 is currently the leading cause of death among U.S. police forces.
"This is no different from the gunfire we take as cops," Brown said.
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