How to punish Chicago cops who retire rather than vax

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

We learned earlier that the Chicago Police Department may have a serious manpower shortage by this weekend if a stalemate between the police union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn’t broken soon. The Mayor’s deadline for all police officers to provide proof of their COVID vaccination status has already passed, but more than half of the officers have yet to provide the documentation. So how is City Hall responding to the news? It turns out that a memo from the brass was read to all precincts this week informing them that all paid time off (known as elective time) is “restricted.” Anyone wishing to use any of their time off must have the request approved by someone up near the top of their chain of command, presumably someone much closer to the Mayor’s office. Needless to say, this isn’t doing much for morale. (CNN)

A day after Chicago police officers were required to disclose their Covid-19 vaccine status or risking losing pay, the city’s police department issued a memo informing officers elective time off is restricted, according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN affiliate WLS.

“Until further notice, the use of elective time by sworn CPD members is restricted. Furthermore, the use of elective time will require prior approval from the Deputy chief or above within the requesting member’s chain of command,” the memo obtained by WLS reads.

The memo was issued Saturday to all sworn officers and was to be read at all CPD roll calls for five consecutive days, WLS reports.

No reason for the order was given, but there are only a couple of likely possibilities. One is that Lightfoot knows there will probably be a lot of officers missing after the deadline expires and they can’t afford to have any of the remaining cops taking days off. The other is that they are worried that people will use their time off so they won’t be around to be informed they are being placed on unpaid leave.

No matter the reason, that’s not really the point. These aren’t cases of officers asking for some sort of special treatment. Paid time off is one of the benefits they accrue according to their contract. They’ve already earned those days off, so summarily canceling them in response to a dispute with the union is rather shabby treatment. Further, the remaining officers who have complied with the vaccine mandate orders will be equally affected. They’ll probably be pulling extra shifts and mandatory overtime as it is if a lot of their colleagues are suspended. The Chicago PD is already dealing with far more resignations and early retirements than they can handle. This order will simply lower morale even further, driving more officers out the door.

But that wasn’t even the worst part. Only days earlier, the Police Chief sent out a memo saying that any officers who choose early retirement to avoid complying with the mandate could lose their retirement benefits.

Chicago’s police chief has put into writing a threat that officers could be fired if they don’t comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, adding that those who choose to retire rather than adhere to the policy might be putting their retirement benefits at risk.

In a memo sent Sunday night, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said that those officers who do choose to retire rather than comply “may be denied retirement credentials,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

This is just insane. I don’t see how the Mayor or the Police Chief think they can actually get away with this. The officers who made a career out of protecting and serving the city and stuck with it long enough to qualify for retirement do not owe an explanation of why they are retiring to City Hall. Those benefits are in recognition of the service they have already provided, not some political dustup that’s taking place now. Further, all of those benefits are spelled out in their contract. You can’t just punish someone because they have decided that they’re done with their career and are ready to move on.

If Lightfoot sticks to this course, the city is going to be overwhelmed with lawsuits that it will almost certainly lose, blowing even more holes in the budget. And it will be happening at a time when they can’t put enough uniforms on the street and the Sheriffs from neighboring counties are refusing to send in any personnel to help out. If this is going to wind up being Lori Lightfoot’s legacy, it’s not going to be one to be proud of.