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FOP president calls Lightfoot’s bluff on disciplinary changes

One change would allow anonymous complaints. Union president John Catanzara said it’s “a gigantic ask ... You’re gonna be willing to give up residency and the no-strike clause? I guarantee they’re gonna say `No.’ But it’s equal to me.”

Chicago police officers used a CTA bus to help block Michigan Avenue during a protest march near CPD headquarters on June 4, 2020.
Chicago police officers used a CTA bus to help block Michigan Avenue during a protest march near CPD headquarters earlier this month. The president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of the Police said if Mayor Lori Lightfoot is serious about making changes to disciplinary clauses in the contract, she will give up the requirement that officers live in Chicago.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara on Wednesday called Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s bluff — saying if she’s serious about making disciplinary changes to the police contract, she’ll eliminate the requirement that Chicago Police officers live in the city and give them the right to strike.

One proposed disciplinary change would allow anonymous complaints — without a sworn affidavit.

“If they want to get rid of the [sworn] affidavit, then take the residency requirement out of the frickin’ contract and also take the no-strike clause out of our contract and then, let’s see how serious you really are. Give us the same ability that teachers have and give us the ability to live outside the city and then we’ll entertain the conversation about getting rid of the affidavit,” Catanzara told the Sun-Times.

“They’re full of it. … You keep talking about the affidavit. That’s a gigantic ask for us. You’re gonna be willing to give up residency and the no-strike clause? I guarantee they’re gonna say `no.’ But, it’s equal to me. It’s what we want you to give up in exchange for what you’re asking us to give up. They’re not gonna do it any more than we are.”

The mayor’s office responded that “police unions need to step up now, more than ever, to work with the City as a partner — not a roadblock — on accountability and transparency reforms.”

“These reforms include allowing anonymous complaints to be investigated, ending the requirement of destroying disciplinary records, preventing the names of complainants from being disclosed to officers until their interviews, and more,” the mayor’s office said in a statement that made no mention of the no-strike clause or the residency rule.

Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, whose scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department prompted the U.S. Justice Department to do the same after a federal investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The task force demanded changes to a police contract that, it claimed, “codifies the code of silence” at CPD.

The City Council’s Black Caucus has threatened to block ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and also prohibits anonymous complaints (by requiring sworn affidavits) and allows officers to change statements after reviewing video.

Catanzara has slammed the door on those changes, putting him on a collision course with a mayor who made her bones in police reform.

On Wednesday, Catanzara was asked if he was serious about entertaining disciplinary changes or simply calling the mayor’s bluff.

“If residency ever became a possibility to be lifted ... that would be put out to the full members to decide what they want to do because that has an effect on — not only younger officers who want the ability to get outside the city, but older officers who have been anchored here for a long time and obviously have real estate investments that would probably take a dip,” he said.

In 1980, Chicago firefighters went on strike for 23 days, fueled by anger against a mayor—Jane Byrne — who broke her promise to give them their first-ever contract.

When it was over, state law was changed to prevent police officers and firefighters from striking on grounds that it jeopardizes public safety.

Against that backdrop, Catanzara was asked whether eliminating the no-strike clause for police was realistic.

“That’s what many of your citizens in this city want. They scream for it all the time: ‘Get rid of the police. Get rid of the police.’ I want the silent majority to stand up and tell the other people to shut the hell up. A city with no police is a nightmare. We are already the most violent city in this country. And they want to get rid of what protections there are. It makes no damn sense,” he said.

Chicago police officers on State Street near Wacker Drive, where thousands of protesters gathered Saturday to join national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody,
Chicago police officers on State Street near Wacker Drive on Saturday, May 30. Thousands of protesters gathered there, joining national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody,
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

During a meeting on May 29 in the mayor’s office just hours before downtown demonstrations devolved into looting and mayhem, Catanzara said Lightfoot made a somewhat surprising statement: that she wants to negotiate the retroactive pay portion of the police contract “right away and get that off the financial books” this summer.

“She said she was in a hole this year financially and … expects a hole in the budget again next year. So it’s easier just to package it all together and, however she’s gonna get rid of it, get rid of it all at once and not have to worry about that big number down the road,” Catanazara said.

In December, the FOP board voted to put its demand for an 18% pay raise over three years in the hands of an independent arbitrator.

Catanzara can’t increase that demand for the last three years without risking an unfair labor practice complaint. He’s trying to negotiate a seven-year contract — expiring in July 2024 — covering that last three years and the next four.

“We’ll see where it ends up. Is it gonna get there? No. But, it’ll be interesting,” he said, apparently referring to the $700 million hole that the stay-at-home-shutdown of the Chicago economy has blown in Lightfoot’s 2020 budget.

“The mayor needs to take some of the teachers’ money back because they didn’t do anything. They sat at home for the last three, four months while we were out there dealing with all of this stuff — COVID and riots.”