Chicago’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, or the FOP, has long been one of the most powerful and vocal unions in the city. More than 11,000 rank-and-file officers are members, but the loudest voices are often the presidents elected to lead them through the decades, from the civil rights movement to the Black Lives Matter movement today.
Past and current FOP leaders have made headlines with incendiary comments inflaming already-fraught conversations around police violence, race, and reform—and Black officers have long complained of being ignored or represented poorly by union brass. Police union presidents have also used their platforms to fight calls to hold cops accountable and stand by officers who hurt or kill Chicago residents, from Fred Hampton to LaTanya Haggerty, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, Adam Toledo, and many more.
In other words: The problematic role played by FOP leadership spans well beyond current FOP President John Catanzara. The timeline below bears this out. Injustice Watch reviewed the tenures of each FOP president elected, all of whom have been white men, beginning with the first Chicago FOP leader’s rise to power during one of the most pivotal periods in U.S. history.
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1963-1972: President Joseph J. LeFevour
Joseph J. LeFevour, Chicago’s first police union president started his tenure during the height of the civil rights movement. As organizers like Martin Luther King Jr. put the spotlight on the vicious segregation and police brutality in northern cities, including Chicago, Joseph J. LeFevour aggressively defended officer misconduct and attacked prominent movement leaders. After nine years as president, LeFevour ended his term in 1972. He died in 1984.
Analysis: Here’s how Chicago’s most powerful police union preserves tradition of problematic leadership
Jan. 7, 1963: Chicago Lodge # 7 is chartered as an affiliate of the National Fraternal Order of Police on Jan. 7, 1963. LeFevour is its first president. Cops are not yet unionized in Chicago, and in its first years, the FOP is just one of several organizations vying for membership among the predominantly white police force.
Jan. 7, 1966: Martin Luther King Jr. launches a civil rights campaign in Chicago, leading nonviolent protests against racial discrimination in housing. That summer, when race riots erupt in Chicago’s West Side, LeFevour blames King, telling an Associated Press reporter, “Wherever he goes, violence erupts.”
April 15, 1968: In the unrest that follows King’s assassination, then-Mayor Richard J. Daley issues a shoot-to-kill order for police. LeFevour thanks the mayor and sends a telegram assuring him of “the fullest cooperation of the Chicago policemen in carrying out your orders.”
May 10, 1968: Black Chicago police officers create The Afro-American Patrolmen’s League in response to harassment within the Chicago Police Department, as well as police treatment of Black Chicagoans. A flyer from the group’s early years says it aims to “work for high standards of police performances in Black communities; to elevate the image of the black policeman to a position of dignity and respect, especially in the Black communities; to work for total police reform; and to strive for improved relations between Black and white policemen.”
Dec. 10, 1969: LeFevour praises the FBI raid that killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. “The Black Panthers preach every day hate,” LeFevour says. “Kill whitey. Kill the police. Kill the pigs. Hate, hate, hate. That’s all you hear from them. And they expect us police officers to walk into that apartment with peashooters?”
1972: LeFevour ends his tenure as Chicago FOP president.
1972-1993: President John Dineen
Under its second president, John Dineen, the Chicago FOP became the official bargaining agent of rank-and-file police officers. A career cop, Dineen assumed his role at a time when police officers nationwide were demanding more protection from internal discipline, and he delivered those protections through the union’s first contract with the city of Chicago. Dineen’s tenure was also marked by internal dissent, as well as public outcry over the case of Jon Burge, a white police commander sued in civil court in 1989 over the torture of mostly Black suspects in his custody. Dineen continued to support Burge publicly and was voted out as FOP president in 1993 after a 21-year tenure, the longest in the union’s history.
Jan. 5, 1976: A federal judge orders the Chicago Police Department to implement hiring quotas, following a civil rights lawsuit brought by the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League and the Department of Justice. In 1970, when the suit alleging discriminatory hiring was filed, the police force was 83% white and 16% Black.
Nov. 19, 1981: The FOP ratifies its first contract with the city, after being selected by newly unionized Chicago police officers as their official bargaining representative. The contract includes a so-called Police Bill of Rights governing how police are questioned in misconduct investigations and limiting anonymous complaints from civilians, among other protections.
