CHICAGO — Police officers in Chicago will not be ordered to go home if they defy the city’s requirement that they report their COVID-19 vaccination status or be placed on unpaid leave, police leaders and Chicago’s mayor said Thursday.
“Nobody is going to be turned away,” said police department spokesman Tom Ahern. “Officers will be working their normal shifts this weekend (and) they wont be turned away or sent home… Officers will continue coming to work until they are told otherwise (and) that they are no longer on pay status.”
Ahern’s comments follow a video posted on the police officers’ union website this week in which the union president urged members not to report their vaccination status by Friday, the deadline that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration set for city workers, and suggested such a refusal might result in them being sent home.
Those who do not submit their vaccination status will be placed on unpaid leave.
Lightfoot said officers who are expected to work over the weekend must show up, and that those who don’t report their vaccination status will be moved to no-pay status. But she also said that such a move won’t happen this weekend because confirming compliance will take a few days.
“My expectation is that people who swore an oath to serve and protect the city are going to honor that oath and they’re 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,” Lightfoot told reporters Thursday. “Anything less would be insubordination.”
The dispute and the possibility that the department would be understaffed come at a fraught time for the city, which has seen a surge in the number of carjackings and expressway shootings and more homicides so far this year than were recorded at the same time last year.
First responders nationwide have been hit hard by the virus but some have been resisting vaccine mandates. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19, including four members of the Chicago Police Department, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Los Angeles police and county sheriff, and Seattle and Denver police are among the departments either under vaccine mandates or facing one.
On Thursday afternoon, top police officials in Chicago assured the public that the department would be completely staffed over the weekend. But they also made it clear that officers who refuse to comply with the city’s mandate risk being disciplined or fired.
First Deputy Police Superintendent Eric Carter said officers will be expected to meet Friday’s deadline unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption. Under the city’s rules, those who aren’t vaccinated by Friday have to get tested twice a week on their own time and expense until the end of the year, when they will be required to be vaccinated.
In the video that Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara posted Tuesday, he said that if officers were turned away, the city would have a police force “at 50% or less for this weekend coming up.”
He also instructed officers to file for exemptions to receiving vaccines but to not enter that information into the city’s portal, telling the rank-and-file, “I do not believe the city has the authority to mandate that to anybody, let alone that information about your medical history.” He did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
City officials have said there is no requirement to enter detailed medical information — only vaccination status and proof of vaccination.
The city has a similar COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees of city schools, which the Chicago Teachers Union supported.
A city database showed nearly 90% of teachers, administrators and other school staff have already been vaccinated. Fewer than 1% received a medical exemption and 3.5% had a religious exemption.
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City officials said those who did not comply by the Friday vaccination deadline would not be barred from work, but would have to undergo weekly testing until they got the shots. Those who do not get vaccinated or consent to weekly testing would be ineligible to work for the nation’s third-largest school district and won’t be paid.