The Chicago Police Department has defended its decision to cancel officers’ days off in order to combat summer violence — a decision criticized by the city’s police union after three officers committed suicide in recent weeks.
Superintendent David Brown said that days off are routinely canceled at certain points of the year to ensure that there are enough officers on shift to be able to provide backup during a dangerous situation.
“Would you rather have officers coming to help you when you’re being shot at? Or not enough officers at work and no one coming to help you,” Brown said at a press conference. “That’s the really tough, tough, tough decision that superintendents have made for the last 30 years. And they all have made similar decisions that I made.”
Brown claimed that officers get around 104 regular days off each year aside from holidays. On average, 20 of those days get canceled — especially the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a period with a historically high rate of violent crime.
Brown further claimed that the department does not cancel officers’ personal days off or vacation days.
Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7 objected to Brown’s statement and accused him of dishonesty.
According to the union, officers say that Brown’s days-off policy is “brand new,” and that all days, including personal days off, have been restricted.
“This has NOT been happening for years as he has said over and over again,” the FOP tweeted. “The superintendent is lying to the media and the people of Chicago.”
The union said it filed several complaints against the department for unfair labor practices due to canceling days off, which they argue are important for officer well-being.
Alexa James, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago and formerly the CPD’s advisor of wellness, told the Chicago Sun-Times that she believes the treatment toward officers is “inhumane,” especially in light of the third officer suicide to occur this month.
“I think what’s happening is inhumane,” she said. “And I’m certainly not linking [regular day off] cancellations to increase of suicide, but we do know that this is the pattern.”
Brown denied that canceled off days were related to the suicides, saying it was “not a common theme.”
The year has been challenging for the CPD, with 34 officers being shot or shot at this year, and seven sustaining injuries.
Officers “are in the midst of the most difficult and challenging time to be a police officer in this country. Officer well-being and overall mental health are our top priority,” the department wrote in a tweet.
The department assured that they are finding ways to address mental health, including adding faith-based counseling programs and an employee assistance program (EAP), which provides clinical therapists and counsellors to both active and retired employees.
James said that while these programs will likely not do much to “mitigate the decades of disinvestment around wellness,” she called for a “comprehensive strategy” to merge public safety plans and treatment with time off between shifts to make sure officers can decompress.
“They really see these horrific, triggering events all the time that they’ve compounded,” she explained. “And when you’ve compounded levels of trauma, and with no opportunity to kind of debrief unless you’re forced to, it can become increasingly likely that you develop stress disorders, depression [and] anxiety.”
The police department’s EAP currently has 11 licensed clinicians working, with three more set to join.
Brown also said that the department plans to hire a chief medical officer for additional oversight.
EAP Director Dr. Robert Sobo said that all CPD employees undergo training to recognize the signs of various mental illnesses so they can help themselves or others get help.