Late in the evening of July 23, John Catanzara, the president of Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the Chicago Police Department’s rank and file, went to Grant Park. He was there, he told reporters, in support of his officers who had been injured the week before in a demonstration in front of the park’s statue of Christopher Columbus when protesters set off fireworks and threw plastic bottles filled with ice. Maskless and wearing a white windbreaker with red and green stripes and the word “Italia” across the chest, he was willing to argue with anybody: reporters, bikers, beer drinkers, a protester dressed as a vagina. He believed the statue, which city workers were about to take down on the mayor’s orders, was a symbol of America’s heritage, particularly the contributions of Italian Americans like himself, and it deserved to stay. (“This explains it all!” one protester cried. “You’re an Italian, man?”)
“You know what?” Catanzara told a reporter from ABC-7. “The mayor’s a liar. She said it wasn’t gonna come down. Fifty-two police officers got hurt at that statue defending it after she said it wasn’t coming down, and now she wants to basically spit in their face and take the statue down. It’s disgusting. … The mob cannot rule this city. The politicians are supposed to rule this city, and they’re cowards.”
Catanzara, 52, is a big man, 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, most of it muscle. His light brown buzzcut is starting to gray at the temples. Even out of uniform, he is unquestionably a cop. He speaks in an officer’s staccato cadence with a pronounced Chicago accent. He stood in front of Columbus with his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans, chest thrust forward, daring anyone to challenge him. In the wake of the protests, he had written a letter to President Donald Trump, which he’d also posted to the FOP’s Facebook page, requesting federal assistance.
“Our members were just supposed to take aggravated battery after aggravated battery, as victims, as a condition of employment?” he asked me a few weeks later when I met with him in his office. “Hell no will that ever be a condition of employment that we have to accept for members.”
The Tribune had reported that 14 officers were hospitalized, one with a broken eye socket, along with an unknown number of protesters, including 18-year-old Miracle Boyd, whose front teeth were knocked out when a police officer punched her in the face. Twelve arrests were made. The police finally dispersed the crowd of approximately 1,000 by using pepper spray. Mayor Lori Lightfoot later said that the removal of the Columbus statue in Grant Park, as well as the one in Arrigo Park in Little Italy, was temporary, done in the interest of keeping both the police and the protesters, as well as the vigilantes trying to pull it down, safe.
The mayor wasn’t in the park that early morning the statue came down. Neither was the police superintendent. As the leader of the largest of the city’s four police unions, representing 12,000 active-duty officers, Catanzara presented himself as a figure of authority. When he took office as FOP president in May, he promised to be more visible than his predecessors had been. “My name and my reputation will make for good copy,” he wrote in his inaugural president’s report in the FOP’s monthly newsletter. “You have someone who is not afraid to push back.”
As far as Catanzara is concerned, there’s plenty to push back against. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, there has been widespread demand throughout the country for both police reform, including increased accountability for officers, and outright defunding of police departments. Here in Chicago, Lightfoot has already pledged not to defund the police; in August, she cowrote a report from the United States Conference of Mayors concluding that cities should start spending more on social services instead. But reform is another thing, and the FOP is seen as one of the biggest obstacles. It fought vigorously against a federal consent decree, enacted after a Department of Justice investigation into police practices in Chicago in the wake of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, that sets forth a long list of changes the CPD is required to institute by 2024.
In keeping with other large police departments, its contracts with the city have, since 1981, contained a section that offers extraordinary protections for officers facing internal investigations, including the right to amend their statements and a requirement that all civilians making complaints file affidavits beforehand, taking away their anonymity. These protections favor officers to such a degree that of nearly 250,000 allegations of police misconduct since 1988, just 7 percent have resulted in any kind of discipline. FOP members consider appearances before the Civilian Office of Police Accountability nothing more than an annoyance. “The culture here is if you get in trouble, if there’s an administrative inquiry, you can lie and do whatever you can to get out of it because the penalty for lying will never be greater than the trouble you’re in,” former Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis told DNAinfo.
The FOP’s most recent contract expired more than three years ago, in June 2017, and Catanzara, who ran for office promising he would keep the FOP from becoming obsolete, says his No. 1 goal is to get a new one. He’s not going to cave to the city’s demands for reform, though, he told me: “A lot of the things they think they want to do, they have to bargain.” When negotiations finally began in September and the city opened by offering a 10 percent raise over four years in exchange for 40 disciplinary reforms, as mandated by the consent decree, Catanzara stormed out of the room and told the Sun-Times that the union’s only counteroffer would be financial.
Of course, bargaining requires give-and-take on both sides, and far from sparking self-reflection or change from within, the national reckoning over race and policing has only caused the FOP to dig in deeper. The union’s leaders fought long and hard so its members could be, for all intents and purposes, above the law.
What will it take to get them to give that up?
The headquarters of FOP Lodge 7 occupy an unassuming three-story 1920s art deco building in the West Loop, less than a block from Union Park. The FOP’s presence is identified by a sign jutting out over the front door. The first floor is mostly occupied by a gift shop that sells T-shirts, key chains, mugs, baseball caps, shot glasses, stuffed animals, cookie cutters, and other police-themed tchotchkes. The FOP’s neighbors include the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, Pipefitters Local 597, and UA Local 130, which represents plumbers and general contractors.
