Top public defender wants cops to stop making many arrests during COVID-19 crisis. CPD has other plans: “Our job…is to enforce the laws.”

While Cook County’s top public defender is calling on Chicago police to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak by no longer arresting many criminals, the police department does not appear to be on board with her plan.

Amy Campanelli told her staffers in an email that she asked Chicago police “to refrain from arresting anyone for low-level, victimless, or economic-related offenses” while the new coronavirus remains a public health threat.

But top CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi today said, “our focus is and always has been the reduction of violent crime in Chicago.”

“Our job, like any police agency is to enforce the laws of the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. If we receive calls or criminal complaints of any nature, those must always be investigated and appropriate action taken.”

“Our crime strategies do not focus on ‘victimless crimes,” Guglielmi continued.

Campanelli also told her staff that she “was informed that CPD was planning to arrest persons who resist being quarantined. I asked CPD instead to route those persons to the nearest hospital and not add them to our court system or jail.”

As it turns out, the power to enforce quarantine regulations lies within the city’s Department of Public Health (CDPH).

CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady on Sunday issued a public health directive that cites a city ordinance giving her “the general police power to correct a health hazard that presents an immediate risk to the public ‘by whatever means necessary.’”

The ordinance also gives her “the power to arrest violators,” Arwady wrote. Since CDPH is interested in containing the virus, it seems unlikely that Arwady would have police put a non-compliant person into jail rather than into quarantine.

CPD “has general orders and protocols [for] dealing with individuals who may be exposed to the virus with the highest levels of respect and care,” Guglielmi said.

The department’s communicable virus order, which was updated on March 5, directs officers to assist with the “enforcement of authorized quarantine and isolation measures as determined necessary by CDPH.” But it does not suggest putting non-compliant individuals in jail. Although, violating a city public health quarantine is a misdemeanor, according to the order.

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Meanwhile, many Chicago police officers say the department is ill-prepared for a widespread outbreak. Sanitation materials such as hand sanitizers are depleted in at least two key CPD locations, according to officers who contacted CWBChicago over the weekend.

“We are also going to great lengths to ensure that our police officers have the appropriate equipment and support during this unprecedented time,” Guglielmi said.

Below is the full text of Campanelli’s email.

To all staff:

I am sending this email to report on the latest developments affecting our Office during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. Events are changing rapidly. Late Friday, March 13th, Chief Judge Timothy Evans issued his order, restricting court proceedings significantly for 30 days, starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Yesterday, I emailed the Office with our plans, including a structure that will allow many to work from home.

I wanted to add that no one can think or plan for every contingency. Yesterday, I also emailed Chief Judge Evans concerning several points that are missing from his administrative order and that need clarification. 

I also emailed the Chicago Police Department, calling on it to refrain from arresting anyone for low-level, victimless, or economic-related offenses. The fewer people arrested, the less chance there is of them being placed in close quarters with others where the virus can spread. I asked CPD to recognize that we have a public health crisis that requires the cooperation of officers on the street. I also was informed that CPD was planning to arrest persons who resist being quarantined; I asked CPD instead to route those persons to the nearest hospital and not add them to our court system or jail.

Today I had an hour-long conference call with both line attorneys and a representative for all three union locals in our Office. It was very productive. Everyone expressed concern, first and foremost, for the safety of our staff and our clients. We are working to refine how to implement the protocol under which we will be operating for the next month (or perhaps longer, depending on the medical arc taken by the virus).  It is too early to give many details, but hopefully more will be clarified tomorrow, after additional meetings with the Chief Judge, State’s Attorney, Sheriff, and the union locals.

I want to emphasize, however, that anyone who is in a compromised situation should immediately email his or her supervisor and chief. If you are over age 60 and have health concerns, if you have a compromised immune system, if you are caring for someone who is elderly, if you think you have had contact with someone who has the virus, I need you to document your situation so we can act accordingly and accommodations can be arranged. 

Further, if you need to take time off, inform your supervisor and chief, but also keep track of the time you have taken. Because the State and County have declared a state of emergency, we are qualified to receive reimbursement from the federal government. Reimbursement may be in the form of money spent, but also may be in the form of time off taken.

Lastly, I want to extend my thanks to everyone involved. On short notice, during a critical and stressful developing situation, the various stakeholders and union representatives have worked together to do their best to consider health and safety while also providing due process for those arrested and in jail. Despite some differences in the details, everyone is working toward a solution. I commend all of you.

Amy P. Campanelli

Public Defender of Cook County

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com