Final Tally: More Than 1,750 Chicago Police Officers Won’t Have to Get Vaccinated

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration exempted more than 1,750 members of the Chicago Police Department from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and has not moved to terminate a single police officer for failing to comply with the order in the more than two months since the final deadline passed, officials told WTTW News.

That amounts to approximately 14% of the 12,537-member Chicago Police Department, double the number of exemptions granted to any other city department. By comparison, 6.9% of the 4,801-member Chicago Fire Department were granted exemptions from the vaccine mandate, according to a WTTW News analysis of data provided by the mayor’s office.

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Approximately 5.9% of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s workforce and 5.1% Department Streets and Sanitation employees were granted exemptions, according to city data.

Of the city’s total workforce of 31,101 employees, 8.3% do not have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with 67 exemption requests still pending, according to city data. Exemptions can only be granted for religious or medical reasons under state law.

Members of the Chicago Police Department make up approximately 40% of the city’s workforce, but account for more than 69% of all employees who were exempted from the vaccine, according to city data.

Six members of the Chicago Police Department died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The debate over whether Chicago Police Department officers were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 roiled Chicago politics for months, but ended quietly after the final deadline for officers to be vaccinated passed April 13 and Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown made no move to discipline the hundreds of officers who refused to get vaccinated against the virus that was the leading cause of death for police officers throughout the nation.

Six members of the Chicago Police Department are not being paid because they have not been vaccinated or received an exemption, department spokesperson Maggie Huynh told WTTW News. Department leaders have not begun disciplinary proceedings against any member for violating the city’s vaccine mandate, Huynh said. 

At the height of the furor, Lightfoot refused to roll back the mandate, even as conservative members of the Chicago City Council ratcheted up the pressure on the mayor by warning she would have blood on her hands if the requirement took cops off Chicago’s streets as homicides and carjackings soared to record levels.

City lawyers also turned back a concerted legal effort led by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, which represents rank-and-file officers, to overturn the mandate. Every other city union — except the Chicago Teachers Union — sued the city separately to overturn the vaccine mandate but also lost.

Even with a decisive victory in hand, Lightfoot avoided a direct confrontation over the mandate by quietly approving hundreds of exemption requests submitted by Chicago Police Department members as other issues seized the City Hall spotlight.

The last time Lightfoot faced questions from the news media on the vaccine mandate from reporters was April 19, when she said it was “incorrect” to suggest that Chicago Police officers had disproportionately received exemptions from her vaccine mandate.

Lightfoot did not directly answer a question from WTTW News whether the vaccine exemptions were granted to avoid having to fire thousands of officers while she was running for re-election and during a surge in crime that polls routinely found was voters No. 1 concern.

Lightfoot said all decisions on whether to grant an exemption to the vaccine mandate was made by the city’s Department of Human Resources.

“Our goal is to make sure we’ve got a fully vaccinated workforce, because that is the best way that we know, based on public health data, that we can maximize the protections in the workforce,” Lightfoot said. “Those are how the decisions are being made. They are calling balls and strikes.”

When Lightfoot announced the vaccine mandate in October, she said “the legitimacy of local policing” was at stake. Lightfoot campaigned for mayor in 2019 on a promise to restore the public’s trust in the beleaguered Police Department, which has faced decades of scandals, misconduct and brutality. 

The law requires the city to grant vaccine exemptions to those who qualify for it, Lightfoot said, noting that the “vast majority” of Chicago Police officers are vaccinated.

More than 98% of approved vaccine requests for members of the Chicago Police Department cited a “sincerely held” religious belief that prevented vaccination against COVID-19, according to city data.

Cardinal Blase Cupich has instructed pastors in the Archdiocese of Chicago not to grant religious exemptions to the vaccine, saying that is not supported by church teachings or law.

Just 31 exemptions were granted to members of the Chicago Police Department who provided evidence that a medical condition prevented them from safely being vaccinated, as compared with 1,720 exemptions granted to members of the Chicago Police Department for religious reasons, according to city data.

For an employee to be granted an exemption from the vaccine on medical reasons, they must provide documentation from a medical official showing they could suffer a severe allergic reaction or other illness.

Since the April 13 deadline for all city employees to be vaccinated, city officials granted exemptions to an additional 312 members of the Chicago Police Department, according to a WTTW News analysis of data provided by the mayor’s office.

That would appear to leave 369 members at risk of discipline or termination for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate, accounting for approximately 3% of the department’s employees.

Requests submitted from an additional 56 members of the Chicago Police Department to be exempted from the vaccine based on medical concerns are still pending, according to city data.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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