A century ago, the idea of a police union would have been considered an oxymoron at best. Police officers were used as weapons in the government’s war against organized labor, most notoriously in Chicago in the 1886 Haymarket Affair and the Republic Steel strike of 1937, when officers shot and killed 10 workers, an event that became known as the Memorial Day massacre.
But the police have always had a dangerous job, and around the turn of the 20th century, they began establishing fraternal organizations to offer moral support to one another and to raise money for death benefits. In Chicago, there were several competing groups, the most prominent of which was the Chicago Patrolmen’s Association. The CPA nominally represented the rank and file’s interests to the city government, mostly in the form of asking for raises, which, from the 1950s on, were negotiated through handshake agreements with Mayor Richard J. Daley, who styled himself a staunch ally of the beat cop. Police officers didn’t need to unionize, the thinking went, because they were public servants, not workers, and if their demands conflicted with the city’s — their management — and they went on strike, there could be serious consequences for public safety. While the police departments in cities around the country organized, Chicago lagged behind; the CPD, enmeshed in Daley’s machine, would be the last of any major city police force to unionize.
Change came after a series of scandals in the early 1960s — most notably one in which a dozen Northwest Side cops were caught using police cars to transport stolen goods — brought a new, reform-minded superintendent, Orlando Wilson, to town. Among other things, Wilson created an internal investigations division to increase police accountability. The CPA declared war against Wilson, and its 8,000 members threatened to leave the Democratic Party, but Wilson prevailed and forbade the CPA from collecting dues. The CPA crumbled, and several other unions came in to fill the void, including the Fraternal Order of Police, which, since its founding in 1915, had become one of the largest police unions in the country; Lodge 7 got its charter from the FOP in 1963.
The politics of the FOP were reactionary, to put it mildly. In 1967, George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who was then running for president, spoke at the union’s national convention. The ’60s had been hard on police officers. They were feeling embattled, convinced that no one appreciated the sacrifices they made, that they had — to quote Catanzara in the summer of 2020, a similar historical moment — “gone from hero to zero.” They also resented that city workers with much less dangerous jobs had been allowed to enjoy the benefits of union contracts, including paid overtime. Wallace fed into the FOP’s feelings of self-pity. He railed against the civil rights movement, and the expansion of civil liberties, including Miranda rights. “He invoked language that is very Trumpian in its contours, that if the shackles were taken off the police for a brief period of time, crime would go away,” says Simon Balto, a history professor at the University of Iowa and author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago From Red Summer to Black Power. “He got a standing ovation.” He also got the FOP’s presidential endorsement.
In Chicago, the FOP’s president, Joseph LeFevour, held the blue line. He accused Martin Luther King Jr., who came to the city in 1966 to fight poverty, of being an agent of mayhem (“Wherever he goes, violence erupts”) and praised the 1969 police raid that killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Those statements appealed to the majority-white rank and file, but what really helped raise the FOP to dominance among Chicago’s police unions — as historian Megan Adams wrote in “The Patrolmen’s Revolt: Chicago Police and the Labor and Urban Crises of the Late Twentieth Century,” her 2012 doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley — was its overwhelming success in obtaining contracts, specifically ones that included a police bill of rights containing protections against internal investigations.
In 1976, Daley gave his approval for the police to engage in collective bargaining in the hope that his preferred union, the Teamsters, would prevail. It was not to be. When the police officers went to the polls in November 1980 to vote on which union would represent them, they chose the FOP. (The sergeants, lieutenants, and captains unionized as well; they are represented by the Policemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.) The first contract was signed nine months later. It contained a no-strike clause. Today, Lodge 7 is the largest FOP local in the country, with 17,000 dues-paying members (both active-duty and retired officers).
Two recent studies have examined the effects of the introduction of collective bargaining on police forces; one, from the University of Chicago Law School, looked at data from a county in Florida; another, from the University of Victoria in British Columbia and the University of Memphis, studied data collected across the United States between the 1950s and the 1980s. Researchers were curious whether, with the protections of a police bill of rights and similar measures in place, officers in ambiguous situations would be more likely to shoot to kill. Both studies reached essentially the same conclusion: Three years after a police union gets collective bargaining rights, there’s an increase in the number of civilians killed by cops. Interestingly, that increase affects only people of color.
The Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project found that, between 2005 and 2015, Chicago police were 14 times more likely to use force against Black people than white people. Seventy-two percent of incidents where the CPD used force were against Blacks.
In many ways, John Catanzara can be seen as a continuation of the FOP tradition. He’s an avid supporter of Donald Trump; he keeps on his desk a framed printout of a congratulatory tweet from Trump on the occasion of Catanzara’s election. In August, at the president’s invitation, he traveled to Washington to sit on the White House lawn while Trump delivered his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Two weeks later, the Chicago FOP gave Trump its endorsement.
