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Chicago Police union asks consent-decree judge to help in fight with city over 12-hour shifts

The Fraternal Order of Police wants to force the city to look for help elsewhere, including other police departments and the National Guard, to give its officers a break.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks to reporters outside the FOP lodge.
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks to reporters outside the FOP lodge.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Chicago’s police union wants a federal judge to force the city to give its officers more time to rest while seeking help from other police departments — or even the Illinois National Guard rather than continue to force its officers to work consecutive 12-hour shifts.

Following up on a promise earlier this week to go to court over the long work hours, the Fraternal Order of Police on Wednesday took its complaint to U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, the judge who oversees the consent decree meant to govern police reform in Chicago.

“Over the last three weeks, officers have been deployed for consecutive 12 hour days with all regular days off and furlough time canceled,” FOP lawyer Joel D’Alba wrote in a court filing. “They are exhausted and worn out from the constant exposure to citizen protests and need longer work breaks. The City of Chicago is not complying with the wellness, health and safety obligations of the consent decree.”

John Catanzara, the union’s president, has previously tied the longer shifts to the death of an off-duty officer, Xu Meng, after a carbon monoxide leak in that officer’s Albany Park home. Catanzara called it “clearly a tragic accident due to exhaustion.” Meng’s death is mentioned in court filing made Wednesday.

“Clearly, police officers who are over tired put themselves, their fellow officers and the communities they serve at risk,” D’Alba wrote. “Sadly, the incident last week of Police Officer Meng’s tragic death highlights that exhaustion played a direct role in him passing out.”

A spokeswoman for the city’s law department said the city would review the court filing “and take appropriate action after our review.” The FOP’s eight-page motion seeks permission to intervene in the consent decree case for the limited purpose of seeking relief from the 12-hour shifts.

The FOP said it wants to offer additional evidence to the judge and seek certain protections, including the “requirement that the officers be given sufficient rest periods and that the city be required to seek additional law enforcement resources from other police departments and the Illinois National Guard.”

The motion argues that the consent decree requires the city to support officers so they are able to perform their job safely. With the cancellation of regular days off, it said, several officers have worked 16 consecutive days or more. The 12-hour shifts were most recently renewed earlier this week in anticipation of public demonstrations this weekend, it said.

“The city cannot keep implementing abnormally dangerous working conditions for work by requiring police officers to work so many hours without affording them ample time to rest,” D’Alba wrote.

Contributing: Fran Spielman