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Chicago Police Department to spend $150M on overtime despite mayor’s vow to rein it in

“Given what they’re working through this summer, we’re trying to support the police department in their operational needs,” Budget Director Susie Park said Thursday.

The city’s Budget Director Susie Park sits down for an interview with reporter Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times, Friday morning, Dec. 13, 2019.
Chicago Budget Director Susie Park
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The Chicago Police Department will spend $150 million on overtime this year—even though Mayor Lori Lightfoot made it a top priority to rein it in—in part, because there are 877 police vacancies, a top mayoral aide said Thursday.

Former city budget director Paul Vallas, a lead negotiator for the Fraternal Order of Police, has pegged the number of police vacancies at 1,000 — even after 614 police vacancies were eliminated in the mayor’s 2021 budget.

As a result, Vallas has said he expects police overtime costs to top $200 million by year’s end with the city “paying the price in exhausted, demoralized police officers.”

On Thursday, Budget Director Susie Park was asked whether Vallas was right.

“Ummm, we are finalizing those numbers. We don’t anticipate it topping $200 million though,” Park told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I think we will come in somewhere closer to where we were last year, which was $150 million.”

Park acknowledged that $150 million is still too high — particularly after Lightfoot vowed to hold police brass accountable for reining in an expense that beleaguered Chicago taxpayers “can’t afford.”

But with homicides and shootings surging and police retirements mounting, Park said the city had little choice but to keep the overtime meter running.

“Given what they’re working through this summer, we’re trying to support the police department in their operational needs,” Park said.

Park promised to get back to the Sun-Times with the precise number of police vacancies. Her spokesperson later acknowledged that Vallas was close on that front as well. CPD now has 877 vacancies after 603 retirements through July of this year alone.

After disclosing a $733 million budget gap this week, Lightfoot said she intends to “keep funding” alternate response programs that allow mental health professionals to respond to certain types of emergency calls instead of police officers alone.

But the mayor made it clear that the days of shrinking the Chicago Police Department’s now $1.5 billion-a-year budget are over.

“The police department budget will increase. No question. We have to,” she said.

“I will present a budget to the City Council that increases resources targeted and strategic for the police department because those needs are absolutely there.”

With demoralized police officers retiring in droves and fewer candidates stepping up to take the police exam, Lightfoot pointed to the need to establish a “more fulsome recruiting process and team of permanent officers that go across the country to recruit the best and brightest talent.”

And days after Chicago Police Officer Ella French was murdered and her partner was critically wounded after a Saturday night traffic stop in West Englewood, Lightfoot said, “This very difficult week has told us that we need to do a lot more to increase the resources devoted to the health and wellness of our police officers.”

“We increased the number of clinicians that worked with our officers from a paltry three to over 13. But it’s very clear that more needs to be done,” she said.

During Thursday’s wide-ranging interview with the Sun-Times, Park said it was too soon to say how many of the 614 police vacancies eliminated from the 2021 budget would be restored.

“That’s something we’re gonna work with the police department on — kind of what their needs are. If that is called for, we will work with them on that,” the budget director said.

Lightfoot’s decision to spend $281.5 million in first-round stimulus funds on police payroll infuriated aldermen determined to keep shrinking the police department budget and spend more on an array of social programs.

Any proposal to grow the police department — beyond the cost of the new police contract— is certain to trigger a similar controversy, according to Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), chairman of the City Council’s Socialist Caucus.

“Mayor Lightfoot has shown herself time and time again to be a ... law-and-order mayor. …Give more funding to the police. Hire more police officers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made us any safer,” Ramirez-Rosa said Thursday.

“If the mayor’s plan is to address violence in Chicago with more policing, it’s definitely gonna put her at odds with many progressives on the City Council who want to take an evidence-based approach and want a course correction and want to invest in the things that are actually proven to make our communities safe.”

Socialist Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) called the mayor’s decision to grow the CPD budget “misguided.”

“Our communities have been demanding the reopening of the mental health clinics that were closed. We don’t have money for that. But, somehow, we always have money to continue to police our communities and not necessarily address the root cause of the violence that we’re seeing,” she said.

“How much are we gonna give them — half of our budget in policing? That’s what we’ve been doing forever. … It’s not being able to curb the violence that we’re seeing. This is a reality — not only in Chicago but in other cities across the country.”