The third floor of the Lodge 7 headquarters is a nondescript space, with gray industrial carpet, a grid of cubicles in the middle, and executive offices around the perimeter. The only thing that distinguishes it from an insurance office is the abundance of police-themed art, some of it by children, much of it in honor of fallen officers. In the waiting area, on a low table, there’s a pile of brochures advertising mental health services through the union. Catanzara’s office, which overlooks Washington Boulevard, is twice the size of the others, with a small round table for meetings. The large, polished wooden desk is covered with tidy stacks of paper and is scrupulously neat. An enormous FOP seal hangs on the wall, and an American flag stands in the corner. A sign in the window hints at further ambition: “John Catanzara for Mayor 2023.” Catanzara wouldn’t say whether it’s a joke or not. He’d rather discuss the present.
While many Americans have been appalled by the police brutality that has become widely publicized in recent years, thanks in part to smartphone videos, Catanzara believes it is the police who are under siege and victims of a larger conspiracy. There is, he tells me, “a faction of a generation who just wants anarchy, socialism, communism, whatever kind of craziness they think they want to turn this world into. It’s an opportunity to try and further that agenda. This isn’t about social justice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of those people. The anarchy is just a part of a grander plan. And unfortunately, the police are the easiest low-hanging fruit to make the target.”
In his mind, the killing of Floyd had nothing to do with racism. Derek Chauvin, the cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, was “a sadistic human being who enjoyed doling pain out to anybody, no matter what race.” The three other cops who watched him do it weren’t symptomatic of the systemic racism in the Minneapolis Police Department; rather, they were young officers who were badly intimidated by a more experienced superior. Catanzara doesn’t think those three cops should go to jail, but believes they should not be allowed to serve on the police force anymore. He has claimed he’s never seen members of the CPD policing solely on the basis of race. (“If he believes that,” Lightfoot told the Today show in a segment about Chicago police reform, “he’s got his head in the sand.”)
“This isn’t about social justice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of those people,” Catanzara says of the protests. “The anarchy is just a part of a grander plan. And unfortunately, the police are the easiest low-hanging fruit.”
Though he dislikes the word, Catanzara considers himself a reformer of sorts, someone who will bring the FOP into the future. On his left arm, he has a large tattoo of a sword decorated in the red and green of the Italian flag, alongside the motto “If not me, then who. If not now, then when.” (He waited to get it until after his mother died in 2010.) He sees himself as someone who will speak truth to power. The leaders of a union, he believes, should stand up for their members. “I didn’t see that here,” he says. “It just seemed like a lot of self-serving ‘Me, me, me.’ And then everybody else second and third.”
Yes, it is true that during his 25 years on the force, there have been 50 complaints made against Catanzara — he was punished for nine, resulting in seven suspensions for a total of 86 days — and, yes, that is an unusually high number, but it doesn’t even put him anywhere near the top of the list of officers with the most allegations. Most of the complaints, including the two for which the Chicago Police Board recommended he be fired, were, he says, due to the fact that he dared to talk back to authority when no one else would. (There were others, for repeatedly harassing a former girlfriend both in Chicago and in Miami Beach, working security while on medical leave, associating with a felon while off duty, and allegedly operating an escort service out of his home — though, following an investigation, the last charge was deemed unfounded. There were also five reports of “use of force,” which is police-speak for fighting, mostly in bars and liquor stores while off duty.) And, yes, it is true that two years ago he was removed from active duty after he filed a police report against Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent at the time, for marching with anti-violence protesters on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Trespassing on a public freeway, he explains now, was “a violation of state law, it is a violation of federal law. And nobody seemed to care that the head law enforcement officer in this city was partaking in a criminal act. And because I decided to call him out on it, I was obviously retaliated against and there’s no other way to slice it. I was absolutely struck of my police power shortly thereafter.” The duty of a police officer, Catanzara has said repeatedly, is to enforce the laws. If politicians don’t want police to enforce the laws, they need to change those laws.
Even before he filed his report against Johnson, Catanzara was being investigated for his use of social media for political ends. In September 2017, he posted a photo on Facebook of himself in uniform, standing in front of a police car and unfurling an American flag, along with a sign that read: “I stand for the anthem. I love the American flag. I support my President and the 2nd Amendment.” He says he knew he was violating CPD rules against making political statements while on duty but did it to make a point: Earlier that week, two uniformed Black officers had knelt in protest of Trump’s criticism of football players kneeling during the national anthem. They were merely reprimanded. “I wanted to see what was going to happen to me when I did it, if it was going to be equal,” Catanzara says. “Well, it wasn’t.” Instead, he was removed from his post as a school officer at Hubbard High School in West Lawn, where he’d also coached cross-country, traveled with the Junior ROTC to competitions, and built a koi pond in honor of a fellow officer who had been shot and killed in the line of duty. That one hurt: Catanzara is a graduate of Hubbard, and he considers his assignment there one of the most rewarding he’s ever had.
