Police overtime spending exceeds 2013 budget: Some officers O.T. earnings outpace salaries

By Metro Editor

Some Chicago Police Department officers’ 2013 overtime earnings exceeded their average yearly salaries, rekindling debates about the department’s overtime spending.

According to 2013 city data, two officers each earned more than $90,000 in overtime, and 215 officers each earned more than $50,000. Total overtime spending was $103.5 million, exceeding the $93 million allotted in the 2013 budget.

In an effort to reduce crime, more officers were encouraged to work overtime in high-crime areas, said Adam Collins, director of news affairs for the CPD.

Chicago ended 2013 with its lowest crime rate since 1972. The murder rate was the lowest since 1966, and marked an 18 percent decrease from 2012, according to a Jan. 1 CPD press release. Collins said 2013’s low crime statistics are evidence that increasing overtime spending was an effective solution to crime in high-violence regions.

Paying overtime salaries instead of hiring additional officers is a cost-effective strategy, Collins said, explaining that officers working overtime do not receive additional benefits and can be deployed at a moment’s notice. In contrast, new officers must go through a six-month training period before they can take to the streets and receive retirement benefits, Collins said.

Figures are not available for the cost of hiring 1,000 more officers but the starting compensation for CPD officers is $69,000, according to an analysis by The Chronicle.

Despite 2013’s low crime rates, the high overtime pay shows poor management on the CPD’s part, said Pat Camden, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge Seven, a CPD union.

Camden, a retired CPD officer, said public safety is compromised when officers are working long shifts in high-crime areas because mistakes can be made easily when they are tired.

Robert Lombardo, a sociologist in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Loyola University, said overtime is a safety risk only when officers are patrolling the streets, though, and most CPD officers receiving overtime are detectives, investigators or sergeants, who spend the extra hours doing paperwork, avoiding the majority of safety risks.

Collins said detectives put in the most overtime because their positions often require court proceedings, surveillance and continuation, all of which are covered by overtime pay because they are added hours.

The top 10 officers earning overtime in 2013 were either sergeants, forensic investigators or detectives, according to the data.

Camden said relying on overtime work is not a smart tactic because police are an investment in the city’s overall and future public safety, and opting to pay overtime in lieu of hiring new officers does not encourage further investment in the future of the department because new officers are not being hired frequently and the number of veteran officers is not increasing substantially.

“When we spend money on hiring younger officers coming into the force at the end of the year … five years from now you’re going to have a veteran officer instead of $5 million in overtime,” Camden said. “It is a case of poor management on somebody’s part. When you have to spend $100 million to show our public safety, somebody missed the ball somewhere.”

David Kelly, executive director of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, an anti-violence youth organization in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, said real safety comes from revitalizing communities rather than relying on police to increase safety.

“Everybody has to be involved and one of the pieces that have been neglected for a long time is the power of community,” Kelly said.

“Putting resources back into the community and allowing the community … [to] make the decisions[about] where their increased resources should be and then participate in that, I think that’s ultimately what’s going to change things.”

For more about the 2013 CPD overtime pay report, see the related editorial from this week’s issue.