Influential alderman, leading FOP candidate want CPD stations closed to the public

If all 22 district stations stay open to walk-ins, Ald. Matt O’Shea and Chicago Police Officer John Catanzara, leading vote-getter for Fraternal Order of Police president, fear the virus could spread, shuttering entire units or stations.

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Police were speaking with a person of interest in a string of machete attacks on the Northwest Side.

If all of Chicago’s district police stations remain open, some fear the virus could spread quickly, shutting down entire units or stations.

File photo

Chicago police stations should be temporarily closed to the public to protect police officers— who lack the protective gear and sanitizers they need — from being exposed to the coronavirus, an influential alderman and the frontrunner for police union president said Monday.

Chicago Police Officer John Catanzara and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Southwest Side ward is home to scores of police officers, noted that four CPD officers have already tested positive for the coronavirus. They fear that more will follow unless extraordinary measures are taken.

“If we’re closing aldermanic offices and libraries and parks, we should be closing police stations where people walk in off the street. You can always get in touch with the Police Department. You call 911,” said O’Shea, one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest City Council allies.

“We also need to be working to make sure that we’re providing them with any additional equipment to help protect them: gloves, hand sanitizer [and] in some cases, some type of facial masks as they enter into these confined spaces.”

Without strong and swift protective measures, O’Shea said he’s concerned the virus could spread rapidly, sidelining entire units or an entire district station.

“The Blue Island Police Department … just a mile from the 19th Ward, they’ve essentially shut down the police department. The Cook County Sheriff’s police and the Illinois State Police have taken over. That’s a concern,” O’Shea said.

Catanzara agreed the lobbies of Chicago’s 22 district police stations should be closed immediately.

“There’s no other city agency lobbies that are open to the public. If the lobbies are for non-emergency operations, then why are they even open at this time? It makes no sense whatsoever,” Catanzara said.

“What do you do by having 50 or 60 frickin’ officers at a roll call or in a building? They’re not six feet apart. It’s ridiculous. You’re on top of each other. All you’re doing is spreading germs. ... If you’re expected to self-distance, self-isolate, the department is not doing that with the manpower they need.”

Catanzara also accused the city of distributing expired hand sanitizer and “generic” personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to officers that are “good for one use.” He noted that the city shut down the police academy and transferred recruits to districts to clean squad cars without giving rookies the protective equipment they need to do the job.

“If they possibly are contaminated and they need to be decontaminated, why are they not given [protective] suits to do the cleaning? They get a frickin’ faceguard and some gloves? Big deal,” Catanzara said.

“You have symptoms or you came in close contact with somebody who tested positive. But you are not given the ability to stay home and self-quarantine. They want you to still come to work. ... We’re gonna have many more [test positive]. They’re only making it worse.”

In addition to closing the lobbies of district stations and distributing protective gear, Catanzara demanded “hazard pay” for police officers. And instead of canceling days off, he urged the city to drop down to “skeleton crews … as little manpower as needed.”

“I know of a district where an officer’s wife has tested positive. And the people that were in close contact with him are very outraged that they are not being treated properly. They should be able to self-quarantine,” Catanzara said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is in “daily contact” with all of the city’s first-responders. Whatever their needs are, the city is “meeting those needs,” the mayor said

“People feel like they’ve got to go out in full gowns with protective masks. No. We are meeting the needs. We’re making sure that they have the supplies that they need. We’re making sure they are trained and educated about how to interact with people in the public during these difficult times,” Lightfoot said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago police officer, now chairs the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.

Taliaferro agreed police officers need protective gear. But he’s strongly opposed to the idea of closing 22 district police stations to the public.

“We have to make sure that we’re providing our citizens, our residents, an opportunity to report crime,” he said.

“Just like our trash is being picked up, it’s an essential function of the city. We have to maintain those essential functions. If we close down our police stations [to the public], I can only imagine what could be the possible outcome.”

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