Guest Editorials, Opinion

We can’t leave police to fight stress battles alone

As the third Chicago Police Department officer to commit suicide in less than a month was laid to rest this past weekend, arguments and anger over the city’s overtaxed police force took on a new sense of urgency.

The deaths understandably have inflamed long-simmering condemnation of the department’s increasingly routine and, in many eyes, inhumane practice of canceling days off at short notice because of deep staffing shortages, made worse of late by shortfalls in recruitment and retention.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn’t help matters much when she remarked late last month that officers get “incredible” amounts of time off as part of their contract. She walked back her comments July 19 to acknowledge this is “probably the most difficult time in our nation’s history” for police officers and that her administration “understands the necessity of really emphasizing health and well-being.”

That matters. As the always-outspoken and frequently controversial Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said in last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, officers deserve time to decompress after witnessing “trauma after trauma after trauma” on the job and undergo all this without even time to grab meaningful sleep between shifts.

It also doesn’t help police morale, or reflect a sense of common decency, for the families of fallen officers to be kept waiting for decisions on whether the loss of their loved ones qualifies for line-of-duty designation. The families of three officers who died of COVID-19 have been waiting seven months from the time of their passing, Catanzara said, to receive a line-of-duty designation.

Delays in that process were a top concern among stress-related problems highlighted by a group of displeased aldermen who stood outside City Hall with families of fallen officers to call for public hearings on stress and other mental health issues afflicting the city’s police force. They presented a worthy list of legitimate concerns about the safety, morale and well-being of police, although some of their proposed remedies, to put it mildly, call for further debate.

Among their proposals are a limit on the ability of the Chicago Police Department to cancel regularly scheduled days off, a 30-day time limit on salary benefit decisions for families of deceased police officers and, to help relieve staff shortages, allowing officers from other departments to transfer to CPD “under a modified training program.”

Many progressives who fight for better working conditions in both the public and private sectors often fail to include rank-and-file police officers in their campaigns, remaining silent even in the face of working conditions that any reasonable person can see have deteriorated in Chicago to an unacceptable extent. This is short-sighted in the extreme. Workers who must make snap, life-and-death decisions on a daily basis need to do so with the benefit of adequate rest.

Police face more than enough danger on the streets of Chicago. We must not leave them to fight their mental health battles alone.

This editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune last Thursday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.