Mayor Lori Lightfoot disputed the notion that Chicago police officers are being overworked, telling reporters the department gives cops notice when their days off are going to be canceled and they have an “incredible amount of” time off as part of their contract.
Lightfoot made the comments after aldermen approved an ordinance Wednesday providing a death benefit to spouses of first responders who die by suicide. The City Council passed the measure unanimously after its sponsor, Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea, and other aldermen spoke about the hardships faced by officers, including having their days off repeatedly canceled amid an ongoing staff shortage.
Chicago police Superintendent David Brown, Lightfoot’s handpicked choice to be the city’s top cop, has often increased officers’ shifts to 12-hour days and canceled days off since 2020 as violence has remained at elevated levels. In May 2021, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police issued a symbolic vote of no confidence against Lightfoot, Brown and the department’s second-in-command, Eric Carter, for reasons including day-off cancellations and shift extensions.
The city is experiencing staffing troubles due in part to dwindling personnel. In June 2019, for instance, the department had 13,263 sworn officers, according to statistics from the city’s inspector general’s office. But as of this month, the department had 11,638 sworn cops, city data shows.
At her customary post-council news conference, Lightfoot disputed “the narrative” about police officers being overworked. City cops “are given notice ahead of time when days (off) are going to be canceled,” she said, including this year for Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July.
“In addition, obviously there are some times when there may be an emergency and a day off has to be canceled or because of a particular circumstances in a particular geographic area, there may be a reason to hold people over their tour for a couple of hours,” Lightfoot said.
“But what I would also say is, you should figure out and look at the incredible amount of furlough days, personal days, and other things that officers have by contract,” she continued, “so this notion — I think the infamous head of the FOP has said as part of his campaign, ‘They’re being worked like mules’ — it’s just simply not correct.”
Lightfoot said she understands “there’s a lot of stress and strain on being a police officer, part of that is inherent in the job but… the department has taken extraordinary steps to try to ease that burden on individual officers and their families particularly during what I think as I said before is probably the most difficult time to be the police.”
The mayor’s comments drew an angry rebuke from controversial FOP president John Catanzara, who said in a statement that the city’s policy of canceling days off is unsustainable and harming officers’ well-being.
“Fact: cops are burnt out, they are not getting that needed time off, and they absolutely don’t have enough support from this mayor or superintendent. Period,” Catanzara said.
It also provoked an impassioned response by Lisa Carroll, whose husband, Michael Carroll, is a Chicago detective.
“My husband hasn’t had a day off in 11 days because he continues to be canceled, same for our neighbors, same across the board!!” she tweeted on Wednesday. “A few hours?!? My husband worked 10 hours on his day off yesterday.”
The controversy over police schedules comes as Lightfoot faces criticism over her administration’s handling of public safety issues. The mayor, who is seeking reelection in 2023, has a long, complicated history in the local police reform movement. She’s a former federal prosecutor who headed the board that oversees police discipline and chaired the Police Accountability Task Force formed after white police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager.
But she is often criticized by activists as being pro-police and has sought to position herself as an ally to local cops, with mixed results.
Lightfoot’s administration has bitterly sparred with the FOP since she announced a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for city workers last year — a measure that resulted in the police union and city suing each other.
Chicago Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner contributed.