Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Police Overtime On Pace for $100 Million Price Tag

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Tens of millions of dollars are being dolled out for Chicago police overtime pay. Is it the best way to spend that much money? Mary Ann Ahern investigates.

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Ever since February 2012, when it became clear that Chicago had an unusually high murder rate Chicago Police Officers began working under an overtime fueled crime-fighting strategy.

As many as 400 officers each night have been saturating high crime areas. Those officer have been drawing time and a half pay for their nightly service. 

The cost of that overtime policing strategy might shock residents of the city. This year alone the bill is on pace to reach $100 million.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy defends the program as necessary, and effective. 

“We wanted to jump start that program, because when I described to the mayor what I wanted, and where we were going, he said, ‘you know what Garry, I’ll find the money, make it happen.”  

McCarthy points to decreased murder rate in 2013 as evidence of its success.

Through a Freedom Of Information Request NBC Investigates learned exclusively that the city spent $19.9 million for May and June on police overtime.   Of that amount, $12 million was for the Violence Reduction Initiative, or VRI.  

That’s on top of the expenses already released earlier this year.   The city paid $37.2 million in overtime from January to April, with $19.5 million going to the VRI project.   Overall, the city spent  $57.1 million in overtime costs through June 30th. That’s nearly double what the mayor’s budget projected for the entire year in police overtime.

Nevertheless, 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran thinks the proof is in the results. 

“If the crime rate continues to drop, I believe we will be more happy that we spent this money,” Cochran said.   

Likewise 23rd Ward Alderman Michael Zalewski says the overtime has helped  “get us out of the national headlines, as a city that was out of control. Really it was only two zip codes that was having all of the problems.”

McCarthy points out that the newly sworn in officers are beginning to take over the VRI patrols, and the overtime budget starting this month is expected to decrease. 

“[The city is] cutting back on overtime, and now we’re back where we started from," he said. "But at the end of the day, if this is about dollars and cents, I think we have a moral dilemma here.”

Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman with the  city’s budget office respond backed up that assertion. 

“Public safety is a top priority for the Mayor and he is committed to putting resources where they're needed to ensure the safety of our residents. Overtime will be paid for from a number of sources including funds from revenue increases, driven primarily by the uptick in transfer taxes due to the sale of large commercial properties in the downtown area; savings in police payroll expenses, which have dropped this year by $10 million; and by paying new police officers straight time to go on foot patrol in the 20 impact zones.”  
 

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