Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND FRANK MAIN Staff Re­porters

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.

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