Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city of Chicago “can’t afford” police overtime expenses at the current level and called on Superintendent Eddie Johnson to develop a cost-cutting plan.
Lightfoot said she’s “angry and frustrated” with the department’s overtime expenses, which totaled $67.6 million in the first six months of the year, according to a Sun-Times report.
Asked who’s to blame for the overspending, Lightfoot said, “Every department head has to take responsibility for what goes on.”
“I’ve talked to Superintendent Johnson about it. We’re going to challenge him to come up with a very specific proposal. When you’ve got 13,000 sworn members, there should be no reason why they blow their budget,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve already started a conversation about what we’re going to do next year to make sure that doesn’t happen. We can’t afford it. The truth is, we can’t afford it.”
The Police Department is staffed with about 13,400 officers of all ranks, the largest roster of cops since the 2000s.
The department’s latest surge in police hires began around January 2017 as Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were under intense pressure to reverse the rising tide of violence ravaging the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
The city’s already doing a study of Police Department staffing and resources, Lightfoot said, including a look at the detective division’s numbers.
“There will be nothing we don’t do to examine this problem and make sure we have a very specific plan and accountability going forward,” Lightfoot said.
The Police Department over the years has stepped up its overtime spending in the face of national headlines highlighting Chicago’s violence problem.
The city spent $53 million on police overtime in 2012, a year in which there were more than 500 homicides in Chicago. At that time, the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file Chicago cops, decried overtime spending as a “Band-Aid approach,” calling for the city to instead hire more officers.
The following year, the department started an overtime initiative that called for 400 extra cops each day to work in 20 “impact zones” within the most dangerous neighborhoods on the South and West sides. As 2013 progressed, additional rookie cops, fresh out of the academy and undergoing months of field training, augmented the overtime cops by walking beats in the same zones.
That strategy freed up other officers working their regular shifts to concentrate on other parts of those neighborhoods that needed attention, police sources have said.
By the end of November 2013, overtime costs totaled about $96 million, triple the $32 million budgeted for the entire year. Homicides by the end of that year dropped to the low 400s, their lowest level in about half a century.
In 2017, the city’s inspector general found the department had failed to closely monitor overtime and had not taken measures to prevent officers from abusing the system to pile up additional pay. The report found the city had spent a combined $575 million on officer overtime over the previous six years.
Separately, Lightfoot on Monday called another Sun-Times report that she’s looking for a new police superintendent “nonsense.”
Unlike some of her rivals in the mayoral campaign earlier this year, most notably Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and City Hall veteran Gery Chico, Lightfoot declined to promise that she would fire Johnson once she took office.
Lightfoot often said it would be irresponsible to remove the Police Department’s head during the summer violence but that there’d be more consideration about the department’s future in the fall.
Lightfoot said Monday she talks with Johnson on a regular basis and the department is making plans about big issues including overtime, the consent decree and the city’s anti-violence strategy.
“There’s no change from where I started on May 20,” Lightfoot said.
She also praised the effort of officers as crime numbers show a reduction in homicides from last year.
“The men and women of the Chicago Police Department have worked their butts off over the course of the summer. Every single day, seven days a week, particularly some of the senior leaders have had not a day of rest,” Lightfoot said. “They are pressing hard. Nobody’s taking their foot off the gas.”
Chicago Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner contributed.
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