September 23, 2014
The Chicago Police Department expects to spend $93 million on overtime this year, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy disclosed Thursday, fueling demands for the hiring of up to 1,000 additional police officers at a cost of $50 million.
On the hot seat at City Council budget hearings about overtime spending that has masked a manpower shortage, McCarthy pegged the current total at $70 million, even though overtime payments run 30 days behind.
McCarthy said he expects to end the year at $93 million and drop next year — presumably to the $75 million Mayor Rahm Emanuel has budgeted — because police recruits paid straight-time are replacing veteran officers working overtime to flood 20 of Chicago’s most violent crime zones.
That’s nearly triple the $32 million budget for police overtime for all of 2013.
“What happened in 2013 is basically a result of creating Operation Impact. That’s not overtime we anticipate we’re going to be spending moving forward,” he said.
The superintendent said 502 police officers have been hired already this year, with a steady stream of classes on the way.
“We will keep up with attrition and stay with authorized strength” of 12,538, even with an anticipated, 450 retirements next year, McCarthy said.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) didn’t buy it.
“That brings me to the elephant in the room. If we’re being so effective in managing the hours, diverting calls and we’re at full-strength, as you like to say at 12,538, why is overtime so out of control?” Munoz said.
“There comes a point of diminishing returns on the issue and use of overtime in an organization of your size. At what point do we decide to increase strength to try and save on the overtime budget and basically make these permanent positions?”
McCarthy stuck with the party line that has been repeated by Emanuel and Budget Director Alex Holt.
“It’s cheaper to pay a police officer overtime than it is to hire a fully-loaded-with-health-benefits-and-pay officer,” he said.
Munoz and his colleagues in the City Council’s Progressive Caucus have vowed to find the $50 million needed to hire the 1,000 additional police officers that Emanuel as a mayoral candidate originally promised.
After taking office, the mayor refined that pledge to 1,000 more “cops on the beat.” He honored half that promise by disbanding specialized units and reassigning those officers to beat patrol and found the other half by reassigning desk cops to street duty.
“Talk to any management consultant and they’ll tell you that an organization the size of the Police Department should have a 3 to 3.5 percent overtime budget. We’re looking at almost a 10 percent overtime budget here,” Munoz said.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) agreed that it makes more sense — financially and operationally — to hire additional officers.
“You’re paying overtime for top-rated officers, as opposed to hiring a rookie to come on the job. The pay scales are different. The energy is different,” Cochran said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields called overtime a Band-Aid solution that’s been wildly abused and cannot be sustained.
“We have 3,000 officers [who] are retirement-ready…If you’re going to have to be replacing 3,000 officers within the next seven years, you’d better start thinking about that now before pushing this off any further,” Shields said.
Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) asked if anybody is tracking overtime to prevent individual officers from working 60 straight days for “blood” money.
“That would be a negative impact. I know the guys like the money. But at some point, it becomes, what I call blood money,” Sposato said.
McCarthy replied, “We do track it, but contractually, we can’t deny it. You make a good point, but we’re constrained by work rules.”
Last year, McCarthy was knocked off the pedestal he was placed on for his deft handling of the 2012 NATO Summit by aldermen questioning his vision for ending the bloodbath on Chicago streets.
This year, he had a decline in shootings, homicides and overall crime to showcase. But he still didn’t get a pass.
South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) demanded to know why there have been three to five police officers on every corner along Michigan Avenue and Chicago Avenue since last summer while crime-ridden black and Hispanic neighborhoods are being shortchanged.
“You’re darned right it’s a lot of officers. And a lot of officers to have standing on a corner for an event that occurred in July. And here we are in October going into November,” Hairston said.
“The districts on the South Side have to do the South Side shuffle [moving from one location to another]….”
Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) said crime may be down statistically, but it doesn’t feel that way to her and her constituents.
“It doesn’t feel like it in our communities and folks really don’t feel it. Part of the issue is the way the media reports on anything that’s happening bad,” Thomas said.
Addressing McCarthy directly, she said, “I just think your p.r. needs to be a lot better. If you’re closing cases, we need to be shouting about what you’re doing and not just throwing up these stats. Making it so that we feel it. Because all we feel is what the media tells us. The way we feel is we’re just inundated with crime.”
Cochran characterized as “mystifying” McCarthy’s decision to refuse Gov. Pat Quinn’s offer of help by the State Police.
McCarthy said his officers work with State Police all the time. He just doesn’t want to see them patrolling Chicago neighborhoods.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) put in a renewed pitch for his stalled plan to hire moonlighting cops privately financed to supplement police efforts downtown and in business districts across the city.
McCarthy said he endorses the plan, but only for special events. The superintendent said there are “supervision problems and liability issues” with using moonlighting cops for “normal operations.”
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) argued that police officers are not fully “on board” with writing marijuana tickets that were supposed to free them to concentrate on more serious crimes.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) complained that police aren’t doing enough about the wide-open sale of loose cigarettes, a problem that will only get worse in minority communities if Emanuel’s forges ahead with his plan to raise the city’s cigarette tax by 75-cents-a-pack.
Throughout the questioning, McCarthy stuck to his guns about the steady progress he’s making in reducing crime across the board.
But he argued that his “biggest challenge” is “communicating” to the public what police are doing, why they’re doing it and what the results are.
“As I read newspapers and listen to the news every day, that’s not seeping through,” McCarthy said.
“Yesterday in Chicago, there were no murders. So, what was being reported was what happened on Monday. And I saw it reported on Tuesday. I saw it reported on Wednesday. That perception is hurting us.”