Day after critical report, Chicago's top cop to implement new time-off rules for officers
Effectively immediately, no more than one regular day off will be canceled per week for officers, except during certain holidays
By Gregory Pratt, Alice Yin and Paige Fry
CHICAGO — Weeks after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown defended the city’s policies of canceling officer days off, the department will implement new rules to help cops take time off.
The about-face comes as Lightfoot faces enormous political pressure on the issue, which has been exacerbated by a series of officer suicides and a critical report by Inspector General Deborah Witzburg. Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea for weeks has been pushing an ordinance that would mandate one day off for officers each week.
The new rules will limit the numbers of regular days off, or RDOs, that can be canceled in a given workweek.
Effectively immediately, no more than one RDO will be canceled per week for sworn officers who are not on probation, except during certain periods that include Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, Brown said in a Tuesday statement. The cancellation of RDOs will be limited to two during those periods. Those officers will be guaranteed two consecutive days off each police period, while all sworn officers are to receive at least nine hours off between shifts. Special units and some other officers are exempt from some parts of the new policy.
“The physical and emotional wellbeing of our officers remains the top priority of our Department,” Brown’s statement read.
Brown, Lightfoot’s hand-picked choice to be the city’s top cop, has often increased officers’ shifts to 12-hour days and canceled days off since 2020 as violence has remained at elevated levels. In May 2021, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police issued a symbolic vote of no confidence against Lightfoot, Brown and the department’s second-in-command, Eric Carter, for reasons including day-off cancellations and shift extensions.
The city is experiencing staffing troubles due in part to dwindling personnel.
Earlier this summer, Lightfoot, who is up for reelection next February, disputed “the narrative” about police officers being overworked. City cops “are given notice ahead of time when days (off) are going to be canceled,” she said, including this year for Memorial Day, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July.
“But what I would also say is, you should figure out and look at the incredible amount of furlough days, personal days, and other things that officers have by contract,” she continued, “so this notion — I think the infamous head of the FOP has said as part of his campaign, ‘They’re being worked like mules’ — it’s just simply not correct.”
But the mayor and Brown have faced repeated criticism over the issue, leading to Tuesday’s change in policy.
Local FOP President John Catanzara invoked the “mule” term again in a video he posted Friday, before the rules change was announced. He repeated his demand for work schedules to be renegotiated.
“There’s nothing precluding the city from sitting down and continuing the dialogue to work that out. The fact is they don’t want to. They don’t want to give up one ounce of control over management rights, which has allowed them to abuse the system and basically abuse our members like rented mules,” Catanzara said. “The mayor hates that terminology. She can say what she wants, but that’s the most accurate description of what they are doing to our members for the last two years plus.”
One proposal the union has put forth, he said, would cap hours, regular and “forced overtime,” in a 28-day police period. “That’s not asking too much. CDL drivers have it; other professions have it. You cannot work when you are exhausted, and then they’re gonna complain that officers’ actions result in lawsuits that cost the taxpayers in the city money. Well, quit working officers into exhaustion where they might be apt to make bad decisions,” Catanzara said. He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Office of Inspector General released a report Monday that looked into the scheduling practices of CPD. It found — from its review period of April 1 to May 31 — that more than 1,000 officers were scheduled to work 11 or more consecutive days, and some as many as 13 days straight. The OIG noted some members of the department did not actually work as many consecutive days as they were scheduled to work, but some did work 11 or more days.
The OIG also noted that CPD’s multiple data storage systems, and the need to manually review some records, make it more difficult to address issues related to work schedules.
“The work schedules of CPD members must meet the City’s law enforcement needs and must provide for members’ health, morale, and safety,” Witzburg said.
Brown, in his response to the report, also wrote of the need to balance public safety and officers’ well-being for the entire department, though he noted that the group of officers who may have actually worked for more than 11 days in a row represent about 10% of the department’s sworn officers.
“That said, the Department knows how important it is for officers to enjoy time off between watches,” Brown wrote, adding that, based on the OIG report, the department did not cancel days off for some officers over Father’s Day and Pride weekends to ensure they did not work more than 11 straight days.