Though Catanzara has discussed returning to active duty with the current superintendent, David Brown, whom he claims to love and admire, he doesn’t expect he’ll ever be back on the street again. By the time his current three-year term as FOP president ends in 2023, he’ll be 55 and able to retire with full benefits and a pension. Anyway, he’s quite enjoying his current role. “There’s no way to say it without sounding cocky or braggadocious,” he says, “but I really think I was made for this job. In this time, in this climate more than ever, I think the membership needed a voice to stand up for them because morale is at an all-time low.” During these first months of his presidency, despite the protests, riots, looting, and lack of days off, Catanzara believes he’s delivered a shot of adrenaline to the beleaguered cops: They know that now someone has their backs. Although 4,400 FOP members voted for the incumbent, Kevin Graham, in the spring presidential election, Catanzara says that if the election were held again today, 3,000 of those cops would vote for him instead.
In his eyes, Catanzara has always understood what a union should represent for its members. He grew up in a union family in Garfield Ridge, on the Southwest Side, where he still lives. His father was a truck driver for 43 years and active in the union; Catanzara keeps his dad’s shop steward’s badge within easy reach of his desk at FOP headquarters. After Catanzara graduated from high school, he became a truck driver, too, but he decided that wasn’t the life for him. He wanted to be able to interact with people. And he wanted a job with benefits and security so he could provide for his son, who was born when he was 22. (Catanzara has never married.)
But he always felt like an outsider in the CPD and the FOP. Both organizations were run by the same sort of people, a tradition-minded old guard that didn’t like to be challenged and exhibited what Catanzara describes as a “ ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ mentality.” When he ran for president, his platform was to bring the FOP into the 21st century and to serve all its members, not just the elected officials and their cronies. He promised that the FOP would look much different in 10 years: Its leaders would be younger. They would not use the n-word to describe their Black colleagues (something Catanzara overheard a union officer do). And they would be more representative of the police force itself, which, at the moment, is approximately 50 percent white, 20 percent Black, and 28 percent Hispanic.
Even so, earlier this summer, Catanzara put some Black officers in a difficult position. During the protests immediately following the Floyd killing, Catanzara told WGN-AM’s Bob Sirott, “Any member of Lodge 7 who is going to take a knee and basically side with protesters while they’re in uniform will subject themselves to discipline in the lodge, up to and including expulsion from Lodge 7.” When two young Black officers were brought up on disciplinary charges by police brass for kneeling in protest — one during a demonstration, the other under the sign at FOP headquarters as a personal statement — Catanzara stayed true to his word, though his action didn’t go beyond a reprimand. They had violated the first and, in his opinion, most important principle of the FOP: fraternalism. An officer’s primary loyalty should be to the force and to the union, not to his or her community, and especially not when those two are at odds.
Catanzara bristles at the suggestion that his support for Trump and his edict forbidding FOP members to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters make him a racist. A true racist, he says, is someone like his father, who died without ever knowing that his daughter, Catanzara’s older sister, had married a Black man. Catanzara says he’s not like that at all. “It’s ludicrous,” he says. “I have interracial nephews and a niece. It’s an environment I grew up in. It’s nothing new to me. I’ve dated African American women, Hispanic women, Chinese women. It’s ludicrous to just think because I have a political mindset that might be different than yours, it’s just automatically ‘You’re racist’ because you support this person or that person.”
The union, he tells me, is supposed to present a united front. “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” (This is a common theme in the monthly FOP newsletter, whose writers overwhelmingly share the point of view that only a cop can really understand other cops and everyone else should keep their mouths shut.) Catanzara doesn’t mind criticism of the way he does his job, but he prefers it to come directly, to his face, from people who have already shown a commitment to being part of the union. Before he ran for office himself, he was a regular presence at union meetings, asking questions and challenging the leadership. The officers who knelt, he says, didn’t do that.
One officer did address Catanzara directly, if not in person. At the end of June, Julius Givens, a Black cop, resigned from the FOP in an open letter to Catanzara, posted on Medium. “John, I am bewildered that given your position as the leader of one of the most powerful unions in the United States, that you would respond in such a manner,” he wrote. “To hear the cry of the people we serve and ignore it is a crime against humanity.” In a follow-up post, Givens considered the special challenges of being a Black member of the CPD. Many Black officers come from the communities they’re now expected to police, he pointed out; they know firsthand what it’s like to live without access to education, adequate health care and childcare, and decent-paying jobs. In the eyes of many Black officers, being a cop often means enforcing systems of oppression, and there are plenty of studies showing that Black communities are more heavily policed than white ones, and that Black people are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated. “This is our great trial,” Givens wrote. “Can public servants, specifically the Police, align their conscience with that of the public we serve? I believe we can. We must.”
At the time of Givens’s resignation, Catanzara, in an email to the Tribune, wrote that “Officer Givens seems to be on his own agenda” and accused him of making broad assumptions about Lodge 7 without ever having gone to union meetings or been involved in lodge business. Six weeks later, he had tempered his anger somewhat. His door was always open to talk, he told me, adding that just the week before, in a staff meeting, he admitted he’d been wrong about an internal memo, though he wouldn’t give any more details than that. But Givens had never made an appointment to come see him and hash out his issues in person. (Catanzara didn’t reach out to Givens either.)