Dec. 8, 1982: The Afro-American Patrolmen’s League files another civil rights lawsuit, this time against the FOP, alleging that the contract negotiated by Dineen and the union reverses progress toward a more racially diverse police force. The league also asserts that its members were excluded from the collective bargaining process. The suit is dismissed by the Illinois district court.
Feb. 10, 1993: The police board fires Jon Burge for torturing Andrew Wilson into a confession 11 years earlier. Wilson, whose 1989 civil suit against Burge ended in a mistrial, is one of more than 87 men who accuse Burge of torturing them between 1981 and 1988. After his firing, Burge does not face further consequences until 2011, when he is federally indicted, convicted, and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail — for lying under oath about torture, not the torture itself.
March 1993: Dineen enters a union float honoring Burge into the South Side St. Patrick’s Day parade. The FOP float is also dedicated to the two white officers suspended for failing to report Burge, along with two other white officers fired for a 1989 incident during which they detained two Black 14-year-olds after a White Sox game and dropped them in a white neighborhood to be beaten. All five men had been “disciplined unjustly,” according to Dineen.
Dineen agrees to change the theme of the float following a public outcry and a complaint to parade organizers from the AAPL. Following the float controversy, Dineen is voted out of office by an overwhelming majority of FOP membership. The union eventually enacts bylaws prohibiting individuals from serving as FOP president who have served three consecutive terms
1993-2002: President William Nolan
William J. Nolan became president of the Chicago FOP after more than three decades on the police force and six years as the treasurer for the National FOP. Once a colleague of John Dineen’s in the CPD’s organized crime division, Nolan criticized Dineen for “losing touch” with the membership after making secret deals with the Chicago City Hall. After winning the heavily contested 1993 campaign for the union’s presidency, Nolan continued to fight tooth and nail against discipline for officers involved in a series of high-profile cases of police brutality against Black people. Nolan served as FOP president for nine years; after retiring from the CPD in 2000, he worked for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office for another 10 years. Nolan died in April 2020.
March 26, 1993: Nolan wins a four-man race to become FOP president, after criticizing Dineen for “los[ing] touch with officers on the force.” Patricia Hill, president of the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League, says when it comes to the interests of the 3,000 African American officers on the force, she sees no difference between Nolan and Dineen.
Sept. 26, 1997: Jeremiah Mearday, 18, is brutalized by two CPD officers, sparking national outrage and a review by the Department of Justice. The FOP denies wrongdoing on behalf of the two officers, but the police board still fires them. One week after the officers are disciplined, Mearday allegedly gets in a fight with three additional officers from the same district and is charged with aggravated battery. His attorneys allege that the charges are the result of retaliation and a “climate of hostility” against Mearday. A jury finds him not guilty.
March 9, 2000: In response to the Mearday case, Nolan tells reporters, “I’m sick and tired of our police officers getting punched and pummeled and kicked. … Some punk gets cracked because he resists arrest, and everybody makes him out to be a hero.” Nolan later criticizes the verdict and threatens Mearday in the Chicago Tribune, saying, “I know sooner or later, Mearday will get what he deserves. The best thing for Mr. Mearday to do is move out of Chicago.”
May 9, 2001: Nolan criticizes the police board’s decision to fire three cops involved in the fatal shooting of LaTanya Haggerty in 1999. The officer who killed Haggerty, an unarmed 26-year-old Black woman, claimed that he mistook the phone in her hand as a gun. Community protests lasted for months after her death. Nolan insists that the officers “did what they were trained to do.”
April 19, 2002: Nolan ends his third term as FOP president after nine years.
2002-2011: President Mark Donahue
During his three terms, Mark Donahue helped turn the union into a power player in Illinois politics. A former president of the Illinois chapter of the FOP, Donahue mobilized the union’s Chicago membership around key legislation in Springfield, winning favorable changes to state law and beating back efforts to enhance police oversight. Under his leadership, the union ratified new collective bargaining agreements in 2003 and 2007 that also preserved protections for officers facing discipline. Donahue ended his third term as president in 2011, continuing to serve as the Chicago FOP chapter’s legislative director for three more years.
