Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Paul Vallas in his campaign for mayor, union president John Catanzara announced.
Although Chicago police and their supporters mark an important demographic in local elections, the endorsement from the union is a double-edged sword for Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO. The FOP has long been criticized for defending police misconduct, and Catanzara in particular has been a lightning rod for controversy.
Catanzara retired from the Chicago Police Department while facing potential termination after a career as one of the department’s most disciplined officers. He has also made numerous offensive statements, including defending Jan. 6 protesters in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection and comparing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate to the Holocaust. Catanzara is also a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and regularly appeared at City Council meetings in a Trump jersey.
Underscoring the union’s status as a controversial entity, Catanzara said only two candidates sought the group’s endorsement: Vallas and businessman Willie Wilson.
As a candidate, Vallas has faced criticism for his volunteer work with the FOP while it negotiated its union contract with the Lightfoot administration. But in a recently launched campaign ad, Vallas highlighted his work with the FOP in recent years to help broker the deal, an attempt to position himself as a moderating force.
In recent years, Vallas has made crime a top subject of his public profile. Vallas frequently delivers a fire hose of social media posts about violence in Chicago, arguing it’s important to support the police and loosen restrictions on their work.
In previous interviews, Vallas wants more of what he calls “proactive policing,” which includes ramping up low-level arrests. Despite a shortage of police officers, it’s important to chip away at the “environment of constant disorder,” and that starts with less-serious offenses that can possibly create a pipeline toward violence, Vallas has said.
Vallas has also said he wants to revoke the city’s foot pursuit policy that was released in June, more than a year after back-to-back fatal police shootings of two people who were being chased by officers, including 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Among the policy’s provisions is a rule that officers can only engage in a foot pursuit if there “is a valid law enforcement need to detain the person” that outweighs the dangers of the pursuit.
In panning the policy to the Tribune, Vallas said it “looks like a checklist,” he said. “All you’re doing is creating more obstacles for a police officer to move and tack decisively. … Why would you even get out of a police car if you see a criminal running down the street? Why would you even want to chase them, if you don’t have that checklist?”
Though Vallas is an outspoken critic of how police are operating under Lightfoot, he has also talked about the importance of violence prevention programs, including keeping schools open through summer and Saturdays and helping people who are unemployed or previously spent time in prison find work.
Crime has been a top subject in the 2023 mayoral campaign. Violent crime spiked to its highest level in decades during 2020, a year marked by COVID-19 and civil unrest following the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd.
In 2022, the city had 689 homicides through Dec. 28, according to city data and figures from the Police Department.
But despite the 14% reduction, the total was still higher than it had been in 2019, the last year before COVID-19 took hold, when the city saw 496 killings through Dec. 28. Lightfoot has argued her plan is working while critics say violent crime remains far too high.
Vallas and Wilson are among eight people trying to unseat Lightfoot in the Feb. 28 election.