Givens declined to be interviewed for this story. Although he’d already resigned, he explained in an email, he didn’t want to be perceived as piling on criticism of the FOP. “One of the things that is most important to me right now,” he said in the email, “is to remain credible and forthright and focusing my attention on how we can improve.”
Catanzara, meanwhile, has little patience for ambiguities like the ones Givens has to live with as a Black officer, caught between the demands of his profession and his obligations to his community. Catanzara is aware that this qualifies as a personal shortcoming. “I really like black-and-white issues, and not so much gray areas,” he tells me. “But there are times where gray areas matter.”
In the black-and-white world of the FOP, the cops are the heroes. “On any given day, and in some places every day, a cop will be a social worker, a marriage counselor, a mediator, a psychologist, a paramedic and a punching bag,” Michael Mette, Lodge 7’s first vice president, wrote in his monthly report in the July issue of the FOP newsletter. “I threw in the last one because that is what we have become lately.”
If there are heroes, there must also be enemies. Catanzara has identified many — the media, the protesters, other so-called agents of anarchy — but has zeroed in on two in particular: Mayor Lori Lightfoot and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Catanzara had his first meeting with Lightfoot the Friday before Memorial Day, a few weeks after he became president of the union. It was cordial, Catanzara remembers, and went “really well.” The two agreed to begin negotiations on a new FOP contract as soon as possible and make sure that union members got retroactive additional pay for the past three years, equivalent to a raise if they’d had a contract. “She looked me in the face,” Catanzara recalls, “and said, ‘I want to get that off my books this year, if I can.’ ”
They never continued that conversation because George Floyd was killed three days later. The following weekend, the wave of protests came to Chicago, followed by rioting and looting. Catanzara blames the mayor for not coming up with a plan in advance. “She told me in very strong terms [after protests began in Minneapolis and other cities] that there was no way that was happening here, Minnesota was not coming to Chicago. But it did. And it did because the mayor did not want to do anything other than treat these people with kid gloves. She did not want any aggressive tactics.” In the end, of course, aggressive tactics were used, and the mayor ordered the raising of the bridges and the cutting off of public transportation to downtown in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the looting, trapping protesters in the process.
In mid-June, the enmity between Catanzara and Lightfoot became public when the FOP appealed to a federal judge to issue an emergency order to restore scheduled days off for full-duty sworn officers, some of whom, amid the unrest, had been working 12-hour shifts for as many as 25 days in a row and were, Catanzara said, too exhausted to do their jobs safely. Although the CPD allowed officers to take their scheduled time off during the weekend of June 19 — Juneteenth, which Catanzara argued had not, in the past, required an increase in policing — Catanzara told ABC-7 that the union had considered taking a vote of no confidence against the mayor, but it was unnecessary because it was already obvious that the majority of officers — “99.9 percent,” in his estimation — had no confidence in her.
A month later, when Catanzara wrote his letter to Trump requesting federal assistance, he explained that “Mayor Lightfoot has proved to be a complete failure who is either unwilling or unable to preserve law and order here.” Later that week, after the violence surrounding the Columbus statue, Catanzara and the mayor exchanged a series of texts in which she denied his request for riot gear and he accused her of caring more about rioters than injured police officers. Lightfoot responded: “I made a very strong statement about the planned attack on our officers. You are better than the cartoon character that you allow yourself to become. This is a time for balance and prudence. If you keep going to extremes like some folks on the other side of the political spectrum, you will also become irrelevant. The vast majority of people in this city don’t live in either extreme.” She added, “Apparently you are now officially a clown.”
Catanzara promptly shared the texts with the press — something the mayor told the Tribune she had fully expected him to do. “My characterization of him, I think is 100% accurate, he proves that every single day. I will not retreat when I see someone who’s craven, who is not constructive and is refusing to engage in productive dialogue. He defined himself as to who he is.”
Nonetheless, the mayor and the FOP will have to work together if there is to be a union contract before Catanzara’s three-year term as president is up. Foxx is another story. She and the FOP were never going to be the best of friends. Their criminal justice philosophies are too divergent. Foxx, who grew up in Cabrini-Green and had cousins who’d been shot and other ones who’d been convicted of felonies, ran for Cook County state’s attorney in 2016 on what she called a “holistic” platform: an understanding that crime is not a matter of good guys and bad guys, but more often a product of poverty and lack of choices. As she said in a Marshall Project profile from 2018: “The most risk-averse place is the criminal justice system. The easiest thing is to always say, ‘Lock somebody up.’ … That is a no-brainer — but the outcomes are devastating.” She knew her policy of releasing more people from jail by lowering bond requests for nonviolent crimes was going to be controversial: “I know, based on human nature, that someone out on bond is going to do something. Your hope and prayer is that it’s not something horribly heinous. But you also know that that’s a possibility. But I also know that there are people [in jail] who shouldn’t be. And at what cost?”
