Alderman: Target police, fire contracts to reduce budget deficit
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com September 2, 2011 1:02AM
Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale (9th)
Updated: November 5, 2011 1:22PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel could wring $300 million from the combined $1.8 billion budgets of Chicago’s Police and Fire Departments, in part by dramatically altering union contracts that expire June 30, an influential alderman said Thursday.
“There’s no more sacred cows when the taxpayers are hurting like they are,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee.
Beale has already infuriated the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) by targeting the $1,800-a-year uniform allowance officers receive as well as duty-availability pay, a $2,800-a-year lump sum that essentially compensates officers for being on call at any time.
Now, he’s going even further.
Instead of having the same number of police officers assigned to every watch and district, Beale is talking about putting officers when and where the crime is. That would allow Emanuel to eliminate 1,400 police vacancies and shrink the police force through attrition.
“I know it’s an unpopular thing to say. ... But if you put the officers where they’re needed vs. where they’re wanted, you could see a reduction,” he said.
“It has to be a conscious effort to make the unpopular decision to say, ‘We’re gonna move officers around to where they’re most needed — not where they’re most wanted.’ If we’re gonna make the entire city safe, we can do it with less officers.”
Instead of doling out annual uniform checks, Beale wants to switch to a voucher system to save as much as $50 million a year. Officers who need shirts, pants and jackets would get reimbursed. Those who don’t would get nothing.
Arguing that overtime is normally tacked on to an officers shift, Beale is also talking about eliminating duty availability pay, reducing disability claims and about eliminating a virtually unheard of policy that allows officers to take as many as 365 sick days every two years.
In the Chicago Fire Department, Beale wants to permanently reduce the minimum staffing requirements for fire apparatus and switch firefighters to an eight-hour shift — and away from the cherished 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off schedule that allows them to work second and third jobs.
Many of the changes proposed by the aldermen would have to be negotiated when police and fire union contracts expire on June 30.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley threatened repeatedly to switch firefighters to an eight-hour shift in response to a sharp decline in the number of fires, only to back off the demand.
Daley was similarly thwarted in his efforts to relax the requirement that there be five employees on every piece of fire apparatus — the issue that triggered the bitter 1980 firefighters strike. He only managed to increase to 35 the number of times each day when the city is allowed to dip below that requirement.
Tom Ryan, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, could not be reached for comment on Beale’s suggestions.
But FOP president Mike Shields ripped the alderman’s proposal.
“The Chicago Police Department today is stretched to the limit. We have had seven police officers killed in the line of duty over the past two years. Now, Ald. Beale wants to give us a pay cut? That is a real insult,” Shields said.
“If the mayor and the city are really serious about saving money, they can save tens of millions per year by cutting the number of aldermen in half and ending all of their ridiculous perks. The mayor asked for suggestions from citizens. That is what the citizens want. They do not want a demoralized and underpaid police force.”
Shields further noted that Beale raised the same concerns about uniforms and duty pay during the last round of contract talks that dragged on for years.
“His positions were soundly rejected,” Shields said.
Emanuel’s communications director, Chris Mather, did not dismiss Beale’s suggestions.
“We have to be honest about the fiscal challenges our city faces and any ideas — be it from the City Council, the FOP or the public — that will help close the budget gap without impacting the safety on streets and in our neighborhoods should be considered,” Mather said.
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier week that he’s been asked to cut $190 million from the Police Department’s $1.3 billion-a-year budget and would only get halfway there by eliminating 1,400 police vacancies.
Beyond the vacancies, there are 730 officers on medical rolls each day and 641 officers on limited desk duty. Emanuel campaigned on a promise to change the sick leave policy.