Tensions between the Chicago mayor and police over the city’s vaccination mandate increased this week as the police union chief urged officers to ignore a deadline for reporting their vaccination status.
City of Chicago employees, including police officers, are required to report their immunization status by Friday. Employees who are not vaccinated will need to get tested twice a week, a temporary measure until the end of the year as the city decides what to do with unvaccinated employees.
But Fraternal Order of Police Chicago branch chief John Catanzara urged union members in a video message this week to “hold the line.”
He told officers not to submit their vaccination status and flood the city with exemption requests on Thursday.
“Submit them all Thursday, give them all at once, and that’s it,” he said. “Do not fill in the portal information,” he added, referring to the declaration of vaccination statuses to the city.
Officers and other city employees who fail to declare their immunization status by Friday will be “placed in non-disciplinary and unpaid status,” according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office.
Catanzara said that “it is safe to say that the city of Chicago will have a police force of 50% or less” over the weekend.
“Whatever happens because of this manpower problem, it falls at the mayor’s door,” he said.
Lightfoot, a Democrat, noted at a press conference on Wednesday that the city was “prepared”, adding that Catanzara “was doing a manifest service to its members every day” by encouraging resistance against vaccines.
“If you are not vaccinated, you are playing with your life, the lives of your family, the lives of your colleagues and members of the public,” said Lightfoot.
Coronavirus vaccines approved in the United States have been shown to be safe and effective, and a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month found that people who were not fully vaccinated were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those fully vaccinated.
Chicago, like many other major cities in the United States, has demanded that city employees get vaccinated against the coronavirus, noting that for employees in contact with the public in particular, such as police and firefighters, vaccinations protect not only employees but people in the community from the risks posed by COVID-19. Law enforcement officers across the country, from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Denver, have resisted vaccination warrants.
The resistance from many law enforcement officers could be due to the misinformation that has driven many other Americans against vaccines, experts say. Recent vaccination rates among Chicago police officers were not available as the numbers were not tracked and the union is aiming this week to thwart the city’s attempt to gather that information. In May, after the shots became widely available, about a third of officers were known to have received a vaccine, although others may have been vaccinated outside of channels that identified them as officers.
“We no longer want to lose police officers to deaths from COVID-19 when a life-saving vaccine is readily available,” Lightfoot said. She cited a recent New York Times report that found deaths from COVID-19 infections to be the leading cause of work-related deaths among police officers in 2020 and 2021.
Catanzara said the union would sue the warrant and alleged the city did not have the power to demand vaccinations or request vaccination statuses from its agents. “He’s threatening litigation, I say bring it on,” Lightfoot said.
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