April 19, 2002: Donahue is elected president of the Chicago FOP, winning 67% of the vote.
May 2004: The FOP opposes naming a park after late labor activist and organizer Lucy Parsons, whose husband was convicted and hanged for killing a police officer in the 1886 Haymarket Affair. Donahue says the park would be a “disgrace,” although historians maintain that Parsons’ husband was innocent. Donahue’s decision angers advocates who want her represented as a Black woman and emphasizes that only 27 out of 555 Chicago parks are named after women.
August 2004: The FOP lobbies successfully for Illinois legislation requiring citizens to sign a sworn affidavit when they file complaints against the police. Donahue says the intention of the legislation is to “limit the number of frivolous complaints against the police.” The number of excessive force complaints against police officers is already down 26% from the previous year, and Donahue says he expects it to decrease further in 2005 as “the legislation appears to have had the desired effect.”
March 2006: The Chicago City Council unanimously votes to rename the block where Fred Hampton was murdered “Chairman Fred Hampton Way.” Expressing “outrage” and “disbelief,” Donahue organizes the families of slain CPD officers and succeeds in getting the plan scuttled.
Oct. 25, 2007: Donahue and the FOP back the city’s decision to withhold the names of 10 police officers who had amassed more than 400 misconduct complaints among them. A group of aldermen had sought this information but received a list with names redacted. Donahue denounces the city council members’ request as politically motivated and “irresponsible.”
Dec. 2, 2008: The FOP’s board votes to fund Jon Burge’s defense after he is indicted by the Department of Justice for perjury and obstruction of justice during his 1989 civil suit. Some officers oppose this decision and accuse Donahue of “dividing the membership, jeopardizing officer’s lives, and destroying police and community relations.” Donahue responds, “the FOP will stand with the police officer every time.”
September 2010: The FOP demands that Chicago Police Chief Jody Weis resign, blaming him for staffing shortages and low morale. Donahue attacks Weis over his handling of the case of officer William Cozzi, who had handcuffed, shackled, and beat a man in a wheelchair suffering stab wounds the previous year. Cozzi was set to return to work after only 18 months of probation, until federal prosecutors took up the case and successfully convicted him, leading to a sentence of 40 months in prison. The FOP blames Weis for federal involvement in the case.
March 4, 2011: Donahue ends his tenure as FOP president, ineligible to run again after serving three terms.
2011-2013: President Michael Shields
At age 33, Michael Shields became the youngest president in the Chicago FOP’s history. During his short tenure, he oversaw negotiations for a new contract, prioritizing higher pay, and a better pension plan. Shields was ousted by the union after accusing other FOP leaders of making under-the-table agreements during bargaining with the city.
March 4, 2011: Michael Shields takes office as FOP president, defeating four other candidates and winning 54% of the vote.
March 21, 2012: Off-duty officer Dante Servin kills 22-year-old Rekia Boyd after firing five rounds from an unregistered gun into an alleyway, striking her in the back of the head. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, whose 2012 reelection campaign the FOP endorses, later charges Servin with involuntary manslaughter. A judge goes on to dismiss the charges in 2015, noting that “the crime if any there be, is first-degree murder.” Legal experts question Alvarez’s decision to pursue lesser charges.
Dec. 17, 2013: The state FOP lodge president suspends Shields and strips him of his power for allegedly violating his oath of office.
Shields had claimed that the most recent police contracts were fixed by past FOP leadership, which got him branded as a dictator by the FOP. Shields is replaced by one of the FOP’s three vice presidents, Bill Doughtery, until a new election is held.
2014-2017: President Dean Angelo Sr.
The defining issues of Dean Angelo Sr.’s three-year tenure as FOP president was the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and the subsequent calls for reform. Angelo staunchly opposed the demands emanating from a wave of protests, blaming the “anti-police movement” for cratering member morale and jeopardizing public safety. Nonetheless, Angelo was voted out of office in 2017 by members who found him too accommodating.
April 2, 2014: Angelo defeats Dougherty in the runoff election and becomes the new FOP president.
