Catanzara: 23 years of Misconduct Complaints and Social Media Controversies

Analysis of the social media and misconduct complaints of John Catanzara reveals a history of offensive actions yet little accountability.

[Content Warning: the timeline portion of this article discusses and includes statements from Catanzara relating to police misconduct, racism, sexism, xenophobia, sexual assault, Islamaphobia, and transphobia.]

John Catanzara, the current president of Chicago’s police union, has been an officer for the Chicago Police Department since January 1995. Catanzara has been suspended from the CPD and stripped of pay since February 2021 while he is under investigative review for allegedly falsifying police reports. Additionally, COPA has recommended his firing for a slew of racist and offensive social media posts. Despite his potential firing, the Fraternal Order of Police’s constitution may still allow him to hold the role of president, as WBEZ reported. However, given that Catanzara is still even a member despite his violation of multiple membership requirements it is unclear if constitutionality is an issue to the FOP. Below we offer an analysis of 23 years of complaints against Catanzara and a timeline of his inflammatory social media posts and other notable events throughout his career. 

From an analysis of misconduct complaints against Catanzara from 1995 to 2018, we have found a sheer volume of allegations that are absolutely inappropriate for any person who holds a position of power in the CPD. Of the 26 years Catanzara has been an officer, there have been only 6 years in which he received no complaints. The most complaints he has received in a single year is 7 in 2003. He has been named in 50 misconduct complaints total and has been suspended 8 times for a total of 131 days. This excludes his current suspension of 153 days and counting. According to the Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project, Catanzara has more complaints per year of service than 96% of his fellow CPD officers.

Methods:

To analyze the 50 total complaints aimed at Catanzara over a 23-year span, the Chicago Justice Project used data from the Invisible Institute’s Citizens Police Data Project which comes primarily from information provided by the City of Chicago in response to litigation, Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and other publicly available data. Their data spans from 1988 to 2018 although our analysis uses data on complaints from 1995-2018 given that Catanzara started as an officer in 1995. While the Invisible Institute has data of complaints on every CPD officer, we chose to focus solely on Catanzara given his immense power over policing in Chicago and his current suspension. Additionally, information uncovered through CJP’s FOIA requests allowed for expansion and increased detail.

The following information about each complaint was collected: 

  • Complaint filed by officer or civilian
  • Type of complaint
  • Date of incident
  • Recommended finding (by COPA or BIA)
  • Final finding (By Police Board)
  • Recommended outcome (by COPA or BIA)
  • Final outcome (By Police Board)

Our analysis begins with an overview of complaints against Catanzara per year. Then we compare the recommended finding of the complaints versus the final findings. These findings are categorized into the following categories: sustained, not sustained, exonerated, unfounded, and unknown. Definitions are provided according to COPA below:

  • Sustained: the allegation was supported by sufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action
  • Not sustained: the allegation is not supported by sufficient evidence which could be used to prove or disprove the allegation
  • Exonerated: the incident occurred, but the action taken by the officer(s) was deemed lawful and proper. 
  • Unfounded: the allegation was not based on the facts revealed through investigation, or the reported incident did not occur. 
  • Unknown: there was a lack of available information on the outcome (no affidavit) or COPA, BIA, or the Police Board have not yet made a decision.  

Additionally, while data on complaints is the best current measure of misconduct by Catanzara the actual amount of misconduct likely differs. Many civilians who experience or recognize misconduct do not file a complaint or do not know about the complaint process at all. This may mean that the following analysis is an underrepresentation of actual misconduct.

Misconduct Complaints of Catanzara:

We aim to shed light on the huge number of complaints against Catanzara over his career as a CPD officer. It is especially important to understand the background of CPD officers in positions of power because the City of Chicago and FOP have fought to keep these misconduct records out of the public eye.  

Catanzara has been named in a total of 50 complaints in a 23-year span. As figure 1 shows, Catanzara has received complaints consistently throughout his career, averaging a little above 2 per year. The most complaints he has received in a single year is 7 (2003) and the least is 0 (1995, 1998, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012). 

The most frequent complaints against Catanzara are operational/personnel violations (16 total), conduct unbecoming (10), use of force (8), and verbal abuse (7). This BIA Incident Category Table provides elaboration on these categories of complaints. Although all the verbal abuse complaints were eventually not sustained, over half were related to sexual orientation or race/ethnicity. Additionally, all 10 complaints under the conduct unbecoming category involved association with a felon. Catanzara was only disciplined twice for this despite the pattern. Lastly, 5 of 8 use of force complaints were related to excessive force. Catanzara was only disciplined with a reprimand once and with a 20-day suspension even though termination was recommended (now these recommendations are done by COPA).

