During the first day of City Council hearings on Mayor Emanuel’s 2015 budget proposals, City Budget Director Alexandria Holt revealed the city is once again spending millions of dollars beyond what was budgeted for police overtime.
Holt told aldermen the city expects to spend $95 million on police overtime this year, which is $23 million more than the $72 million already set aside.
It’s the second year in a row the city has exceeded its police overtime budget by millions. Last year, the city spent more than $100 million on police overtime after estimating it would spend $32 million.
The figures come amid growing concern in Chicago over the police department’s overall effectiveness in addressing spiraling shootings and murders, particularly in a number of poorer and more disadvantaged neighborhoods across the city.
In response to the city’s ongoing gun violence, community leaders, neighborhood activists and several alderman have called for the city to hire more police to patrol the streets and attack high crime areas. According to the city, 12,533 sworn positions are budgeted for 2015, including about 9,700 positions for beat officers.
A number of aldermen, including members of the Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus, have called for 500 additional police hires above and beyond what is currently budgeted.
“We need to find $50 million in the budget to fund the additional officers because as it is, [the police department] is understaffed,” Alderman Rick Munoz (22) told Ward Room. “If the city can find money for other projects, they can find the money for more officers.”
However, the Emanuel administration argues that hiring more police officers actually hurts the city’s budget more than simply asking existing officers to work more overtime. At Monday’s hearing, Holt said overtime costs less than hiring new officers, saying the average full-time officer costs the city about $100,000 a year in pay and benefits.
“If you look at the $40 million, say, in overtime for operation impact, that buys you about 570,000 hours of policing work,” Holt said. “If you were to do it on straight time, it’s about 150,000 hours less.”
Yet the city’s calculations appear to ignore potential human costs and ineffectiveness such a policy can create. In a statement on the proposed 2015 budget, the PRC expressed concern that “over-reliance on police overtime could exacerbate community-police conflicts and increases the risk of problematic interactions.”
“We should be hiring more officers to minimize the amount of time these officers are working,” Munoz told the Tribune. “Human beings do get tired, and we want to protect the men in blue.”
Nevertheless, the city stands by its policy, at least as expressed in the current 2015 budget proposal.
Holt pointed to $40 million of the $95 million in overtime costs as being devoted to special Impact Zones targeted for reductions in street crime and gun violence, saying “the issue is really one of flexibility for the Police Department."