Chicago police suicide: Officers could decline excessive hours under proposed ordinance

ByABC7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Thursday, July 21, 2022
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Chicago City Council will address CPD mental health, speed cameras and street racing Wednesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Several city council members are pushing a new set of ordinances to address police officer wellness. Under the proposals, officers could refuse to have days off canceled or be assigned excessive overtime, except during major events and emergencies.

With the police department facing a mental health crisis, Ald. Anthony Napolitano is pushing an ordinance that would give Chicago cops advance notice of their schedules, empower them to decline excessive overtime and offer a pay bump to those who accept.

After a series of officer suicides, criticism of the department's practice of canceling days off has come under increased scrutiny.

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Napolitano, who represents the 41st Ward, intriduced his proposal at Wednesday's City Council meeting in hopes it can give exhausted cops "some relief." Before the meeting, he and four of his colleagues held a news conference with relatives of fallen officers to call for hearings on mental health challenges facing police.

"We have 20 suicides in four years," three of which happened this month, he said. "This isn't a cry for help. This is a blatant alarm going off."

"We cannot continue with regular days off canceled. We cannot continue with 12 hour shifts," 19th Ward Alderman Matt O'Shea added/

In 23 years with the city, Napolitano said he has never seen such a "total disregard for a department and a workforce."

Under his proposal, an officer could decline "any previously unscheduled hours," including proposed canceled days off and extended shifts of more than two hours. If an officer has more than two hours added to a scheduled shift or has to work in a new location, they would be paid double time for each shift on top of regular overtime.

Officers would also be granted "the right to decline" work hours that come less than 12 hours after their previous shift ended. Should they accept, they'd be paid twice their normal rate.

Those requirements wouldn't apply if the city is facing a breakdown of public utilities, a natural disaster or an event that "would cause a clear and present danger," such as civil unrest. Shift trades, mutually agreed upon schedule changes and alterations for disciplinary reasons also wouldn't be affected, the ordinance states.

RELATED: 3rd Chicago police officer dies by suicide this month; department prioritizing staff mental health

If the department needs to fill extra shifts, they would first be offered to cops who are "qualified to do the additional work," according to the ordinance. The distribution of additional hours couldn't be discriminatory and should be doled out based on "qualifications, rank, seniority" and any collective bargaining agreements subject to payment at double time.

Retaliation against officers exercising their new rights, including termination and punitive schedule changes, would be prohibited and carry a $10,000 fine. The department would also face a fine of up to $2,000 a day for each violation of the ordinance - money that would go directly to the affected officer.

"We are failing the men and women of the Chicago Police Department when it comes to mental wellness; they've been kicked, they have been abused and cast aside," Ald. O'Shea said Wednesday.

What's more, officers could even file class-action lawsuits over alleged violations.

What does Napolitano expect a Chicago Police Department with nearly 2,000 vacancies to do if they don't have enough officers to protect the city?

"We're at critical mass right now," he said. "If you can't properly protect this city with the manpower you have without increasing their working time, you have to step outside the city of Chicago.

"You have to reach to the county and the federal government and ask them for assistance. You can't put it on a department that you've purposely depleted for defunding purposes. They've demonized the police department. We can't get anybody to take this job."

Police spokespeople didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the City Council approves the ordinance, the police department will also be forced to provide the crime statistics needed to justify canceling days off.

The ordinance is part of a larger public safety package, which includes six ordinances and a resolution, addressing mental health challenges being faced by officers, expediting benefits to family members that lost their loved ones and more.

"You're gonna see officers who need rest decline and get their rest," Napolitano said. "They'll be able to kiss their families, take their kids to school again and have some time to breathe and get their sanity back. And when they're rejuvenated, they'll jump on top of taking the overtime for the extra pay and allow another group to rest. It's there for them to work this out."

And family members of officers who have died by suicide said Wednesday morning the department is stretched too thin, and these officers need more support.

"Why do these officers need days off? To breathe, to think, to sleep, to process the dramatic scenes that they are witnessing, to spend time with their families to feel like human beings, to feel like they matter," said Matt Clancy, who lost his police officer sister to suicide earlier this month.

RELATED: Suicide prevention: New 988 hotline is the 911 for mental health emergencies

"You can't turn it off; their mind need time to rest," one said.

Mourning CPD family members are emotional and frustrated.

"We need to protect the people that are risking their lives to protect us; this job is the most traumatizing of them all, and we are taking their time to process what they see," Clancy added.

The mayor, who expressed concern for the difficult job officers have to do, said she will not support it. She said it would not be appropriate for the city council to be setting personnel rules and policies.

During Wednesday's meeting, the City Council also voted to crack down on vehicles used in drag racing and other dangerous street stunts, while at the same time refusing to roll back on slower speed limits for speed camera tickets.

Wednesday's Council meeting was the last before the annual August recess.

If you feel suicidal or you're worried about someone you know, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. You can also text the Crisis Text Line by messaging TALK to 741741.For more information, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The Sun-Times Media Report contributed to this post.