Figure 1: Number of misconduct complaints Catanzara has received per year

As figures 2 and 3 indicate, of the 50 total complaints only 10 were ultimately sustained, although COPA or BIA recommended 12 be sustained. Additionally, even when complaints were sustained, the actual disciplinary action taken was often less serious than the recommended disciplinary outcome. Of the 10 sustained complaints, Catanzara was not disciplined for one complaint of neglect of duty under the category operational/personnel violations. Although termination was recommended for Catanzara twice in 2008, he got off with 20-day suspensions both times. Both of these cases are detailed further in the timeline segment. 

Figure 2: COPA and BIA's recommended findings for misconduct complaints against Catanzara

Figure 3: Final findings of complaints against Catanzara by the Police board

Comparison demonstrates a discrepancy

Social Media History of Catanzara:

Catanzara is potentially facing termination for a series of inflammatory posts on social media dating back to 2016. Although COPA has recommended termination, we await the full Police Board’s decision for the final outcome. For now, we can review these posts and other important events in Catanzara’s history as an officer. The posts that are under review in the current investigation are noted in the timeline. 

These social media posts show a pattern of disrespect of authority despite Catanzara’s role as an authority figure in the FOP. As an officer, Catanzara wants residents of Chicago to obey the laws and rules when he and other officers are the ones in charge of enforcing them. However, he repeatedly breaks the rules of the department, especially when he disagrees with other officers. 

It is important to note that this is an incomplete record of Catanzara’s posts. Many of these screenshots were collected as the posts were originally made and have since been altered, deleted, or shielded from public view. 

January 15, 2008 – March 15, 2013: 

The Superintendent of Police recommended firing Catanzara over making a false report, failing to follow medical roll procedures, disobedience of orders, and other violations of rules of conduct. Although the Police Board found Catanzara guilty of all charges he received a 20-day suspension instead of termination. The two members who voted for his termination write in their dissent, “We find the Respondent guilty of all charges and, based on the serious and intentional nature of the Respondent’s misconduct, his self-serving false statements and testimony under oath, we vote to order that he be discharged from his position as a police officer.”

June 14, 2008 – May 8, 2014:

The Superintendent of Police recommended firing Catanzara over his disobedience of orders and actions which impede the CPD’s efforts to achieve their policy goals. With a slim majority, five of nine members of the Police Board voted to allow Catanzara to receive a 20-day suspension instead of termination. 

November 22, 2016 – 3 violations 

On Facebook, Catanzara posted a link to an article reporting the shooting of an officer and advocated that those responsible ought to be killed. He used offensive language, writing, “WTF it is seriously time to kill these m*****f******.” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, and 6 of the Police Department’s Rules of Conduct in the ongoing investigation.

Facebook post by Catanzara with a link to the shooting of an officer

November 25, 2016 – 4 violations

Catanzara made a statement on Facebook that encouraged other Department members to stop chasing offenders. This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 53 in the ongoing investigation.

December 1, 2016 – 3 violations

Officer Catanzara shared a picture on Facebook that was disrespectful to public benefit recipients. This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, and 6 in the ongoing investigation.  

January 22, 2017 – 4 violations

Catanzara made an obscene statement on Facebook directed to a member of the public by stating, “Is it too late to abort thekla (sic)…the stupidity of some humans like her only prove the saying…the best part dripped down her moms (sic) leg.” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation

January 30, 2017 – 3 violations

Catanzara made a post to Facebook which read, “Savages they all deserve a bullet” in reference to a video of a woman being stoned to death. The post further stated, “This is the reason MANY Americans are leary of a large segment of Muslim’s especially those who support Sharia law… This is the life many want to bring to this country.” This biased statement against Muslims is being considered for violation of Rules 2, 3, and 6 in the ongoing investigation

January 30, 2017 – 1 violation

Catanzara attempted to influence others’ actions about a non-police matter by referencing his official position as a Chicago Police Officer. This post is being considered for violation of Rule 4 in the ongoing investigation

November 16, 2017 – 4 violations

Catanzara directed a threat to a member of the public on Facebook by stating, “Ok loser now that you attack people on my page you will be blocked. Keep listening for that knock on the door.” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation.

November 16, 2017 – 4 violations

Officer Catanzara made an obscene statement on Facebook directed to a member of the public by stating, “Blow me. You know you want to.” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation.

October 15, 2017 – 4 violations

Catanzara posted a statement on Facebook that was disrespectful to CPD management by calling superior officers “spineless.” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation.

October 15, 2017 – 4 violations

Catanzara made an obscene statement on Facebook directed to a member of the public by stating, “Steve would you like to make a bet that you and your pathetic friends attempts to get any results will be as useless as the little bit of skin you have in your pants? I’ll even give you odds!” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation.

October 15, 2017 – 4 violations

Catanzara made an obscene statement on Facebook directed to a member of the public. He stated, “You’re making me get pretty thick to (sic) Steve I love you so much.” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation.

