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Healthcare

Some Chicago cops won't share vaccine status, even if it means they lose police power

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Chicago has started sidelining police officers who refuse to comply with the city's COVID-19 vaccination policy. It makes Chicago the latest front in the battle between city leaders and law enforcement officers throughout the country. Patrick Smith of member station WBEZ reports.

PATRICK SMITH, BYLINE: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants all Chicago city workers inoculated against the coronavirus.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: We're not trying to do anything other than create a safe workplace.

SMITH: She initially announced a vaccine mandate, but after pushback from unions, including the police, she compromised and said city employees have to either be vaccinated or undergo twice weekly testing. Lightfoot then ordered all city workers to share their vaccination status with the city by the end of last Friday.

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LIGHTFOOT: It's pretty straightforward. Are you vaccinated or not?

JOHN CATANZARA: I am telling you right now it is an improper order. It is illegal. Refuse that order.

SMITH: In the week leading up to the deadline, John Catanzara, who heads the police union here, urged his officers to defy the order, arguing it's an infringement on their medical privacy. Data released by the city on Monday showed that about a third of the Chicago Police Department followed Catanzara's direction, declining to share their vaccination status. That's more than 4,000 police officers. Law enforcement officers across the country have bucked vaccine mandates in places like Seattle, Portland, Oregon and LA County. Dr. John Williams is a physician and a sheriff's deputy in Colorado and has been encouraging police to get the vaccine. While he doesn't believe mandates are the most effective way to do that, he also thinks there's something else at play.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Cops are out there feeling that they're in a corner, and they've lost the respect of a lot of the public. Yet they're doing a really difficult job and putting their lives on the line every day. And this may be the one thing to say, look. OK? You're stripping away all these other things. You're telling me to get that needle. I ain't taking it.

SMITH: In Chicago, city council member Brian Hopkins argues it boils down to a broken relationship between the mayor and the rank and file.

BRIAN HOPKINS: A number of the officers that I've talked to - they just felt that this was yet one more condescending, insulting message that was delivered to them by someone who they do not respect or admire.

SMITH: But Mayor Lightfoot insists this is about public safety and nothing else. Police officials have been calling individual officers down to headquarters and ordering them one last time to share their vaccination status. If they refuse that direct order, the officers are stripped of their police powers and put on no-pay status. Mayor Lightfoot says only a very small number of officers have refused the final order, though that number could grow as more and more officers are confronted throughout the week. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Smith in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLIGHT FACILITIES' "DOWN TO EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.