Challenger for FOP president says incumbent has alienated everyone — and hurt rank-and-file cops

Bob Bartlett, a veteran CPD detective, is trying to unseat union president John Catanzara. Like Catanzara, Bartlett is no fan of Mayor Lori Lightfoot or CPD Supt. David Brown — but he disagrees with Catanzara’s scorched-earth rhetoric.

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Chicago Police Detective Bob Bartlett is running for president of the Fraternal Order of Police against John Catanzara.

Chicago Police Detective Bob Bartlett is running for president of the Fraternal Order of Police against John Catanzara.

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Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara was accused Thursday of squandering union money and alienating everyone — including the police union’s closest allies — to the point where it’s hurting the rank-and-file officers he is supposed to represent.

Veteran Chicago Police Detective Bob Bartlett is trying to unseat the fiery union president who has gone toe to toe with Mayor Lori Lightfoot over all things law enforcement in a feud that paused only long enough to deliver an eight-year police contract.

Ballots in the election for FOP president will be counted March 3.

Like Catanzara, Bartlett is no fan of Lightfoot or her hand-picked CPD Supt. David Brown. He wants to see both of them gone.

But Bartlett said Catanzara’s verbal scorched-earth policy is not the way to go.

“You do need to speak up. … That’s not something that is going to change. But you do it so that you still have lines of communication to get things done. ... And that, he cannot do. He has eroded every group of people he is involved with,” Bartlett said.

“Our state legislators. People at City Hall. City Council. Yelling at aldermen who are our friends. It’s gotten so bad that legislators won’t work with him to get stuff done in Springfield.”

During the battle over requiring city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Catanzara told the Sun-Times: “This ain’t Nazi f---ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f---ing showers.’”

After outrage by Jewish community leaders, he apologized — but tried to explain away and almost justify his original remarks.

Bartlett called that episode Exhibit A for why Catanzara needs to go. Catanzara did not respond to a request to comment.

“He spouts off without thinking about what he is going to say and how it is going to affect people. Just the fact that he brings up those ridiculous references just shows you where his head is. ... You can make an argument and a fight without looking like the buffoon in the room,” Bartlett said.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara addresses union protesters and supporters outside City Hall in October 2021.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara addresses union protesters and supporters outside City Hall in October 2021 as they rally against a requirement that police, like all other city employees, get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bartlett also accused Catanzara of raising union dues by $2.5 million to support “exorbitant” spending, including an $80,000 food truck, $26,000 in travel expenses, and a proposed union headquarters he fears could be a “Taj Mahal” when increased parking at the current headquarters would be sufficient.

And Bartlett poked holes in Catanzara’s claim to fame: that new contract, which includes a 20% raise over eight years, more than half of it retroactive, saying “he agreed to the pay raises that were only a half-percent more than the city was originally offering — I think we would have done far better in arbitration.”

The FOP board has no African American members. Catanzara has exacerbated those racial tensions by threatening to expel a Black officer from the union for kneeling with protesters after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

If elected, Bartlett promised to transform the FOP into a union “more inclusive to everybody.” He calls it, “Mentoring the Future of the FOP.”

“That means these districts that have a lot of Black and Hispanic officers and get them to fill the roles of unit rep and watch rep. From there, we’re gonna start teaching them the inner workings of the union, how to lead through our contract, how to use grievances and legal defense. Get them on committees. Get them involved. And when the next election comes, we’ll have more opportunities to run for these positions on the board,” he said.

Every mayoral challenger has vowed to fire Brown as police superintendent.

It can’t happen soon enough for Bartlett, who characterized the retired Dallas police chief as a puppet, with Lightfoot pulling the strings.

That includes imposing policies on vehicle and foot chases that are so restrictive, police officers are retiring faster than the city can hire replacements, with those who remain just going through the motions.

“He never comes out and defends our officers. The [Adam] Toledo shooting is one great example of that. That officer had a split second to make that decision. And he did absolutely nothing wrong,” Bartlett said.

“He just does whatever the mayor says. He’s just here to get a paycheck,” he added.

“These officers are putting their blinders on and not looking for the criminals like they used to. … They’re just trying to avoid the situations that are gonna put them in harm’s way. You can’t blame them. If every time you do something that you believe in your heart is the right thing to do as a police officer and you get in trouble for it ... you’re not gonna keep doing it.”


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