Illinois sheriffs to Chicago Mayor: You're on your own

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Chicago is potentially facing yet another crisis in the coming days, but this one has nothing to do with gang bangers or pandemics, at least not directly. Like many other big-city Democratic mayors, Lori Lightfoot issued a mandate that all Chicago PD police officers would have to be vaccinated by a specific deadline or face the prospect of being placed on leave without pay or dismissal. Given the number of cops that have refused to provide proof of vaccination so far, that could mean up to a thousand officers being taken off the line at a time when they are already severely understaffed and the city is still battling an ongoing crime wave and carjacking epidemic.

Normally, when the city encounters a shortage of police officers, the Sheriff’s Departments from the counties in that area send some of their own deputies to help out under a program called the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS). But this particular “emergency” is something different, and most of the Sheriff’s offices are saying that they won’t be sending anyone. That may sound a bit cold-hearted at first glance, but their reasoning is actually pretty sound. (Police Tribune)

Multiple sheriffs in jurisdictions near Chicago said they will not respond to fill the potential gap in police manpower created by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Lightfoot has vowed to fire the Chicago police officers who fail to comply with the mandate she ordered, which could result in the loss of thousands of officers.

Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain and DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said they have historically had no problem sending deputies to help the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in cases where officers were in emergency distress or under duress, but that the situation Lightfoot has created does not fit those parameters, the Daily Herald reported.

Normally the ILEAS is invoked during times of crisis. That could be caused by a significant number of officers being out sick or a sudden emergency condition where most of the available cops are called to a specific location to handle a problem. In those cases, when there is “no opportunity for planning,” Sheriff’s Deputies are routinely dispatched to cover some shifts for the missing cops. But as one Sheriff told reporters, this is a very different situation. If this is a crisis it was one of Lightfoot’s own making and she should have planned ahead if she knew she might be firing a large number of cops.

Another Sheriff described the situation as “a preplanned police shortage,” and said that the lack of planning and foresight on the part of the Mayor’s office “astounded” him.

We can’t pretend that there isn’t some political tension involved in this standoff. Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain sent out a memo this week, placing the blame for the pending shortfall on the “slanted agenda” of the Mayor’s office. He also expressed his distrust of the Cook County State’s Attorney, who has been far too eager when prosecuting any officers who find themselves in a use-of-force situation.

“I believe the polarization between the community and police is only reinforced by current Chicago politics,” the sheriff wrote. “I will not send my personnel to Chicago, unless an officer is under direct duress, because I cannot support this slanted agenda. I also will not allow my deputies to be subjected to use force in the city and be under the prosecutorial jurisdiction of the Cook County State’s Attorney.”

Didn’t Lori Lightfoot have enough on her plate already when it comes to crime in her city and law enforcement staffing? Some basic tact and respectful negotiations might have resulted in a satisfactory resolution in terms of the Chicago PD and the vaccination question. If she had been more pliable in terms of allowing officers to request religious and medical exemptions or offered the alternative of weekly testing instead of proof of vaccination, she probably wouldn’t be facing a critical law enforcement shortage right now. (Officers currently have the option of twice-weekly testing, but only until the end of the year, at which time they will have to be vaccinated.) And if she had shown that level of respect, I would wager that the sheriffs in the surrounding counties might have been considerably more willing to lend a helping hand. But as things stand, she’s made her bed and she may have to lie in it.