COPS BURNING THROUGH OT
Combating hot spots of violence, the Chicago Police Department has already burned through two-thirds of its 2013 overtime budget in the first three months of the year — raising questions about how much will be left to handle the traditional summer crime wave.
Some of the $21 million overtime bill went to officers working in “Operation Impact.” In February, 200 officers a day started working overtime in the 20 most violent zones of the city as part of the program.
The department doubled Operation Impact to 400 officers a day on March 1. But the $21 million overtime bill doesn’t include those extra officers, who began receiving their checks in April.
Before Operation Impact, officers were getting overtime in a violence reduction initiative that was launched last summer.
Police officials say the overtime was worth it.
Murders were down 62 percent, nonfatal shootings were down 44 percent and overall crime was down 25 percent in the Operation Impact zones between Feb. 1 and April 28.
Citywide, it was the first time in five decades that Chicago had fewer than 100 murder victims in the first four months of the year.
But Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields said the decision to blow through two-thirds of the $32 million overtime budget during the “snowy months” of January, February and March underscores the need for more police hiring.
Shields called the overtime surge a “short-term Band-Aid solution to a major manpower problem.”
Records released to the SunTimes through a Freedom of Information Act request showed:
$5.4 million of overtime paid in January, including $3.2 million for regular overtime worked in November and $2.2 million for the violence reduction initiative in December.
$5.2 million of overtime paid in February, including $2.9 million for regular overtime worked in December and $2.3 million for the violence reduction initiative in January.
$10.6 million paid in March, including $7.2 million for regular overtime worked in January and February, and $3.4 million for overtime worked in high-crime zones in February.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, said departments across the country are using overtime to boost the number of onduty cops — especially cities with crime hot zones like Chicago.
“If you get ahead of it in February, March and April, that might help stabilize things for the summer,” Wexler said.
Although the mayor’s budget includes a $32 million line item for police overtime, mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey said “other funds and grants” identified by the mayor take the actual total up to $37.9 million. Even if the police department exhausts its overtime budget before temperatures rise for good, McCaffrey said the mayor will find the money to maintain the OT surge.
Over the years, police overtime spending has ebbed and flowed. In 2000, when the department employed thousands of more officers than today, then-police Supt. Terry Hillard put the department on an overtime diet to help balance the city’s budget. Records show police overtime payments slid from nearly $41 million in 2000 to $18.5 million in 2005.
Since then, though, overtime expenses have ballooned while the police payroll continued to shrink. The police overtime budget rose to $34 million in 2006 and was $37 million last year.
McCaffrey said city officials expect that graduating police recruits will help reduce future overtime costs. By fall, more than 600 recruits are expected to graduate from the police academy to keep pace with attrition. So far this year, 213 have hit the streets, many assigned to foot patrols in high-crime zones.