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The Watchdogs: The cost of public officials’ security details?

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

When Miguel del Valle took office as Chicago’s city clerk in December 2006, he immediately made clear he’d make one change: He would do without a perk enjoyed by his predecessors — his own police security detail.

Given that his duties involve things like handling vehicle stickers, keeping City Council records and licensing dogs, del Valle — now running for mayor — “felt it was unnecessary to use taxpayers’ dollars for a police security detail and a driver,” says Kristine Williams, his spokeswoman.

Four other city officials, though, do have the taxpayer-funded bodyguards. They include Mayor Daley, city Treasurer Stephanie Neely and Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

And the fourth? The police won’t say.

The cost to Chicago taxpayers: at least $4.6 million last year, city records show.

Cook County and the state of Illinois — which, like the city, are facing their own financial crises — also provide police bodyguards to certain public officials.

Among the costs for that protection, according to records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times:

†Since the start of 2007, the combined security tab for Chicago, Cook County and state government officials has amounted to at least $26.9 million.

†In Chicago, the taxpayers’ bill for salaries and overtime for police security details from Jan. 1, 2007, to March 15, 2010, came to $13.7 million.

†Illinois taxpayers spent about $12 million on security details for four state officials from the start of the 2007 budget year to the end of the 2009 budget year. That includes nearly $1.3 million in car, travel and “telecommunications” expenses. During that time, the Illinois State Police provided security details for: former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his family, until Blagojevich’s removal from office in the face of corruption charges; current Gov. Quinn; Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White.

†Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was the only Cook County government official to have a security detail from the start of 2007 to the end of 2009. County taxpayers spent $265,333 to provide Stroger’s detail in 2007, $412,956 in 2008 and $421,908 last year — more than $1.1 million in all. The number of Cook County sheriff’s deputies assigned to Stroger’s security team grew from three at the start of 2007 to five by the end of 2009.

†Chicago’s city budget includes 30 police “security specialists” in 2011. The Illinois State Police had 30 officers assigned to its “Executive Protection Unit” as of March.

†The city’s travel costs for security-detail personnel are difficult to determine because — unlike the state — the police department says it doesn’t track them. Those records “may instead be maintained by the offices or departments of those individuals to whom the security details are assigned,” the police department says.

Asked about Neely’s security detail, a spokesman for the city treasurer says that the officers don’t accompany her on out-of-town trips and that she’s “never incurred any expenses associated with travel involving a security detail.”

Burke provided documents that show the City Council Finance Committee paid nearly $3,000 for two bodyguards to accompany him to Denver during the Democratic National Convention in 2008. Also, Burke’s security detail went with him last year on one trip to Springfield and another to Washington, D.C. — trips for which the Finance Committee paid nearly $1,300.

Daley’s office says it paid $27,705 in security-detail-related travel expenses between the start of 2007 and May 1. The mayor has taken at least 46 out-of-town trips — 19 of them paid for by taxpayers — since 2007, the Sun-Times reported last year.

Daley aides won’t say how many staffers and security personnel accompany Daley on his travels. Nor will they disclose the total costs of those trips, citing unspecified security concerns.

Who decides who gets a security detail? At the state level, it’s the governor’s office, with recommendations from the Illinois State Police.

City Hall’s position has been that it’s up to the police superintendent, a mayoral appointee.

Burke’s detail dates to the days he opposed then-Mayor Harold Washington during the “Council Wars” of the 1980s. He’s had the detail ever since.

Another former mayor, Eugene Sawyer, who left office in 1989, still had a taxpayer-funded security detail as of 2006. He died in 2008.

But former Mayor Jane M. Byrne, a onetime Daley rival who had a security team of 12 police officers during her time at City Hall, says she wasn’t offered protection since leaving office in 1983.

“At this point in time, I would not feel good about having one,” Byrne says of having a security detail. “There’s such a shortage of police. It would be the wrong thing to do.”

Daley’s press office says “a determination regarding the mayor’s security needs” after he leaves office next year “is still pending.”

Byrne says she thinks Daley shouldn’t have a detail after he leaves City Hall.

“I’ve had to get along fine, and I think he could also get along fine,” says Byrne, 76.

Contributing: Lisa Donovan

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