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‘Angry and frustrated,’ Lightfoot vows to rein in police overtime that taxpayers ‘can’t afford’

The mayor plans to hold Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson accountable for spending $67.6 million on overtime in the first six months of this year — even with manpower at a 10-year high.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson during a City Hall news conference last week.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson during a City Hall news conference last week.
Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she’s “angry and frustrated” about runaway overtime at the Chicago Police Department and plans to hold Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson personally accountable for reining in an abuse beleaguered Chicago taxpayers “can’t afford.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that CPD spent $67.6 million on overtime through the first six months of this year even though the department is at a 10-year high in manpower and an all-time high in technology.

“It makes me really angry and frustrated and we’re gonna make sure that doesn’t happen again,” the mayor said.

With 13,350 sworn officers, strategic deployment centers in every CPD district and area and shootings and homicides dropping, Lightfoot said there’s no reason overtime can’t drop to $46 million per year, its level in 2011.

That’s when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel eliminated 1,400 police vacancies and started relying on runaway overtime to mask his shrinking police department.

Lightfoot categorically denied violence and overtime spending can’t be reduced at the same time.

“That’s not true. That’s fundamentally wrong. When you’ve got the highest head count that we’ve had in probably 10 or 15 years, we have the resources that we need to keep people safe and we can do it in a way without blowing the budget on overtime. We can absolutely get that done and we will,” she said.

“We are gonna make the changes necessary to live within our means because we have to. That’s the expectation of taxpayers. We’re not gonna scrimp on public safety. We’re never gonna do anything to put our residents’ safety at risk. But that doesn’t mean that we can spend money that we don’t have and blow the budget without any level of accountability. That’s changing.”

Before asking beleaguered Chicago taxpayers to dig deeper to erase an $838 million shortfall, Lightfoot desperately needs to cut spending.

That’s why she’s putting CPD under the microscope — and apparently taking matters out of Johnson’s hands.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference where she touted Uber’s new offices at the Old Post Office.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed the cost of police overtime on Monday after a news conference where she touted Uber’s new offices at the Old Main Post Office.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

“We’re … looking at staffing, looking at where people are. Making sure we’ve got the resources at the district in the hours where we need them so there shouldn’t have to be a need for overtime. We’re looking at the Detective Division to understand why their overtime numbers are so high — particularly when their headcount is at the highest that it’s been in a very long time,” she said.

“There will be nothing that we don’t do to examine this problem and make sure that we have a very specific plan and accountability going forward. We cannot allow this to happen another year.”

Two years ago, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded that Chicago was wasting millions on police overtime because of “inefficient management” that failed to control costs, eliminate fraud or prevent officer fatigue.

Johnson considered the audit so damaging to the department’s credibility, he rushed back to work to respond to the findings, even though he was still recovering from a kidney transplant.

He promised to hold supervisors accountable for overtime and conduct random audits. He also vowed to revise department directives on overtime that have not been updated since 1994.

Lightfoot was asked Monday if Johnson kept those promises.

“That’s one of the things we’re looking at. We’re going back and re-examining the IG’s report and judging it against what the progress, if any, has been,” she said.

“Obviously, they’ve exceeded their budget. That seems clear. But we have to put some structural controls in, which we will do, to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We literally can’t afford this.”

Ferguson has argued that the $67.6 million in overtime spending should be part of a “larger assessment of the competencies of leadership in CPD.”

Asked Monday if Johnson’s job is safe, Lightfoot replied: “As I said, once we got to the fall — and we’re here now — [we would] look at what progress we’ve made. What needs to happen on the road ahead. And he and I will be having that conversation soon,” she said.

Will overtime spending be part of the equation?

“Everything about the department [will be part of it]…Overtime, consent decree progress. And, of course, a violence strategy,” she said.

The mayor acknowledged CPD officers — particularly “senior leaders [who] literally have not had a day of rest” — have “worked their butts off over the course of this summer.”

“I’m happy with the progress that we’ve made. But, I’m never gonna be satisfied until we’re the safest big city in the country,” she said.