BRONZEVILLE — The Chicago Police Department wasted millions of dollars on overtime, fueling officer burnout, an audit released Tuesday by the city's watchdog found.
Between 2011, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, and 2016, the amount of money the city spent to compensate officers for working extra hours — usually at a rate of time-and-a-half — grew by 246 percent as officers struggled to cope with a surge of violence.
"CPD's management of overtime speaks directly to how inefficient management can lead to wide-scale waste and a culture of abuse," Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said.
At a press conference at Police Department headquarters, Ferguson — flanked by Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and the department's top brass — said the system used to track overtime spending is fundamentally "deficient" and has placed a "significant" financial burden on Chicago taxpayers.
In 2017, the City Council approved a budget that set aside $84 million for police overtime. The department has already spent $115 million, and is expected to spend a total of $169 million by the end of the year, Ferguson said.
Getting those costs under control will free up money to hire more officers — and fund necessary reforms as outlined by the U.S. Justice Department, Ferguson said. That 2015 investigation found that officers routinely violated the civil rights of residents by using excessive force. That report also found that officers were poorly trained and lacked supervision.
Officers who work too many hours can become exhausted and develop a "heightened sense of threat," according to the audit.
"Due to a lack of adequate monitoring controls to assess and respond to trends in overtime and track secondary [off-duty] employment of sworn members, management cannot detect violations of its policy and cannot ensure that officers optimally meet the stressful demands of their job serving the public," according to the audit.
After insisting that it was cheaper to pay current officers overtime than hire new officers, Emanuel in October 2016 agreed to hire 970 new officers — and fill 500 vacant positions — as part of a sweeping effort to remake the department in the wake of the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a since-indicted officer.
"That strategy has run its course," Johnson said, adding that he launched a "top-to-bottom" review of the department's use of overtime when he took the top job in March 2015.
But overtime is needed to suppress crime in areas of the South and West side plagued by gun violence — as well as to police high-profile events like this weekend's marathon and Cubs playoff games, Johnson said.
"However, I share a sense of responsibility to the taxpayer," Johnson said, acknowledging that the department needs to do a better job tracking overtime. "We're not just giving money away. This money was spent to reduce crime."
Among the audit's findings are:
• The city has no documentation for $27.6 million paid to officers for overtime work from Jan. 1, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2016.
• Officers were allowed to approve overtime payments to themselves from 2014-16, a practice which totaled $1 million. Johnson called that "absolutely unacceptable" and said it would be prohibited from now on.
• About $40 million worth of overtime was approved by "peers or subordinates of the member who earned the overtime, with more than 600 instances of two-way relationships in which CPD members approved each other's overtime in a reciprocal manner," from 2014-16.
The rules governing the approval of overtime have not been revised since 1994 and are outdated, according to the audit.
The current police contract does not require officers to inform their supervisors about secondary employment, Ferguson said.
The department's overtime rules will be revised, random audits will be ordered, and overtime spending will be tracked weekly, Johnson said.
"We're working" to do better, Johnson said.
The Police Department tracks regular-duty overtime and compensatory time for officers with pen and paper — a system that must be updated to ensure taxpayer money is not abused, according to the audit.
An electronic time-keeping system will be installed by the end of the year at Police Department headquarters in Bronzeville, but will not be implemented throughout the department until mid-2019, police officials told Ferguson.
That automated system will replace the majority of the 61 timekeepers who cost the department $7.1 million, Ferguson said.
However, that system will be ineffective at correcting issues outlined by the audit unless it is paired with sufficient supervision that ensures the system is used correctly, Ferguson said.
In addition, the department's top brass said they would begin "a new process for more actively managing overtime use by holding supervisors accountable for overtime monitoring and spending."
The audit discovered 6,727 overtime entries that either duplicated or overlapped other entries, resulting in potential overpayment of $1.1 million.
In addition, in 99.4 percent of overtime entries — worth $225.5 million — the lack of documentation "made it extremely difficult to analyze the basis for overtime pay," according to the audit.
In addition, the audit "found potential abuse" of provisions of officers' labor agreement designed to compensate an off-duty officer for travel time to a work site, such as to a courtroom, to testify.
That rule has led to officers being paid overtime for at least three hours for as little as 15 minutes of work, according to the audit.
The rule "has been inappropriately applied to CPD members answering or receiving phone calls or emails," causing city officials to shell out as much as $1.2 million in unwarranted overtime, according to the audit.
Ferguson's office could not be sure how much was paid out in error because many overtime entries "lacked sufficient information" to determine whether they were justified, according to the audit.
Because of the lack of clear rules and documentation, it will be "hard to hold to account" individual officers who engaged in "highly suspicious behavior," Ferguson said.
Johnson said he asked Ferguson to give him any information about wrongdoing and will impose his "zero-tolerance" policy on officers guilty of intentional misconduct.
The audit details actions by some officers to purposely trigger overtime by making an arrest just as their shift expires or by making numerous drunken-driving arrests, which can require multiple court appearances.
The union's contract with the city expired June 30, and city officials are renegotiating that agreement.
A representative from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday from DNAinfo.
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