CHICAGO - Only 16 Chicago police officers are on no-pay status for defying the city’s vaccine mandate, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday, dismissing the possibility that mass firings will be needed in the middle off an unrelenting wave of violent crime.
After a lengthy City Hall news conference called to mark the two-year anniversary of the shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Lightfoot chose to see the glass as half-full, not half-empty.
More and more Chicago police officers are complying with Sunday’s first-shot deadline, making it less and less likely the mayor will be put in the politically untenable position of having to order the mass firings in the middle of a crime wave.
"As we sit here today, my understanding from the police department is that there are only 16 people that are in no-pay status arising from disciplinary issues related to the vaccine mandate," Lightfoot said.
"The vast majority of our police officers are fully-vaccinated. That is a fact. And I fully expect that many more will get themselves fully vaccinated to comply with the arbitrator’s decision [upholding the mandate]. … I do not believe that we will see any compromise in public safety."
Lightfoot said she has no intention of attending Wednesday’s special City Council meeting called by 11 members who are among the police union’s staunchest supporters.
"I’m not gonna to be involved in political charades and stunts. … I’m just not. … People are sick and tired of gamesmanship played out just because somebody wants to get media attention," said Lightfoot, who will be on a previously scheduled trip to Miami for both city business and political fundraising.
Noting the "No. 1 cause of police deaths is COVID-19," Lightfoot added: "I wish that those aldermen, who clearly feel like they’ve got some political pressure, that they would use their office and the power of their voice to encourage first-responders and particularly police officers to get vaccinated."
Lightfoot hinted strongly she would instruct her council allies to stay away from the special meeting, denying the organizers the quorum of 26 they need to consider a new vaccine policy, one that includes "natural immunity."
For the second straight day, Lightfoot accused those 11 members of spreading vicious lies.
"The fear mongering that, ‘Oh, there’s gonna be mass terminations of police officers’ — not true. Never was true. Not gonna happen," she said.
"Certainly, we’re gonna hold people accountable. And police officers have to abide by the same standards for employment as every other city employee. But this notion that, somehow, we’re gonna terminate masses of police officers, that we’re gonna compromise public safety — if you recall, they rattled that sabre last fall. They were wrong then. And they’re wrong now."
Lightfoot branded as "fundamentally false" the claim by Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara that the city was punishing officers by playing politics with exemptions.
"Just because John Catanzara opens up his mouth, it doesn’t mean that what comes out is actually the truth. And most often, it’s not," she said.
If anything, Catanzara is to blame for the inordinate number of exemption requests filed by police officers that are being denied by the city, the mayor said.
Catanzara, she noted, encouraged his members to "apply for something called ‘conscientious objection,’ which is not something that’s recognized in the law." He also urged them to file on a different form than the city provides — a form that did not include "all of the data points" required by the city’s Department of Human Resources.
"As a consequence, every single one of them — thousands — got rejected," the mayor said.
Even so, each of those officers had yet another chance to fill out the appropriate form, Lightfoot said. She noted that "hundreds" of those requests — filed after the arbitrator’s ruling in the city’s favor — are still pending.
"We have been trying to work with this population, despite the obstruction and mis-information systematically spewed out by John Catanzara and his leadership team. He has lied and he has misled his members to their detriment," the mayor said.
"We have been swimming against that tide of misinformation … that he has tried to foment from the very beginning and failed every single time," Lightfoot said. "Every single court that has looked at this issue … has upheld the city’s right — and, frankly, I would say obligation — to create a safe workplace for all … city employees."
Catanzara could not be reached for comment.