A Cook County judge on Friday ordered Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara to stop making public comments encouraging his members to defy the city’s COVID vaccine policies.
Judge Cecilia Horan’s decision came just hours before a deadline for officers to enter their vaccination status in a city web portal, something Catanzara had encouraged them not to do.
Earlier in the hearing, Catanzara refused to voluntarily stop making those allegedly inflammatory comments to his members. But in apparent defiance of the judge’s order, within minutes of the hearing, FOP tweeted out an earlier appearance by Catanzara on a Fox News program, where they said he explained that “the vaccine mandate policy doesn’t make any sense, and why he is asking officers not to report their vaccination status.”
During the nearly two-hour hearing, City attorney Michael Warner said police would be expected to upload their vaccination status by midnight Friday night. But he repeated an earlier position that no one would be sent home for refusing, because as a “practical reality,” it will take officials time to determine who is in compliance.
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As a result, Warner emphasized nothing would be done over the weekend which would compromise police staffing.
“The policy is still in effect,” he said. “And in due course, as applications are processed, a determination is going to be made who is in compliance and who is not.”
The hearing grew heated at times, with Warner at one point characterizing Catanzara’s continued public comments to “municipal sedition and treason” toward the City of Chicago.
“They can grieve it, they can litigate, but what they cannot do, and what the president of the FOP cannot do, is say we are just not going to comply,” Warner told the court. “Mr. Catanzara cannot continue to hold the city hostage!”
FOP attorney Joel D’Alba argued that the city’s policy mandating that officers report their vaccination status had to be bargained with the union.
“There’s no demonstration that the health and safety of the city will be impacted by the failure of officers to answer a single question,” he said.
But Warner declared that the police department was a quasi-military organization, and that the FOP had no authority to tell its members to defy direct orders.
“What Mr. Catanzara is doing is more like a street brawl - it’s lawless,” he said. “Courts across the country have upheld vaccine mandates.”
While Warner insisted there would be no direct enforcement of the mandate over the weekend, which many feared would lead to hundreds of officers being sent home, he indicated future enforcement, once the numbers were calculated, was a certainty.
“At some point for individuals and officers who still have not reported their status in the portal, when that information is tabulated, for those who are still not in compliance, there will be enforcement,” he said. “They could be disciplined, or they could be sent home and put in a no-pay status.”
City officials said it would most likely be at least Tuesday before they had a firm handle on the number of officers who had defied the policy.
At one point, Catanzara suggested a willingness to refrain from his public comments, if the City would tell commanders to likewise stop ordering officers to comply. Warner refused to take that deal.
“What the City has committed is that nobody will lose money, nobody will be sent home, until your honor can have a further hearing next week,” he told the judge. “What we can’t have is the command staff of the police department not doing their jobs to enforce city rules.”
FOP attorney D’Alba suggested muzzling Catanzara amounted to an infringement of his First Amendment rights. But Warner suggested the union president’s comments constituted a danger.
“It’s not First Amendment-protected speech,” he said. “He is advocating sedition. He is advocating anarchy here. That, in and of itself, is causing irreparable harm.”
In the end, the judge stopped short of asking Catanzara to retract his previous comments, but did order him to refrain from continuing to encourage his members’ defiance of the City policy.
“We all agree that we need to keep our citizens safe,” she said.
The judge set another hearing on the matter for Oct. 25.