Half of Chicago’s police officers could be put on paid leave in dispute over vaccines

Half of Chicago’s police officers could be put on paid leave in dispute over vaccines
·3 min read

As many as half of Chicago’s police officers could be taken off duty as tensions rise over a vaccination status row.

All city employees, including police, were required to get fully vaccinated against Covid and submit proof by October 15, according to a mandate announced by Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot in August.

Covid is the leading cause of death among police officers in the US, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, with more than 475 having died after catching the virus since the start of the pandemic – four times as many as have died from gunfire.

As the vaccine deadline approached, police union president John Catanzara posted a message on social media encouraging officers not to comply with the city’s requirement.

He said: “I do not believe the city has the authority to mandate that to anybody, let alone that information about your medical history and change the terms of employment,” in a video posted to YouTube on Tuesday.

Mr Catanzara continued: “If we get a large number of our members who stand firm on their beliefs that this is an overreach, and they’re not going to supply the information in the portal or submit to testing, then it’s safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up.”

According to Mr Catanzara, officers in Chicago would be placed on unpaid leave if they did not disclose their vaccine status to the city by midnight on Thursday.

Ms Lightfoot said that the city would check in with officers who hadn’t complied before putting them on unpaid leave, and that they should continue to report for duty until told otherwise by their supervisors.

The mayor accused Mr Catanzara of attempting to “induce an insurrection” in his comments, and said he was “encouraging a work stoppage or strike, as the city’s law department filed a complaint against the union.

A union statement disputed the accusation, saying Mr Catanzara “has never engaged in, supported, or encouraged a work stoppage,” but a Cook County Circuit judge swiftly ruled that Mr Catanzara was forbidden from making further public statements that encouraged members not to comply with the city’s vaccination policy.

“I think that the City has alleged a public interest in precluding Mr Catanzara from making further comments encouraging his members to refuse to comply with the City’s policies so for that reason, I’ll enter a temporary restraining order requiring that Mr Catanzara be precluded from making additional public comments,” Judge Cecilia A Horan said, adding: “Mr Catanzara, you can talk to your friends, you can talk to your family, but I am talking about the YouTube things, and the various media things.”

The police department was expected to be fully staffed going into the weekend, as the city continued to be plagued with violence, reported CNN.

Chicago is currently in the grip of a wave of gun crime, with 1,606 people shot within three months over the summer, and 261 killed between June and August, making it the deadliest year since the early 1990s.

Eric Carter, first deputy superintendent of police, called upon members of the force to fulfil “their mission and duty as professional police officers,” adding: “It is also our expectation that all officers will comply with the City’s Covid-19 mandate.”

“Members of this department who refuse to comply with the requirements may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including separation,” he said.

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