This approach did not sit well with cops, especially the more conservative ones who form the leadership of the FOP. In the summer of 2018, Foxx did meet with Kevin Graham, the FOP’s president at the time, but the cordial relations ended with the Jussie Smollett case in early 2019. The cops were especially displeased by the way Foxx had recused herself from the case. The May 2019 issue of the FOP newsletter was filled with attacks on her. “The state’s attorney, i.e., the prosecutor, doesn’t enforce many of the laws and has created an environment where the police can’t do their job,” read one article by field representative Robert Bartlett, who went on to predict that, like Seattle, Chicago would become overrun by crime and homelessness if Foxx remained in office. This is a view Catanzara wholeheartedly shares. “She has been an absolute failure as a chief law enforcement officer for this county. … Downtown has never been as bad as it is right now.”
Foxx has never met Catanzara in his capacity as FOP president. “My only knowledge of him,” she told me, “is when he sat outside my office with white nationalists and QAnon.” This was in April 2019, just after Foxx’s deputy dropped the Smollett case, when the FOP organized a rally in Daley Plaza that was also attended by members of far-right groups the Proud Boys, the American Guard, and the American Identity Movement, and where the heckling turned misogynistic and crude. “How do you work with FOP?” Foxx continues. “These people are rubbing my photo on their genitalia. I wouldn’t want to be associated with that. That’s not how I operate. This city requires its leaders to work together. He has a complete and utter lack of civility for communities which his members serve.”
Since becoming FOP president, Catanzara has made no secret of the fact that his other major goal, besides getting a contract, is to make sure Foxx is voted out of office in November. He’s backing her Republican opponent, Pat O’Brien, a former Cook County judge who has previously called on Foxx to resign and has set up a hotline for crime victims and state employees to file complaints against Foxx and her office.
Foxx, for her part, hopes that Catanzara and the FOP don’t represent the views of the city’s entire police department, as they claim. “Especially in this moment, this national reckoning with race and policing and law enforcement, to double down on the rhetoric that he uses, the communities that his members serve … ,” she says, trailing off. “There’s a clear distinction between him and the men and women who go out and put their lives on the line, and he denigrates their work with that language. When he does the thing he does and puts that on members, it’s horribly unfair, and there’s no way of bridging the divide that we need to bridge. We cannot keep our community safe if people don’t trust law enforcement.”
Change is coming to the Chicago Police Department whether the FOP wants it or not — and the FOP emphatically does not. Nothing has brought that fact to light more clearly than the consent decree. Approved by a federal judge in January 2019 and overseen by an independent monitor who shares progress reports at public hearings, it mandates a series of changes that the CPD will have to institute over the next four years. It’s the first-ever such order in the United States. If the city doesn’t comply, the court can hold it in contempt and impose fines.
There is nothing overtly radical about the contents of the decree. “The purpose of the consent decree is to bring the City of Chicago into compliance with the Constitution,” says Cara Hendrickson, who, as chief of the public interest division of the Illinois attorney general’s office, oversaw negotiations between the city and that office (she’s now the executive director of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a nonprofit policy center). “It’s a floor, not a ceiling.”
Negotiations for the consent decree began in 2018, after Lisa Madigan, the attorney general at the time, had requested that the Justice Department launch a civil rights investigation in the wake of Laquan McDonald’s killing. Madigan and her staff believed the only way to achieve meaningful police reform was with an enforceable consent decree. This one contains 21 key provisions, ranging from monitoring officers’ use of force and instituting better accountability and transparency to changing hiring practices so that the demographics of the CPD will more closely match the city’s and offering better training and mental health resources for officers.
It also requires renegotiations in the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the FOP — namely, the affidavit requirement for civilians who make a complaint and the right of the CPD to destroy officers’ disciplinary records after five years. These measures take direct aim at the sort of culture that allows police officers to cover up for one another — a darker side of fraternalism. (The FOP gave Jason Van Dyke, the cop convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting of McDonald, a job as a janitor after he was fired from the CPD and before his conviction. It also paid the legal fees for Jon Burge, the police commander who was convicted of lying about allowing his subordinates to torture confessions out of suspects.)
The FOP, however, saw the consent decree as interfering with its union contract, which still contains a police bill of rights and lays out the terms and procedures for disciplinary investigations. Under the existing contract, a police officer who shoots someone, for example, faces a justice system far different from the one a civilian would face. “The FOP has a discipline protection process that is very cut and dry, and it is much simpler than the criminal protection system,” Catanzara tells me. First is a hearing with the CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (for complaints from within the department) or the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (for complaints involving civilians, including use of force, firearm discharge, and domestic abuse). If the agency sustains the complaint, the FOP’s lawyers file a grievance and the case goes to arbitration, where the arbitrator’s decision is binding. “That’s two steps,” Catanzara summarizes. “That’s all we have to protect our members. I can’t help it that we do it really well.”
Opponents of the FOP’s disciplinary system argue that it really exists to protect officers from the sorts of consequences they would face as private citizens, an impression that’s reinforced by a regular column in the FOP newsletter by the union’s lawyer, Tim Grace, which assures officers that no matter what they do, the union will make sure they stay on the force. COPA, after all, is made up of civilians who don’t understand what it’s like to be a police officer. “Your rights have been fought for and bargained for over many years,” Grace wrote in May 2019. “They are there to ensure that a person who has never worked a tour will not try to judge you and take advantage of you. … Your Lodge is behind you, and 95 percent of you will get through this without a scratch. This is why you pay dues.” He reinforced his point the following month: “In case they missed a memo, let’s be clear by stating the obvious: We do not follow orders from COPA.”
