Citing officer suicides, Chicago aldermen draft 'time off' ordinance for police
“For anybody out there that says they get plenty of time off, they get plenty of rest, I call bull----. It’s not true. It’s not sustainable.”
By A.D. Quig, Gregory Pratt, Alice Yin
CHICAGO — Incensed by canceled days off, slow benefits for families of fallen officers and a spate of recent officer suicides, a group of aldermen introduced a package of legislation at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that they say would get public safety departments “back on track.”
The informal public safety caucus — including aldermen Silvana Tabares, 23rd; Matt O’Shea, 19th; Anthony Napolitano, 41st; Anthony Beale, 9th; and Raymond Lopez, 15th — held a news conference Wednesday outside City Hall alongside families of fallen officers calling for public hearings on mental health stress issues of Chicago officers. Lopez is one of several candidates running for mayor in 2023.
Measures the group introduced would limit the ability of the Chicago Police Department to cancel regularly scheduled days off, mandate a 30-day time limit on salary benefit decisions for families of deceased police officers and allow officers from other departments to transfer to CPD “under a modified training program,” according to a news release.
The proposals would go even further than focusing on officer wellness. They also call for eliminating the body that investigates police misconduct, requiring the CPD superintendent “to notify City Council” every time he leaves the city and mandating that investigators who oversee the city’s use-of-force standards undergo the same training officers do and have their test results posted online. But those measures were sidelined almost immediately by being sent to the Rules Committee, where legislation is often marooned for months.
The group focused much of their ire on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Superintendent David Brown. He has often increased officers’ shifts to 12-hour days and canceled days off since 2020 as elevated violent crime rates continue and as the department struggles with recruitment and retention. Late last month, Lightfoot said officers have “plenty” of time off.
“For anybody out there that says they get plenty of time off, they get plenty of rest, I call bull----. It’s not true. It’s not sustainable,” said O’Shea, whose ward has one of the heaviest concentrations of police and firefighters in the city. He is also Lightfoot’s hand-picked chair of the City Council’s Aviation Committee. “It’s dangerous that we continue to put these men and women in harm’s way.” Last month, O’Shea shepherded through passage of an ordinance providing a death benefit to spouses of first responders who die by suicide.
“If we don’t stand up now and take care of these men and women in blue, no one’s gonna take the job and not one of them is gonna be out there to protect us because nobody’s protecting them,” Napolitano said.
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara spoke in support of more time off for officers during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, arguing officers deserve time to decompress after witnessing “trauma after trauma after trauma” on the job, including seeing “dead bodies, … emaciated babies” and victims of domestic violence, and with little sleep in between shifts. He also said families should not be kept waiting for line-of-duty death decisions.
Families of the deceased who get that designation receive the officer’s salary for a year from the time of the officer’s death, as well as pension benefits, pending approval from the city’s pension fund.
Catanzara said the families of three officers who died of COVID-19 have been waiting seven months from the time of their passing to receive a line-of-duty designation.
Elizabeth Huerta, the wife of one of those officers, José Huerta, attended Wednesday’s news conference and said that “leadership of the city has failed us and to other families by not approving the line-of-duty benefits for these three officers.”
Aldermanic sponsors were not clear about the need to eliminate COPA, the body that investigates police misconduct. Lopez said it would be replaced with the new civilian oversight body, known as the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, by 2023.
But the two bodies have separate mandates, and such a significant change would likely need signoff from the monitor overseeing the federal consent decree governing public safety operations in the city. The ordinance establishing the commission only gives it limited powers to set CPD policies, and only if the mayor doesn’t veto them. It can also pass a nonbinding no-confidence vote in the police superintendent. The civilian board does not have the ability to investigate police misconduct or discipline officers. That board is not yet operational, either; Lightfoot has yet to appoint interim commissioners to it.
At her customary news conference after the City Council meeting, Lightfoot said she opposes the ordinance giving officers more rights to refuse days-off cancellations.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the City Council to be setting the personnel rules and policies of the Chicago Police Department. That would be a pretty extraordinary thing,” Lightfoot said.
In defending police leaders against criticism they’re overworking officers by canceling time off, the mayor has previously said police get “incredible” amounts of time off as part of their contract. But Wednesday she said it’s “probably the most difficult time in our nation’s history” for police officers and her administration “understands the necessity of really emphasizing health and well-being.”
To that point, Lightfoot said the city has added $20 million to help support officers.