October 18, 2017 – 4 violations

Catanzara made an obscene statement on Facebook directed to a member of the public by stating, “Lmao…Yeah join it so you can all group spank it together…” This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the ongoing investigation.

December 27, 2017

A Facebook post of Catanzara in uniform, holding an American flag and a homemade sign that read, “I stand for the anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president and the 2nd Amendment,” went viral. He was reprimanded for violating rules that prohibit officers from making political statements while on duty. This post is also being considered in his ongoing investigation for violation of Rules 6 and 42.

Facebook post by Catanzara with an image of him in uniform waving the American flag in front of a police vehicle.

January 29, 2018 – 4 violations

Catanzara described his punishment for violating established rules by posting the previous image as intending to “bully” him into silence. He also made fun of his superiors and peers, labeling them as “sad little people”. Lastly, he alleges that those reporting on his history of misconduct are attempting to smear him as a racist. This disrespectful post may be considered to violate Rules 2, 3,6, and 32 in the ongoing investigation.

Facebook post by Catanzara with statement about a previous post of his

February 3, 2018 – 4 violations

Catanzara posted a statement on Facebook that was disrespectful to CPD management. This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 32 in the ongoing investigation.

February 3, 2018 – 4 violations

Catanzara posted a second statement on Facebook that was disrespectful to CPD management. This post may be considered in violation of Rules 2, 3, 6, and 32 in the ongoing investigation.

February 8, 2018

Catanzara shared a xenophobic post on Facebook that questions if Nancy Pelosi is on the side of American citizens or undocumented immigrants. This offensive post suggests that immigrants are violent and unworthy of rights. 

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of Nancy Pelosi

April 30, 2018

In another xenophobic Facebook post, Catanzara challenges the motivations of asylum-seeking immigrants, implying that they are criminals. He also suggests that asylum seekers ought to be kept at the border until he can “turn their asses around.” 

Facebook post by Catanzara with statement about immigrants

July 7, 2018

In this disrespectful Facebook post, Catanzara expresses anger at Leo Schmitz, the director of Illinois state police at the time and now Cook County’s Chief of Public Safety, for greenlighting an anti-violence protest on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Referring to those involved in the anti-violence march he writes, “the inmates are now running the asylum.”

Facebook post by Catanzara with screenshot of Illinois State Police statement on the Dan Ryan Expressway March

July 12, 2018

In the disrespectful Facebook post below, Catanzara makes fun of the aims of the anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway of supporting re-investment in urban America and remembering those who have been injured or killed at the hands of gun violence. He sarcastically writes that the march was “so successful” with a link to a weekly report on shootings in Chicago. 

Facebook post by Catanzara with link to weekend violent crime reporting

August 27, 2018

Catanzara made an offensive post to Facebook in support of racist stereotypes of blackness and criminality with nonsensical percentages of crime in the U.S. 

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of Black Lives Matter protest and US crime statistics

August 31, 2018

While the CPD prepared for another protest occurring on Labor Day of 2018, Catanzara complains that heads of the CPD and Illinois State Police (ISP) did not handle the anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway with enough arrests. Further, he alleges that the CPD’s Superintendent, District Commander, and Director of the ISP took illegal actions by allowing for the anti-violence protest and sought to scrub reports and hide evidence of their illegality. 

Facebook post by Catanzara with link to reporting abut police planning for arrests in a Labor Day Protest

October 3, 2018

In this offensive post, Catanzara questions the validity of the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, a survivor of sexual assault. The post refers to Senator Dianne Feinstein as a “bitch” and implies she is forcing Ford to give false testimony.

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of Dianne Feinstein and Christine Blasey Ford

October 10, 2018

Catanzara shared a biased facebook post implying that people in particular neighborhoods are inherently criminal and murderous. The post reads, “if we really wanted you dead all we’d have to do is stop patrolling your neighborhoods and wait.”

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of an officer

October 29, 2018

Catanzara advocates for CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson’s removal over his allowance of the anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The post reads, “Will Eddie Johnson go marching down the same stretch again today? Doubtful! He needs to go!”

Facebook post by Catanzara with link to an article on a shooting investigation causing all lans on the Dan Ryan Expressway to close

December 26, 2018

With news of the cancellation of the 2019 Women’s March in Chicago, Catanzara writes that this is because the 2018 Women’s March was a “HHHUGE failure” with a low turnout. According to media coverage of the event, around 300,000 attended in 2018.

Facebook post by Catanzara with a link to the cancellation of the 2019 Women's March in Chicago

August 10, 2019

Referring to the 2018 anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway, Catanzara writes that Eddie Johnson was “fine with blocking off an expressway for his friends, stopping traffic, violating state and federal laws”. He further alleges that Johnson is the “worst kind of hypocrite” for investigating a CPD officer who abused his powers to escort Hulk Hogan in the front seat of a squad car onto the tarmac of O’Hare airport. 