Oct. 14, 2014: Jason Van Dyke fatally shoots 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Then-FOP spokesperson Pat Camden successfully spins a false narrative about McDonald, telling media outlets that he lunged at Van Dyke with a knife. Video footage proves otherwise, but the city of Chicago withholds footage for over a year.
Protests erupt when the public sees the video, showing Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times.
Oct. 17, 2014: The FOP ratifies a five-year contract with the city of Chicago that includes raises and retroactive pay. City council members vote overwhelmingly to approve the contract and give Angelo a standing ovation.
December 2014: The FOP sues the city to block the release of misconduct records more than five years old, arguing that its collective bargaining agreement requires their destruction. The case kicks off a protracted legal battle. In June 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court finally settled the question, ruling that the contract provision requiring the destruction of records is not enforceable, as it conflicts with the public interest.
Aug. 7, 2015: The CPD reaches a landmark stop-and-frisk settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union after the organization publishes a report about showing the practice’s unconstitutional and disproportionate use in Black and brown neighborhoods. The agreement, in conjunction with a state law subsequently passed by the Illinois General Assembly, requires police to collect additional data justifying all their stops on so-called contact cards. This triggers a dramatic decrease in pedestrian stops, which Angelo attributes to officers being afraid to do their jobs.
March 2016: After Van Dyke is suspended from the police department, Angelo hires him to work as a janitor at the union hall and remains one of his most vocal supporters. This draws controversy, even within the union.
April 13, 2016: The police accountability task force created by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and chaired by future Mayor Lori Lightfoot includes changes to the FOP contract in its final recommendations. Angelo criticizes the task force’s recommendations, writing that any legitimacy was “overshadowed and buried deeply into the recessed pages behind baseless claims of racism against the entire CPD.”
June 13, 2016: A Facebook video shows a Chicago police officer stomping on the head of a 23-year-old man, while another officer attempts to restrain him. Angelo says the department is jumping to conclusions by relieving the officer of police powers, saying “if you drop your weapon, the situation’s over. It comes down to compliance.”
July 2016: Hundreds gather downtown for five days of continuous protest against police brutality. FOP leaders call on members to refuse to work voluntary overtime during the Labor Day weekend in protest of “continued disrespect of Chicago police.” A few weeks earlier, Angelo had blamed the media for fomenting discontent by disseminating videos of misconduct.
Jan. 13, 2017: After a 13-month investigation, the Department of Justice concludes that Chicago police routinely violated residents’ civil rights. The report documents a pattern of excessive force and unconstitutional arrests primarily targeting Black and brown Chicagoans.
Feb. 22, 2017: The Chicago City Council Black Caucus and the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability propose changes to the FOP contract, including allowing anonymous complaints and removing the 24-hour period that officers have before giving a statement after a shooting. Angelo says, “This is the same rhetoric we’ve been listening to ever since the anti-police movement began.”
April 12, 2017: Angelo loses his bid for reelection after serving three years.
2017-2020: President Kevin Graham
Since the eruption of Black Lives Matter movement, the Chicago FOP has been in a defensive posture, facing ongoing protests and calls for change from federal and local lawmakers. Kevin Graham was the second of three successive FOP presidents who vowed to fight the union’s critics harder than their predecessors. After defeating Angelo, Graham took over contract negotiations with the city, but his three-year tenure ended with no new contract in place.
April 12, 2017: Graham defeats Angelo in a runoff election after campaigning on a promise to better defend police officers facing misconduct charges.
June 2017: In a report to members, Graham calls for “holding the line” on key issues in negotiations, including discipline. “Rather than surrender our rights [when it comes to discipline], we should bolster them,” he writes.
June 27, 2017: Three Chicago police officers are indicted for allegedly conspiring to cover up the shooting of Laquan McDonald. Graham responds by calling the code of silence a “myth” and writing that the special prosecutor perhaps “is not smart enough to understand how a police report is prepared.”
Sept. 22, 2017: The FOP alleges that the CPD violated its collective bargaining agreement by implementing changes to the use-of-force policy without union approval. One such change prohibited officers from shooting at fleeing people unless they pose an imminent threat. Graham says this puts officers at a disadvantage.
