Overtime spending in the Chicago Police Department dropped 30 percent during the first quarter, thanks to tighter controls to rein in, what Inspector General Joe Ferguson called an “unchecked culture of abuse.”

From January through April, police officers were paid $29.7 million in overtime, down from $42.1 million during the same period a year ago.

In 2012, during the tenure of fired Police Superintendent-turned mayoral challenger Garry McCarthy, first quarter overtime was just $15.5 million, records show.

The records were released to the Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request.

They show that Lyzette David, a “police officer assigned as detective,” was the overtime king, with $33,136 in extra pay through March.

David was one of three police officers whose first-quarter overtime pay topped $30,000. Twenty-nine officers raked in more than $20,000 in overtime. Ninety-three others topped $10,000.

Chart of amounts paid in Chicago Police overtime

Chicago Police Department overtime amounts paid since 2011. | Chicago Police Department

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the effort to rein in overtime has been helped by strategic deployment centers now located in “half” of Chicago’s 22 police districts.

They use predictive analytics, ShotSpotter technology and new high-definition surveillance cameras to stop crime before it occurs.

“It helps us to be more proactive and streamline where we’re going. We know where to put the officers to be proactive to stop some of the violence,” he said.

“But I still have to stress: I will not police with a checkbook. If we have to utilize it, then we will. But at the same time, we have an obligation to the taxpayers to be as efficient as we can be with it. We’re being more strategic in how we utilize it.”

Last fall, 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.

Ferguson’s allegations about a “culture of abuse” were underscored by schemes he claimed were so prevalent, there are names for them: “trolling,” “paper jumping,” “lingering” and “DUI guys.”

Ferguson’s poster child for a “DUI guy” was an officer who made 56 DUI arrests, presumably so he could appear in court and get the overtime.

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 five weeks earlier.

On Wednesday, Johnson said he has followed through on the pledge he made on that day to hold his managers accountable.

“Chiefs of each bureau now know that they have to monitor everybody underneath them. … We have now made it policy for district commanders to have to monitor their overtime usage within the districts. And the sergeants and lieutenants are being held more accountable for the overtime that they approve,” Johnson said.

Asked whether overtime is one of the measuring sticks used in the Compstat system, the superintendent said, “Not yet. But eventually, we will go in that direction.”

Johnson acknowledged that the 2018 overtime figures would rise once the summer months are added.

Although the police academy is churning out monthly classes like a conveyor belt, Johnson has made liberal use of overtime to keep a lid on warm weather violence and discourage groups of young people from intimidating shoppers on Michigan Avenue and wreaking havoc along the lakefront.

One thousand officers worked Memorial Day weekend. Another 1,500 were assigned over the July 4th weekend.

“I won’t put the public in jeopardy by being afraid to pay officers when we need to. There’s gonna be some situations and some times when we have to utilize overtime,” Johnson said.

After examining police overtime from 2014 through the first six months of 2016, Ferguson found the police department’s operational controls full of holes or virtually nonexistent.

The alleged failures went well beyond the department’s painfully slow switch from paper-based to electronic timekeeping, which is supposed to be completed some time this year.

Management controls at the city’s largest department did not “adequately prevent unnecessary overtime, deter abuse … or ensure overtime is paid in compliance” with CPD policy, Ferguson said.

Neither were there policies in place to control costs, prevent “excessive overtime” that leads to officer fatigue or “detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse,” Ferguson said.

At a time when private companies and nearly every other city department had long since switched to electronic timekeeping, the police department was still stuck in the Dark Ages, spending $7.2 million a year on 61 “time-keepers” and an unknown number of sworn officers assigned to “time-keeping and data entry,” the inspector general said.

Johnson said Wednesday he was “already working on a lot of the things” Ferguson recommended to rein in overtime.