Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham on Monday branded as “wholly false” a “rumor” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she heard from a “credible” source and saw fit to repeat on the city’s cable channel: that the union told officers to “lay back” and “do nothing” over Memorial Day weekend.
“As the city ... endures another week of bloodshed primarily due to gang violence, Mayor Lightfoot’s decision to give voice to some supposed rumor ... is puzzling and alarming,” Graham wrote on the union’s Facebook page.
“Why would a mayor give voice to such claims without attempting to verify them first? Is this a sign of what is to come from her administration? Let us set the record straight: These rumors are wholly false and offensive.”
Lightfoot made the remarks during a May 30 interview with retiring host Ken Davis on CAN-TV’s, “Chicago’s Newsroom.”
“You know, there were rumors floating around about — and I didn’t verify this — but rumors floating around that they were telling their officers, ‘Don’t do anything. Over Memorial Day weekend, don’t intercede. If you see some criminal activity, just lay back, do nothing,’” she said then.
“I hope to God that wasn’t true because, man oh man, if that happened there’s going to be a reckoning.”
The new mayor’s decision to repeat the unverified rumor threatens to further undermine police morale that is already seriously low.
Chicago Police Department officers have been working under an expired contract for two years.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel punted contract negotiations to Lightfoot, who co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability that demanded changes to a police contract that, it claimed, “codifies the code of silence” — a code of silence that Emanuel famously acknowledged exists at CPD.
Graham has said his only meeting with Lightfoot was canceled and that the FOP was not included in Lightfoot’s public safety transition committee or in meetings she had to prepare for the expected summer surge in violent crime.
“We have attempted many times to meet with Mayor Lightfoot and to discuss with her common interests on a host of issues, particularly the evidence we have developed pointing to a pattern of false allegations of police misconduct that often end up in the federal courts and cost the taxpayers millions,” Graham wrote on Facebook, pointing to the two-year wait for a new contract.
“Despite all this, our officers continue to do their job with a clear sense of duty and professionalism. Our members and the citizens of Chicago deserve the same from Mayor Lightfoot.”
Lightfoot tried to tamp down the morale-busting controversy during an unrelated news conference Monday called to announce a new community policing initiative.
The mayor said she was “disappointed in the BGA and their reporting” on the subject. She criticized the Sun-Times’s handling of the BGA story and an online headline, which did not initially include her reaction to the rumor. The story was first published online Sunday in the Sun-Times website.
When asked why she would repeat an unsubstantiated rumor, Lightfoot said, “It must be a slow news day.”
“What I said was I heard a rumor and I hope that’s not true. That piece of it hasn’t been picked up in the news media. … This is another example, unfortunately, of context matters,” the mayor said Monday.
“We have to have every single officer on deck focused on the mission, which is to keep our neighborhoods safe. I was concerned about it. The source that came to me was credible. ”
Lightfoot noted her remark about the rumor was “maybe about 10 seconds” in an interview that lasted “about an hour.”
“It’s gotten way more air time than it needs to,” she said.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said he “never heard that rumor” about the FOP and can’t imagine the union would encourage its members to lay back or that officers would consider doing it.
“We swore an oath to serve and protect this city. That’s what I expect them to do,” Johnson said.
“I know that the mayor has full confidence in myself. And she’s showing her support for the Police Department. And we’ll leave it at that.”
Johnson was asked what Lightfoot’s decision to repeat the unsubstantiated rumor might do to police morale.
It comes at a time when Lightfoot has turned up the heat on police brass to stop the violence by summoning Johnson and his entire leadership team on what she calls “Accountability Monday” after weekends plagued by gang violence.
“Morale is what it is,” the superintendent said.