Facebook post by Catanzara with link abut a CPD officer under investigation

August 19, 2019
In Catanzara’s transphobic post below, a person is shown to be injured at the hands of a police officer and is also the target of a joke by officers.  The offensive post reads, “when you get shot in the groin by a rubber bullet and your made-up gender doesn’t protect your willie.”

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of a person in pain surrounded by police officers

October 4, 2019

Although Catanzara claims he is not xenophobic in the post below, the post itself contains a vast generalization of Muslims as violent and “murderous”. It also suggests that converting to Islam causes terrorism and violence. 

Facebook post by Catanzara with link to a report on  a Paris knife attacker

October 8, 2019

Catanzara posted a meme that is disrespectful to members of public office.

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of Trump and Michelle Obama

October 18, 2019

In the Facebook post below, Catanzara describes this person who supports Chicago school employees as someone who hates the U.S. because they speak Spanish. His statement reads, “they hate this country so much they wont even use ENGLISH!!!!”

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of protester

October 20, 2019

In this Facebook post, Catanzara makes fun of women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and sexual assault. He comments on a quote by Chelsea Clinton with crass and sexist references to sex acts. His statement reads, “I guess it wasn’t the country your dad wanted his kids to grow up in either, so he had Monica swallow them! Too bad Paula jones didn’t  swallow her!”

Facebook post by Catanzara with image of Chelsea Clinton

October 24, 2019

Catanzara dismisses a report on racist stop and frisk practices by the CPD as “stupid” in the post below. Instead, he argues that black pedestrians ought to be targeted more because they are doing more crimes.

Facebook post by Catanzara with link to reporting about CPD's stop and frisk policy

November 7, 2019

In the post below, Catanzara advocates for CPD officers to “create a nightmare heard round the country.” He wants them to shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway and Lake Shore Drive to gain an upper hand in ongoing negotiations over a new police contract. This post encourages officers to abandon their duties

Facebook post by Catanzara

December 9, 2019

In this offensive and insensitive Facebook post, Catanzara calls musical artist Juice WRLD a “bonehead” after he had died of an opioid-related overdose. 

Facebook post by Catanzara

May 8, 2020

Catanzara was elected as president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, Chicago’s police union. 

May 10, 2020

Catanzara posted a screenshot of a tweet by Donald Trump. Both seem excited to have support from one another. 

Facebook post by Catanzara

June 6, 2020

In the Facebook post below, Catanzara responds to protests following the murder of George Floyd on Chicago’s South Side. Catanzara states that people ought to “stop blaming a system” for limited economic development in particular neighborhoods and “start blaming the criminals and families that look the other way.”

Facebook post by Catanzara

June 11, 2020

Catanzara threatened discipline and union expulsion for any officer who took a knee in solidarity with those protesting police violence. When pressed on this contradiction with his political posts made in uniform he responded, “My post was patriotic support of all things American. If people cannot see the difference between kneeling in support of voices saying the police are the problem in society and should be defunded or even abolished, then there really is no reason to continue any dialog. It’s an apple and automobile comparison.” 

June 28, 2020

In an interview with Fox’s Eric Shawn, Catanzara blamed parents and lack of time spent in jail for gun violence. Referring to kids in minority communities he said, “There is a segment of our population within Chicago, and I’m highlighting Chicago specifically here, who absolutely want to just rob, steal, kill, shoot, all day long. That’s all they wake up doing all day long.” He argues that people ought to start, “holding a little bit more shame and accountability for the parents who are raising these kids, or not raising them specifically” because these tendencies “start in the home.”  Find the video of this interview here

December 17, 2020

In response to COPA’s recommendation to fire Catanzara over his past social media posts, he made the following statement on Facebook. With a screenshot of the FOP’s constitution, Catanzara writes that he will not be gotten “rid of” so easily. He also alleges that the city’s law department has been “covering up for the mayor.” 

Facebook post by Catanzara

January 7, 2021

A day after it occurred, Catanzara downplayed the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol building in an interview. He said, “there’s no, obviously, violence in this crowd,” despite four dead and numerous others injured, including fellow police officers. Sympathizing with those that stormed the capitol he continued, “it was a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way.” 

January 11, 2021

36 alderpersons support a resolution calling for the Fraternal Order of Police to request Catanzara to resign as president. 

February 10, 2021

Catanzara was suspended without pay from the police force for allegedly falsifying police reports. He remains the president of the Fraternal Order of Police despite his ongoing suspension. His current charges are detailed here.

Lauren Cole is a third-year studying political science and human rights at the University of Chicago and will begin pursuing a master’s in public policy at the Harris School of Public Policy this autumn. Lauren has been immersed in local and state politics since moving to Chicago, with involvement in local campaigns and legislative advocacy organizations. She joined the Chicago Justice Project this spring to conduct public policy research.

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