Chicago Police OT tops $116M as retirements outpace hiring

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The Chicago Police Department spent a record $116.1 million on overtime in 2015 — up 17.2 percent from the previous year — to mask a manpower shortage that has mushroomed under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with police retirements outpacing hiring by 975 officers.

“Overtime is totally out of control. Arrests are down. Stops are down. Crime is up. All we’re doing is paying people to do nothing,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee.

“If we’re not getting the bang for the buck, we need to stop paying overtime and do the resources allocation I’ve been talking about for years” by reassigning officers to districts where crime is highest, Beale said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last summer that 10 city employees made more than $100,000 in overtime in 2014, most of them more than doubling their salaries. Topping that list was Chicago Police Officer Timothy A. Walter, who made $123,656 over and above his $86,130 salary.

Altogether, Chicago taxpayers spent $240.4 million on employee overtime in 2014, up 21 percent over the year before and more than three times the overtime paid in 2012, records showed then. The Police Department accounted for $99 million of that amount.

Now, new records released in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Sun-Times show the Police Department set a new record for overtime spending in 2015 with $116.1 million.

Walter now ranks No. 2 on the list, with $121,466 in overtime. He’s runner-up to Sgt. Brian Forberg, whose overtime paycheck totaled $137,682. They were among six police officers whose overtime pay topped $100,000.

The records show that 167 officers each got overtime paychecks that topped $50,000. An additional 1,026 officers got between $25,000 and $50,000 apiece in overtime cash.

The traditional summer surge in street violence triggered the highest monthly spending, with $16.8 million in overtime in August 2015.

But the second-highest monthly spending on police overtime — $10.4 million — occurred in November. That’s when a judge ordered the city to release the video of a white Chicago Police officer pumping 16 rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

As Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, protesters took to the streets to demand the resignations of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Emanuel and then-Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. Chicago Police officers worked overtime, trying to keep those demonstrations peaceful.

Retirement numbers released in response to a separate open-records request filed by the Sun-Times help explain the need for excessive amounts of overtime.

The records show that 2,575 Chicago Police officers have retired since Emanuel took office in May 2011.

When the Chicago Police Department announced results of its latest minority recruitment campaign in February, the mayor’s press release included the following line: “Under the Emanuel administration, more than 1,600 police officers have joined the Chicago Police Department along with promotions at every rank to bolster strong leadership in the organization.”

That means the city hired 975 police officers fewer than the amount needed to honor Emanuel’s longstanding promise to keep pace with attrition and to maintain police strength at the 12,538 officers authorized by the city budget.

The records show that 457 officers retired from the Police Department in 2015, with 120 more following them out the door during the first three months of this year.

Emanuel campaigned for a first term on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units. The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.

The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, declaring an end to what he called the annual “shell game” of budgeting for police jobs the city had no intention of filling.

When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation’s murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence — to the tune of $100.3 million in 2013 and $99 million in 2014.

Vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia vowed to deliver on Emanuel’s broken promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, arguing that runaway overtime was no substitute for additional manpower.

Garcia maintained that moonlighting police officers working ridiculous amounts of overtime not only get burned out, but also don’t know the neighborhoods they parachute into — and don’t build the kinds of ties to area residents that are needed to restore trust between citizens and police.

“They played some games about numbers and moving cops from desks to the street but it’s not fulfilling the promise that was made. The police department is still understaffed and we need to get it up to better levels to improve community policing,” Garcia told the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2014.

Emanuel and his Budget Director Alex Holt have argued repeatedly that overtime is a more flexible and cost-effective substitute for police hiring because the city doesn’t have to bear the cost of pensions and benefits for new officers.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has branded the mounting overtime unhealthy, unsustainable and a recipe for officer burnout. He could not be reached for comment on the new numbers.

The new figures on police overtime and retirements come at a time when the Chicago Police Department is under the microscope of a federal civil rights investigation triggered by the Laquan McDonald shooting.

Newly appointed Interim Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is struggling to control a surge in homicides and shootings and bolster rock-bottom police morale that has caused police stops and arrests to take a nosedive.

During a series of closed-door briefings last week that followed Emanuel’s stunning end-run around his hand-picked Police Board, several aldermen confronted Johnson about the excessive amounts of police overtime.

“Eddie knows overtime is a big problem. He said he was aware of it and he’s going to address the morale problem, the community problem and the overtime problem. He plans on doing something about it. He didn’t know what it was,” Beale said.

McCarthy stuck to the company line up until the moment he was fired on Dec. 1 for becoming what Emanuel called a “distraction” in the wake of the McDonald shooting. He argued that he could make do with the officers Emanuel had provided and that it was cheaper and “more facile” to pay overtime than it is to hire a “fully loaded” police officer with benefits.