CITY HALL — With the City Council debating the police department budget, the patrol officers' union said the city should stop buffering police ranks with overtime pay and hire more cops.
A day after Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy defended an estimated $93 million in overtime costs for 2013, almost triple the budgeted amount, Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden said the city "absolutely" would save money by adding full-time officers instead.
"You're paying officers to work overtime at a premium rate, time and a half on seasoned veteran officers, versus having younger officers in there at a lower rate," Camden said Friday. "I understand it costs more money for benefits and everything else, but you're looking at the future of public safety."
Testifying in budget hearings Thursday, McCarthy said the department was saving money by deploying available officers in overtime, much of it part of the Operation Impact initiative to attack city gun violence and murders.
"These officers are right here, right now," McCarthy said, adding he expected the demand for overtime to dwindle next year, given the progress shown in those areas, although Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2014 budget proposal still has $75 million set aside for it.
"Once all factors are taken into consideration, using overtime to cover shifts is less expensive than hiring a new officer because each hour of overtime does not come with benefits and, in the case of sworn personnel, does not come with the other pay types," added police department spokesman Adam Collins.
He said the total hourly cost of OT, including supervision, is $63, while the total average hourly salary, including benefits, supervision and two-thirds staffing, is $89.
Camden called those arguments "smoke and mirrors" and said the attitude of looking at staffing "right here, right now" was shortsighted.
"Five years from now, when the city looks at public safety and says, 'We should have been hiring people instead of overtime,' you're not gonna have the officers in place," he said. Aldermen cast doubt about it as well.
"I'm not so sure it's well-managed money," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
"We're doing the best we can with the resources we have," McCarthy responded.
Several alderman have requested a detailed cost-benefit analysis weighing overtime against additional officers, and McCarthy said the department would deliver that as part of the budget process.
Waguespack and the Progressive Reform Caucus have made it a priority to find $50 million in the budget to hire 1,000 additional police officers. McCarthy proclaimed the department fully staffed at the current 12,500, while allowing that the department had 1,000 more officers in 2000. Camden supported the PRC position.
"One of the things Mayor Emanuel did when he took office was eliminate 1,400 police-officer positions from his budget and basically balance that budget on the back of public safety," Camden said. "We need to increase the manpower."
Camden admitted that many rank-and-file officers like the overtime.
"They like the money coming in," he added. "But at the same time the FOP fought for years to get a five-day work week."
He called a six-day work week "very stressful" for officers.
"It's not to say the officers don't need the money. They do," Camden said.
The issue, he insisted, was sustainability.
"How long can they keep covering that?" Camden said. "The city says crime is down. Go out to the neighborhoods and talk to the people and see if they feel crime is down.
"In high-crime areas, they're there," he said of police staffing. "But what about the people who have low-crime areas and want to keep it that way?"