Catanzara’s objections are more practical: If affidavits were no longer required, he argues, then COPA would see a flood of complaints, possibly from organized protesters targeting a single officer, and how would an agency of 40 people be able to handle them all? That, in his eyes, is the problem with many of the provisions of the consent decree: Despite the $25 million the mayor set aside in the city budget for reforms, the CPD lacks the money and resources to institute them.
As for the movement to defund the police, as cities like Los Angeles have done, Catanzara argues it is simply not an option. It would be a disaster comparable to the defunding of the city’s mental health clinics in 2012. And police officers can’t be replaced by unarmed civilian professionals, like social workers or psychologists, he says. What if someone on the scene has a gun or a knife? What’s a social worker going to do then? “It makes no sense whatsoever.”
The FOP appealed the consent decree all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Still, Catanzara is determined to fight to preserve the bill of rights in the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city. “They don’t get to arbitrarily just decide that those contract negotiations from the past no longer exist,” he says. The fulfillment of the consent decree “can’t be 100 percent under their terms, which is almost what the mayor thinks it can be.”
In the first year of the consent decree, the CPD failed to make more than 75 percent of its deadlines, including for establishing training for working with children, LGBTQ people, and members of religious communities; developing and implementing a policy that prevents sexual misconduct; and reducing the ratio of officers to supervisors to 10 to 1. (The last one was prevented because it would have required a change to the FOP’s collective bargaining agreement.) “The consent decree has a provision that everything in the consent decree has to go forward,” says Karen Sheley, director of the Police Practices Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, “and it shall be interpreted as not interfering with any union rights. For the most part, the most the FOP can do is slow things down and gum the works up a bit.” That kind of obstruction, in her view, is to the department’s detriment: The consent decree was intended in part to improve working conditions for officers.
“These unions have used collective bargaining to protect their members from accountability for racist killing,” wrote Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs in June.
In June, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that officers’ disciplinary records would have to be kept longer than five years, the end of a lengthy legal battle between the city and the FOP triggered by a 2014 Freedom of Information Act request by the Tribune and the Sun-Times. It was another victory for the reformers. The consent decree, however, is about more than internal procedures and bureaucracy. “A big part is that it’s not just remedying police violence and addressing a pattern and practice of civil rights violations with respect to police violence and brutality, [it’s remedying] in particular violence and brutality that’s been borne disproportionately by Black Chicago,” says Craig Futterman, the University of Chicago Law School professor and civil rights attorney whose own FOIA request helped prompt the release of the Laquan McDonald dashcam video after someone in law enforcement tipped him off to its existence. “Another unbroken chain in terms of FOP history in Chicago — and it’s not unique to Chicago — is also an unbroken chain of racism. You can go back as far as you want to go back, you will not see an African American [union] officer and leadership in FOP ever in Chicago.”
Futterman was dismayed that in the recent contract negotiations between the city and the Policemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the arbitrator noted that the city chose not to raise objections to the vast majority of the provisions that contribute to civil rights violations, including the provision that police officers have the right to delay questioning from 24 to 48 hours when they’re accused of misconduct or brutality, and the prohibition on recognizing or rewarding cops who expose abuse of fellow officers. With that precedent set, he asks, how can the city do anything different when it comes time to negotiate the FOP contract?
The FOP itself cannot be disbanded or abolished, at least not from the outside. In America, workers, even in the public sector, still have the right to organize. But, as the Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs wrote on the blog OnLabor in June, “When unions use the power of collective bargaining for ends that we, as a democratic society, deem unacceptable it becomes our responsibility — including the responsibility of the labor movement itself — to deny unions the ability to use collective bargaining for these purposes. … The killing of George Floyd and the events of the last week require us to recognize that police unions have abused the power of collective bargaining in indefensible ways. These unions have used collective bargaining to protect their members from accountability for racist killing.”
Provisions in union contracts, like the FOP’s police bill of rights, that protect officers from public accountability cannot be easily removed. One of Sachs’s solutions, besides opening contract negotiations to the public, is changing public sector bargaining laws to limit the issues unions can bargain over. Police contracts would be required to stick to wages and benefits. Discipline and anything else concerning use of force would be entirely off the table and be subject to the sole discretion of the city.
Changing laws is a long and complex process. Mayor Lightfoot has suggested that it would be much easier for police officers to change their behavior and how they’re perceived. Surprisingly, Catanzara agrees with that, despite his insistence that the police don’t specifically target Black people. Cops, he explains, are trained to be hypervigilant and ready to leap into action. They don’t pay nearly enough attention to the millions of calls they go on every year where absolutely nothing happens, or to their daily interactions as they drive around on patrol. “As officers, we should get out of the car more,” he says. As an example, he tells a story of how he was once riding in a cruiser with an officer he didn’t know well. A little Black boy on a bicycle waved to the officers. Catanzara waved back. The other officer did not. “He’ll be an arrestee in 10 years,” he told Catanzara.
