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Metra cops riding overtime express, with some making more in OT than regular pay

A Metrpolice car patrols an overpass 100th Street South Side as MetrElectric Line trapasses.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

A Metra police car patrols an overpass at 100th Street on the South Side as a Metra Electric Line train passes. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Updated: June 21, 2013 6:06AM

Each week he was on the job last year, Metra Police Department Sgt. John K. Geraty would work his regular 40 hours and then, on average, put in another 38 hours of overtime.

His total pay last year as a cop with the Chicago and suburban commuter rail agency: $154,446, with more than half of that — $90,273 — for overtime.

Three years after Metra said it would look into its police department’s bulging budget for extra work hours, the department has been riding an overtime express, with Geraty in the head car, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis that shows his OT pay was tops among Metra’s 100-plus police personnel.

The analysis of Metra’s 2012 police payroll also shows:

Five other officers, besides Geraty, were paid for an average of at least 30 hours of overtime every week.

Eleven more officers averaged 20 to 30 hours of OT pay each week.

Ten officers’ overtime earnings eclipsed their regular pay. They were among 20 Metra cops whose overtime earnings pushed their total pay above $100,000.

Since 2009, the commuter rail agency’s tab for police overtime has ballooned by 45 percent. The $1.9 million in overtime Metra paid its cops that year prompted the agency to announce plans to look into police overtime in 2010. An accounting firm ended up taking a broader look at overtime throughout Metra but didn’t specifically address police overtime.

The Metra police overtime bill held steady in 2010 at $1.9 million, then rose to $2.2 million in 2011 and hit nearly $2.8 million last year.

Late last year, Metra’s board hired Hillard Heintze LLC — a consulting firm cofounded by former Chicago police Supt. Terry Hillard — for $200,000 to assess the Metra Police Department’s “operations and capabilities,” including its “organizational culture and structure” and “staffing and training processes.” That review is to be completed in the next few months.

Metra says the overtime its officers worked last year was necessary, especially in light of high-profile events affecting rail security, including the NATO Summit in downtown Chicago, the PGA Championships at Medinah Country Club and Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

The agency’s “regular overtime” hours have held steady at around 43,000 hours each of the past three years, according to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis, who says the overall increase is due to overtime required of Metra to meet U.S. Department of Homeland Security police-staffing requirements for special events. The federal government reimburses Metra for that — including 4,250 hours of overtime it paid for Metra officers who worked the NATO Summit.

Still, overtime pay accounted for 31 percent of Metra police wages last year. Overtime pay for the Chicago Police Department — which also had millions of dollars in NATO Summit-related and other security expenses reimbursed by the federal government — was 6 percent.

Metra cops — who get time-and-a-half overtime pay — can work as much as 16 hours in a row, then have to take eight hours off. Overtime is offered based on seniority.

Two criminal-justice experts question why Metra would allow some officers to put in 60- or 70-plus-hour weeks year-round.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” says Maria “Maki” Haberfeld, a professor of police science and department chair at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “It’s dysfunctional for both the officers and the public. You cannot achieve more effective policing with overworked police officers.”

“When you’re subjecting an officer to that many hours, you have to question why,” says John J. Millner, a former Republican state senator and chief of police in Elmhurst who also headed the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Unionized Metra officers, represented by the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, are in contract negotiations with the agency. Attempts to interview Geraty and union representatives about overtime pay were unsuccessful.

Responding to Sun-Times messages, Keith George, vice president of the union, emailed a statement that read in part: “Rather than hire more police, Metra has elected to hire back officers on overtime. . . . During prior contract negotiations, Metra negotiators have commented that Metra police have the chance to work overtime to supplement their income.”

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