Oct. 5, 2018: Jason Van Dyke is found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery against Laquan McDonald.
In response, Graham writes to FOP membership, “There is an implicit bias against the police stoked by years of media stories pushing the mythology of police corruption. … The Fraternal Order of Police stands by its members.”
Jan. 31, 2019: Chicago enters into a federal consent decree requiring the CPD to adopt policies to address its “code of silence,” enhance its de-escalation tactics, and other reforms. Graham had earlier called the push for a binding consent decree “appalling” and vowed to fight it “to protect our officers and to protect the public.”
March 2019: The FOP exchanges proposals with the city for a new contract. According to Graham’s report-backs to membership, the city’s proposals include allowing multiple interrogators from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in the room when questioning an officer, reopening discipline cases against officers at any time, and not allowing officers to speak with others in the department about ongoing investigations. Graham calls these “some of the most outrageous proposals I have ever seen in any collective bargaining agreement” and says the FOP has no intention to agree to such “ludicrous” provisions.
April 1, 2019: The FOP joins protests outside of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office after she drops all charges against actor Jussie Smollet without explanation after he allegedly staged a hate crime. (Smollett has denied wrongdoing.) Graham calls for Foxx to resign because of her “soft-on-crime” approach.
March 2020: Graham mobilizes FOP membership against a collection of criminal justice reform bills introduced to the Illinois General Assembly. “Much of our legislative success the past few years has been blocking bills from passing that, if signed into law, would make the job more difficult,” he writes in the FOP’s monthly newsletter. “We need to be on the block again as session speeds toward conclusion at the end of May.”
May 8, 2020: John Catanzara wins the runoff election against Graham after no candidate received 50% of the vote in the March election.
2020-present: President John Catanzara
John Catanzara is the first FOP president to be elected while stripped of police powers, after having them stripped in 2018 for a report that he filed against the former police superintendent. Since joining the police department in 1995, Catanzara has racked up at least 35 misconduct complaints and been suspended about half a dozen times, most recently for inflammatory social media posts, including one in which he said Muslims “all deserve a bullet.” He made the comments in reference to a video of a woman being stoned, also adding “this is the life many want to bring to this country,” though he later claimed in another post that his comments were not specifically targeting Muslims. His election as FOP president coincided with a nationwide uprising against police violence. Catanzara is continuing the fight against DOJ-mandated reforms, stating: “We’re not using the word ‘reform.’ That means we’re doing something wrong.”
May 8, 2020: Catanzara begins his term as FOP president, promising to be more visible and bold than his predecessors. “My name and my reputation will make for good copy. … You have someone who is not afraid to push back,” he writes in the monthly FOP newsletter.
May 25, 2020: George Floyd is murdered by Minneapolis police, sparking months of nationwide protests decrying police brutality and racism. Catanzara says, “There’s no proof or evidence that race had anything to do with it.” Two Black Chicago cops kneel in solidarity, and Catanzara warns that any member who “side(s) with protesters” will face discipline from the union.
July 18, 2020: Catanzara writes to then-President Donald Trump, asking for federal help controlling gun violence in Chicago. His letter calls Mayor Lori Lightfoot a “complete failure who is either unwilling or unable to maintain law and order.”
Sept. 23, 2020: A Kentucky grand jury declines to charge any officers for the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor. Hundreds of Chicagoans protest this decision, while Catanzara defends it, saying it was “no fault of the officers. … You’ve gotta be careful with the company you keep.”
Jan. 7, 2021: Catanzara expresses sympathy toward the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol and downplays the violence of the insurrection. He later apologizes for the fact that his comments brought “negative attention to our lodge.” Thirty-seven aldermen, along with community leaders and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, call for his resignation.
Jan. 26, 2021: The Chicago Police Board files charges against Catanzara for social media conduct violations and allegedly filing a false police report against the previous police superintendent. He faces firing from the department for the third time in his career. In February, he is suspended from the force and stripped of his pay.
