Incensed by canceled days off, slow benefits for families of fallen cops and a spate of recent officer suicides, a group of aldermen introduced a package of legislation at Wednesday’s City Council that they say would get public safety departments “back on track.”
The informal public safety caucus — including Alds. 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 of Chicago cops.
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 cops from other departments to transfer to CPD “under a modified training program,” according to a press 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 cops do and have their test results posted online.
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 continues 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 handpicked chair of City Council’s Aviation Committee. “It’s dangerous that we continue to put these men and women in harm’s way.” 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.
Chicago Tribune editors’ top story picks, delivered to your inbox each afternoon.
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara spoke in support of more time off for cops 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.
Sign up for The Spin to get the top stories in politics delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.
Catanzara said the families of three officers who died of COVID-19 have been waiting seven months for their passing to receive a line-of-duty designation.
Elizabeth Huerta, the wife of one of those officers, Jose 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 the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or 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 signocff 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.