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Police O.T. costs skyrocket

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was joined by Police Supt. Garry McCarthy  announce new gun safety measures 15th District Police Stati5701

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was joined by Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to announce new gun safety measures at the 15th District Police Station, 5701 W. Madison, Monday morning. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 15, 2013 6:50AM

The Chicago Police Department shelled out $21.3 million for overtime in April and May, putting overtime spending for 2013 in a $10.5 million hole before the traditional summer crime wave.

The July 4 Chicago Sun-Times tally totaled 38 separate shooting incidents from Wednesday evening through Sunday afternoon, including 10 homicides.

Figures provided to the newspaper Friday in response to a Freedom of Information request are particularly troubling because overtime payments run 30 days behind.

That means the police department spent $42.5 million on overtime through May long before temperatures started to rise, driving people outside and increasing the number of conflicts and shootings.

The Sun-Times reported May 3 that the police department had already burned through two-thirds of its 2013 overtime budget during the first three months of the year.

Some of that $21 million tab went to officers working in “Operation Impact,” an overtime program that started in February with 200 officers-a-night flooding 20 of Chicago’s most violent crime zones and doubled in March to 400 officers-a-night.

The new numbers double that spending—and leave the police department in a $10.5 million overtime hole through the first five months of the year.

Overtime paid in April for expenses incurred in March was $10.8 million, with $7.1 million of it going to the so-called “violence reduction initiative.” Spending continued at roughly the same pace in May, with $10.5 million spent overall and $6.7 million paid to officers who flooded crime “hot spots.”

Although overtime spending was $10.5 million in the red well before summer, City Hall sources cited three factors for why they are not overly concerned.

An uptick in tax revenue driven by a number of large property sales in the downtown area likely means Chicago will close the books on 2013 with $25 million in added revenue.

Police payroll expenses have dropped by $10 million because of unexpected reductions in duty availability and other supplemental pay and an increase in the number of officers banking compensatory time.

And the police academy continues to churn out recruits—with nearly 400 graduates already and 600 expected by fall--who will be paid straight-time to go on foot patrol in the 20 hot zones, gradually reducing the amount of overtime.

Although the price of police overtime is high, Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, said Chicago “had to do something different” to stop gang violence “before you get into the thick of it” in March.

“I give the city credit for trying to do something. They basically said, ‘We don’t want to repeat what happened last year. We’ve got to put the resources where they’re needed,’” Wexler said.

“Because so much of the violence in Chicago is gang-related, if you’re gonna stop one homicide, you’ll probably stop several because of the retaliation factor. Even though it may cost more, it will have a benefit. It was a bad weekend. No question about it. But overall, the past six months has seen a real turnaround.”

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields has called excessive overtime spending a “short-term Band-Aid solution to a major manpower problem” that can only be solved by a surge in police hiring.

Wexler replied, “You can do both. One is an immediate need. You have to put experienced officers out there right away. The other is a long-term issue. Hiring is something the department needs. But we’re trying to stem a pattern of violence from the previous year. The department is focussing on how do we get in front of the escalating violence.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) called the $10 million police overtime deficit through May “troublesome.”

But the alderman said, “It would be more troubling if we let the budget concern override public safety. This is one of the platforms upon which [Mayor] Rahm’s [Emanuel] administration was founded. Violence reduction. A safer city. He is committed to doing whatever is necessary to suppress the violence. If that is a huge police presence in those communities, he will find the money to do that as long as it is necessary.”

In a mid-term interview with the Sun-Times, Emanuel vowed to do whatever is necessary to bankroll the overtime surge.

“I don’t think you can afford not to because it’s not been a lull. It’s had a bigger impact…the moment we adopted this strategic saturation in these targeted areas, it has had an impact on both shootings down a third and homicides down over 40 percent,” he said then.

But he added, “I’m not gonna feel good until we get through the summer.”

Under fire for the July 4 McCarthy pointed to a 25 percent drop in shootings and a 29 percent reduction in homicides during the first six months of this year.

Arguing that his violence-reduction strategies are working, McCarthy said, “I’m absolutely positive that I enjoy the mayor’s confidence…He wants to know what’s going on, just like I want to know.”

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