Feb. 22, 2021: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs into law a landmark criminal justice reform package eliminating cash bail, banning chokeholds, and allowing for investigation of anonymous complaints against police officers, among other changes. The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and the ILFOP Labor Council had vehemently opposed the bill, and after its passage, Catanzara says it will make “policing in this city and state near impossible.” He blames “spineless politicians” for giving in to “race-baiting and pressure” from the Black Caucus. “Everything is race. And it’s disgusting,” he says.
March 29, 2021: Adam Toledo, 13, is shot and killed by a Chicago police officer. Catanzara defends the police officer saying his actions were “100% justified” and “heroic.”
April 28, 2021: Body camera footage is released of 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez’s death at the hands of a Chicago police officer the previous month. The video shows the officer shooting at Alvarez several times as he runs away with his back turned. Catanzara defends the officer’s actions, saying, “There is nothing wrong with this shooting just because the bullet struck the offender from behind. There is nothing saying the bullets have to be from the front.” The following month, during a demonstration by Alvarez’s family and supporters, Catanzara joins a counter-protest, saying “[the protesters] are out here with a narrative that police kill people; it’s bullshit.”
July 21, 2021: The Chicago City Council votes to establish civilian oversight of the police department, following multiple rounds of negotiations between the mayor’s office, aldermen, and community groups. A new Community Commission of Public Safety and Accountability will have the authority to nominate candidates for top positions in the police department, review and recommend changes to its budget, and request and approve police policy. Catanzara calls the ordinance “absolutely absurd and dangerous and reckless.”
July 26, 2021: After four years of negotiations, the FOP reaches a tentative contract agreement with the city of Chicago. The eight-year agreement, which is retroactive to the last contract’s expiration in 2017, will raise officer pay 20% by January 2025. The deal removes the ban on the investigation of anonymous misconduct complaints and the requirement to destroy disciplinary records older than five years, among other accountability reforms. But several key reforms pushed by advocates in recent years don’t make it into the draft deal, including an end to the 24-hour delay that cops are afforded before speaking to investigators following a shooting and a requirement that they disclose any employment outside the police department.
Aug. 13, 2021: Rank-and-file members of the FOP ratify the new contract by a 79% vote, paving the way for a vote by City Council, where at least 26 aldermen must sign off.
Aug. 25, 2021: After Mayor Lori Lightfoot orders all city employees to get fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Oct. 15, Catanzara tells the Chicago Sun-Times that thousands of officers would essentially walk off the job if they’re forced to do so. He proceeds to make comments that observers interpret as as comparing the vaccine mandate to the Holocaust.“We’re in America, G-ddamn it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period,” Catanzara says, according to the Sun-Times. “This ain’t Nazi f—ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f—ing showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the fuck?”
The remarks, which the Sun-Times later reported the union boss issued an “apology” for, were panned by the mayor, Jewish groups, and other police. And the 15 members of the Illinois Legislative Jewish Caucus called “the comparison of vaccine mandates to the Nazi genocide … despicable,” adding their names to those who have already asked for Catanzara’s resignation.
Sept. 7, 2021: Alderpeople on the workforce development committee vote unanimously to endorse the draft FOP deal, setting the stage for a Sept. 14 vote before the full city council. The deal, which is expected to pass, will cost the city more than $375 million next year to cover retroactive pay hikes, plus hundreds of millions more during the remainder of the eight-year contract.
“I can only assume that the FOP voted to support this contract because of the big increase in pay, including the retroactive pay,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) said during the committee meeting. “I’m glad the city was able to make progress on a lot of these accountability issues. But I do want to note that it seems that it’s coming at a very steep price and that this is a very expensive contract. I hope that no one loses sight of that.”
Sept. 14, 2021: A group of community organizers, clergy, and members of the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability rally in front of City Hall before the contract vote, urging council members to reject the agreement. Several of the FOP’s critics at the rally had, a day earlier, also published an opinion piece in the Chicago Sun-Times calling for the city to work more accountability measures into the deal before giving it the green light. But the city council approves the contract. Only eight council members reject the deal.
Olivia Louthen, Aviva Waldman, and Adeshina Emmanuel contributed reporting and research.