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Chicago police union chief urges aldermen to overrule mayor on vaccine mandate

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As vaccine mandates hit their deadlines, the consequences are coming down on the country's police forces."We're still going to give them one last opportunity to do the right thing," said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.Chicago's mayor stripping 19 officers of their police powers for refusing to report their vaccine status. The fight going to court, where a judge ordered the officer's union boss to stop making public statements, like this one:"You are under no obligation to respond or comply," said John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. He had argued  vaccinations were a matter of collective bargaining. But pulling more than a dozen officers is a sore spot in a city already dealing with spiking crime. There's also resistance in Seattle and Los Angeles County.In San Diego, a similar story. Around 90% of San Diego's officers said they think vaccines should be an individual choice. Almost half said they'd rather be fired than comply with a mandate."That's concerning, I mean, the possible impacts if we were to lose officers," said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit.The union is arguing officers could easily get hired elsewhere and is urging the city to provide alternatives, like regular testing. It's trying to prevent cuts to an already strained force."You look at this police department, our ratio of officers to citizens is the second-lowest in this nation, and so obviously that impacts our ability to respond to crime," said Nisleit.In Florida, Karen Weiskopf is pleading with police officers and anyone who will listen to get their shot. Her husband, officer Michael Weiskopf, died in August after battling COVID-19 for close to a month. He was not vaccinated when he got infected. "The pain. There wasn't one day, one hour, one moment that he didn't suffer," Karen Weiskopf said."I said, is there any way I can go to sleep and just die of a broken heart because it'd be a lot easier," she said."Quit paying attention to the politicians that think they know what they're talking about, but they don't," said Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida.Police leaders are encouraging their officers to get the shot. But many union heads are standing their ground on this argument."We don't like being mandated and pushed into anything like that," said John Kazanjian, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.Kazanjian, the head of Florida's largest police union, is vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same, but:  "It's a freedom of choice, absolutely, that's why we live in this great country, the United States," said Kazanjian.Florida has one of the highest counts in the country of officers who have died from COVID-19: 57 and counting.Each one leaving behind a family member to wish things could be different. "It's still surreal," said Weiskopf. "I'm taking it, um, I think hour by hour and day by day. 

The head of Chicago’s police union came to City Council chambers Monday and called on aldermen to take back from Mayor Lori Lightfoot the power to decide whether city workers should be required to report their vaccine status.

With Lightfoot looking on, local Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara told aldermen to stand up to the mayor.

“It is not a queen on that throne, it is a mayor,” said Catanzara, who has engaged in a public fight with the mayor over the mandate in recent weeks.

Chicago Police Vaccines

In this Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago. 

Aldermen introduced an ordinance calling for Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate to be voided and requiring City Council approval for “all policies, rules and regulations governing discipline of city employees.” Sixteen of the council’s 50 aldermen had signed on as co-sponsors by 10:30 a.m.

Catanzara predicted Lightfoot officials will try to quash the ordinance, introduced by Southwest Side Ald. Silvana Tabares and Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano, but said the union hopes to force aldermen to take a roll call vote on it “so we know who we’re going after in 2023,” referring to the next city elections.

“The city cannot be run by one dictator on the fifth floor anymore,” Catanzara said.

After calling on City Council supporters of the ordinance to raise their hands, Catanzara said the union is “taking a report card, and anybody who does not raise their hand, you will be challenged in 2023. We are coming for every one of your damn seats.”

Fraternal Order of Police

Members of the Fraternal Order of Police and supporters rally outside of City Hall Monday before a City Council meeting.

Aldermen in chambers, meanwhile, generally milled around in conversation with one another or sat there passively. Reporters did not see anyone raising their hand during Catanzara’s remarks.

Also Monday, several dozen FOP protesters lined up outside City Hall to push against Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate for city workers and advocate for an ordinance that would give aldermen approval powers over future vaccine rules.

One counter protester walked among the FOP supporters while carrying a sign that said, “Opposing vaccines? Support and protect, my ass.” FOP backers responded by chanting, “Screw your mandate!”

And Southwest Side Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, introduced a resolution calling on the city to ensure that dependents of any city employees placed on no-pay status for failing to report their vaccine status do not lose health care benefits.

That resolution and the proposed ordinance to give aldermen power over the vaccine mandate were sent to the council’s Rules Committee.

At least 21 Chicago police officers were placed on no-pay status last week for refusing to comply with the city’s order. That requirement said all city employees had to submit their vaccination status by Oct. 15, and those who are unvaccinated can instead undergo regular COVID-19 testing for the rest of the year.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks to police union members and supporters during a rally outside of City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 25. 

Almost 68% of more than 12,000 Chicago police employees have met the vaccination reporting requirement, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said last week. He maintained many staffers are choosing to comply after speaking with higher-ups about how the mandate works.

The Chicago FOP has refused to cooperate, with Catanzara repeatedly urging members to disobey the city until a Cook County judge issued a temporary restraining order last week barring him from such public statements.

In a hearing Monday morning in Cook County Circuit Court, an attorney for the city, Michael Warner, reiterated that it wants to extend the restraining order against Catanzara, which is due to expire at midnight Monday night, and expand it to other FOP officials, who Warner said have been speaking out instead of Catanzara as a way of “getting around the order.”

FOP attorney Joel D’Alba indicated he would not support such a measure. He again is seeking to transfer the case from Cecilia Horan to another judge.



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