Lightfoot vows to enforce COVID vaccine mandate against police officers
Officers still refusing to get vaccinated will be placed on what the city calls “non-disciplinary, no-pay status” and may face termination. “I don’t expect that to be a lengthy process,” Lightfoot said Monday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she is prepared to enforce the rules requiring city employees, including Chicago police officers, to be vaccinated against the coronavirus but added: “We’re not doing mass firings today.”
Reiterating that her goal is to “educate people into compliance,” Lightfoot said the Chicago Police Department will start by identifying those officers who have neither been vaccinated nor granted a religious or medical exemption or are awaiting action on an exemption request. Sunday was the deadline for officers to receive their first vaccine dose.
Those officers will then be asked to verify their non-compliance and given one more chance to comply. Those refusing the “valid and direct order” will be placed on what the city calls “non-disciplinary, no-pay status” and may also face disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
“I don’t expect that to be a lengthy process. We need to move on. … It’s been upheld by every single court and an arbitrator. ... It is well within our rights as the employer to make the vaccine.. a condition of employment,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference.
But she also said, “We’re not doing mass firings today. ... That’s not gonna happen.”
With roughly 2,400 officers still unvaccinated, Lightfoot was asked whether she is prepared to “fire thousands” of officers in one fell swoop in the middle of an unrelenting wave of violent crime.
“We will enforce the rules and my expectation is that the vast majority of police officers, who are already vaccinated, will come into compliance,” she said.
Lightfoot saved her harshest comments for the dozen City Council members who have demanded that she agree in writing not to discipline any city employees — even police officers — who haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccines.
Eleven of those 12 have called a special council meeting for 2 p.m. Wednesday to consider a vaccine policy “inclusive of natural immunity.”
“I don’t know what world these people live in. And I certainly wouldn’t expect that from elected leaders in the city of Chicago. Maybe some other place. Maybe some other party,” she said.
Lightfoot said it is “particularly disappointing” that “not a single one” of the dissenting dozen contacted the chairman of the council’s Health Committee. Nor did they reach out to Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady or participate in a recent Health Committee meeting on the mandate.
“This is a stunt,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot said she “categorically rejects” the suggestion that her COVID-19 mitigation efforts over the last two years are somehow “impinging on the quality of life” in Chicago.
“Just imagine two years into a devastating pandemic where thousands of lives have been lost in our city alone — millions across the world. And we have these folks who are clearly uninformed because most of the information in that letter was categorically incorrect — that somehow we’re doing the wrong thing,” she said.
In a “general message” to the rank-and-file distributed Monday, Chicago police officers whose still-pending requests for religious or medical exemptions were submitted prior to Dec. 28 were reminded they must be tested for the coronavirus twice weekly and upload those test results to the city’s data portal.
“If you are unvaccinated and/or submitted your FIRST medical or religious exemption AFTER Dec. 28, 2021 that is still pending or denied, you are not in compliance with the Vaccination Policy,” the message states.
The council members’ letter to the mayor demanded that Lightfoot agree in writing that “no city employee will be disciplined and/or terminated until a comprehensive plan is presented that incorporates the science of natural immunity and an open and fair exemption process to protect the health and beliefs” of city workers.
Natural immunity — achieved by having tested positive for the coronavirus or being exposed to it — would be proven through a serology test taken at the employee’s expense under the plan.
But alderpersons Silvana Tabares (23rd), Nick Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) went further in a series of interviews. They argued Chicago can’t stand to lose even one police officer, let alone one-third of the department, at a time when killings, shootings and carjackings continue at a record pace.
“This is gonna be probably the bloodiest of all summers because we’re in lawless land right now. We just can’t afford to lose anybody right now at all,” said Napolitano, who has been a Chicago police officer and a firefighter.
“There’s no reason at all to fire anybody. The pandemic is coming to an end. We’re gonna hit variants. No one’s denying that. But the variants are weakening. People who were in the field during this whole thing have built an immunity to this. They’ve caught COVID, and they beat it without being vaccinated.”