As a battle between Chicago's police union and the city continues to unfold over an employee vaccine mandate, concerns over a potential officer shortage have been raised. Now, some suburban departments say they won't send their officers to help the city if they are needed.
A message dispatched on a platform that connects police officials across suburban departments in Illinois asked if members of the coalition would be willing to send teams to the city in case of an emergency, should it be needed.
Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System Executive Director James Page told NBC Chicago that the message was sent as a precaution, should an emergency arise during a potential shortage of officers due to vaccine compliance.
While some departments have agreed to send officers when possible, others have already declined.
“I believe the polarization between the community and police is only reinforced by current Chicago politics," Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said in a statement. "I will not send my personnel to Chicago, unless an officer is under direct duress, because I cannot support this slanted agenda. I also will not allow my deputies to be subjected to use force in the city and be under the prosecutorial jurisdiction of the Cook County State’s Attorney."
Dupage County Sheriff James Mendrick called it a "tall ask" and said he will not send his deputies to Chicago if the department has a shortage problem, unless it is a true emergency. He noted his office is already short-staffed with deputies retiring and leaving the force.
He likened the idea to the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers rivalry.
"It would be like the Chicago Bears training all season, playing all their games and then benching their team and then calling the Green Bay Packers to play the Super Bowl with a different coach, a new play book that they’ve never seen," he said. "Because we don’t know what they’re rules and regulations are. We don’t know where their beats are, where their high and low crime areas are. We would come in blind through all of that."
Meanwhile, Cook County said it has already offered its resources to the city should they be needed.
“The [Cook County] Sheriff’s Police Department has uniformed patrol officers tasked with providing public safety in all of unincorporated Cook County," the office said in a statement. "We have not been asked to assist Chicago with policing in relation to any potential emergency staff shortage but have offered assistance. The Sheriff’s Office currently assists Chicago Police in the 15th and 6th Districts as part of our anti-violence initiatives and will continue to offer support as resources allow.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has offered the assistance of the state's National Guard in the event of possible Chicago police officer shortages after police union leaders urged members to defy the city's vaccine requirement for employees.
Pritzker said he has offered all available state resources, including the Illinois National Guard, but the city of Chicago has yet to accept.
"I think you understand by now that you can't just march National Guard into a city without coordinating, and you can't just march state police into a city without coordinating with the Chicago Police Department," he said. "So at every turn, we have continuing conversations with them, but we need the leadership of the city to ask us."
Multiple court hearings are set for Wednesday amid a legal battle over Chicago's coronavirus vaccine mandate now at the center of a debate between the city and its police union leader.
So far 21 officers have been placed on unpaid status as a result of refusing to submit their information to the portal.
Multiple court hearings were set for Wednesday in connection with the mandate as the battle spills into courtrooms.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has accused the police officers' union and its president of spreading misinformation about the vaccine mandate's reporting process, which asks for vaccination status and allows for a temporary window of regular COVID-19 testing at the employee’s own expense until vaccines can be administered.
The union's president, Catanzara, maintains that the order to provide information to the portal is both a violation of the officers' constitutional rights and their rights under the union’s contract with the city.
The police union's website again on Tuesday directed members to not comply, but also has offered an option to comply while providing a form to show they are doing so "under complete duress and threats of termination.”
The Fraternal Order of Police said they will fight in court for all members who are placed on unpaid status because of their refusal of a direct order.
“Don’t let them confuse you, or bully you, into going onto the portal,” Catanzara said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Supt. David Brown pushed back against the union chief’s statements, saying that his members are being “misinformed” by union leadership.
“They should be able to rely on union leadership, but many have been misinformed,” Brown said.
According to Brown, just under 68% of police employees have submitted their information to the COVID vaccine portal. Of those employees, 82% are fully vaccinated against COVID.
Brown noted that his first cousin’s immediate family, all of whom were against taking the vaccine, died as a result of contracting COVID.
“I lost my first cousin to COVID, and her husband, and her daughter, all in a two-week time span,” he said.
Brown said that the reality of what COVID has done to his family, as well as the fact that more police officers have died of COVID since the pandemic began than from any other cause, are leading him to push harder for officers to comply with the terms of the COVID vaccine mandate.
“I will say and do anything to save an officer’s life. I will,” he said.