That sort of thinking, Catanzara says, has to change. And he thinks it will, given enough time. A third of Chicago police officers have been on the job for five years or less. Each generation decides which biases it wants to keep and which it will reject. “The needle is moving in the right direction,” he says. “Ten years from now, I think the police department will be very different.”
Kim Foxx finds such talk from Catanzara to be disingenuous. “His record is clear,” she says, “his discipline history is clear, his connection with QAnon is proof.” (Catanzara denies any such connection. “Kim Foxx is clueless,” he told me in an email. “We and I have ZERO affiliations with white supremacists. She DOES have connections with [George] Soros who does also fund domestic terrorism that now grips our nation. Apparently she doesn’t own a mirror.”)
Foxx says it’s a matter of trust: “For someone who comes from these neighborhoods, who knows about distrust, he represents the thing people don’t trust about police, and he’s unapologetic. Who is he serving?” She suggests that Catanzara could make better use of his position by advocating for improved equipment and working conditions instead of spending his time attacking the people — like herself and Lightfoot — with whom he’s supposed to be cooperating. (It also hasn’t escaped her attention that she and the mayor are both Black women. After Foxx got off the phone with me, her assistant sent me a link to an article from the New York Times that highlights how conservatives deliberately undermine Black state’s and district attorneys across the country, particularly women. The FOP’s demonstration last year against Foxx was one case in point.)
Foxx, Futterman, and others wonder how much Catanzara really represents the officers of the CPD. Not everyone has the time or the inclination to be an active union member. Of the 12,000 FOP members, approximately 8,200 voted in the general union election and 8,500 in the runoff. Catanzara beat the incumbent by just 837 votes. Catanzara himself noted that the first full-lodge meeting of his presidency, which included a discussion of the disciplinary action against the union member who knelt under the lodge sign, was standing room only, and a third of the attendees were members he had never seen before, mostly Black and female officers — an uptick he attributes to outreach during his campaign, not to concern over the issue at hand.
Whatever sway the union has over the rank and file, the CPD decidedly still doesn’t take kindly to criticism, particularly in the form of internal complaints. In September, Block Club Chicago published interviews with two officers who reported misconduct within the department and were punished for it: They were labeled “rats,” given bad assignments, harassed by their fellow officers, and eventually forced out. When they sued, they received settlements of millions of dollars, a cost borne by taxpayers. The officers they reported are either still on the force or retired and collecting their pensions.
It should come as no surprise, then, says Futterman, that the law enforcement officer who first called to let him know about the Laquan McDonald video has never come forward. “Because they knew that that would be [risking] their lives, their families, the end of their careers,” he says. “So that culture that has been furthered by the FOP, and championed by the FOP, is not serving the quote-unquote good officers or the officers who would like to be good.”
What if there were more of those good cops hiding silently in the rank and file of the CPD? What if those officers banded together to create a new police union?
There’s actually a precedent for that. Back in the 1960s, the age of the warring police unions in Chicago, one group that stood out was the African-American Patrolmen’s League. It was formed in the spring of 1968 by police officers who opposed Mayor Richard J. Daley’s orders to “shoot to kill arsonists, shoot to maim looters” during the riots after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and who wanted to improve relations between the police department and Black communities. This was also an era when Black officers were given the worst assignments and the fewest promotions. Unlike the other unions, writes Megan Adams, the police history scholar, the AAPL was wary of collective bargaining: A contract negotiated by a white-led union, its leaders felt, would naturally favor white officers and fail to ensure equal provisions for all. “No union, the AAPL argued, could reform the police department and eliminate discriminatory practices through collective bargaining, telling members that ‘If you think that this can be accomplished by negotiating with the head of the police department in a fashion similar to labor relations, you are mistaken.’ ”
Instead, the AAPL wanted to reform the police department from within. The union’s leaders also hoped to influence lawmakers. “I feel we should be consulted on laws that affect our relationship with the community,” one member, Jack DeBonnett, told the Chicago Defender in 1968. “For instance, we are against the stop-and-frisk law because it will only add friction in a bad situation. We know it will only be used to harass minorities. I can’t see any policemen on the North Shore stopping anybody.”
Members of the AAPL helped citizens file brutality complaints and filed their own lawsuits against the CPD under the Equal Employment Opportunities Act. For their trouble, Adams writes, they were harassed by their white brothers-in-arms. At work, their property was vandalized with racist graffiti and their lockers were stuffed with garbage; at home, they received hate mail and phone calls and, in the case of one of the group’s leaders, death threats against his children. The leaders were repeatedly suspended without pay on trumped-up charges. The union eventually splintered and disappeared. Nothing like it has appeared in Chicago since. And not just in the context of race: The AAPL’s central demand was that its members be treated like citizens, with no extra privileges or protections. They were officers of the law, not above it. They weren’t guardians or soldiers or authority figures. They were just public servants, paid for their time and trouble, who worked to keep the peace.