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New top cop David Brown clamps down on Chicago police overtime

Now officers must get overtime approved by high-ranking bosses. Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the Chicago Police Department can’t keep spending money ‘like a drunken soldier.’

Chicago police Supt. David Brown.
Chicago police Supt. David Brown.
Sun-Times file

One of David Brown’s first moves after being sworn in last week as Chicago’s new police superintendent aims to crack down on the department’s more than $130 million a year in overtime spending.

A source said Brown made the decision during a meeting with top police brass.

“Everyone in the room was surprised that was his move,” the source said. “He decided right then and there. A bold move.”

The order, approved late Friday, requires officers to get approval from a supervisor with the rank of deputy chief or above for overtime they work after their regular shifts.

Previously, officers needed final approval from an exempt member of the department — usually a district commander, who’s a notch below the rank of deputy chiefs. Each deputy chief is responsible for a group of police districts.

Now, for officers to work on their days off, they’ll need to get an even higher level of approval: that of a deputy chief and a chief or someone else above that rank.

The order also requires deputy chiefs to do a monthly review of overtime to identify patterns of misuse. Any disciplinary action they take will have to be reported to the superintendent.

The order has some rank-and-file members wondering whether deputy chiefs will be overwhelmed by requests for overtime.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that she’s had “many, many conversations” with Brown on the need to control police overtime and that he got the message.

“We can’t keep living in a world where the police department blows its overtime budget year in and year out by $100 million,” the mayor told City Hall reporters. “The Chicago Police Department has the highest sworn head count that it’s had probably in decades — 13,400. There should be no reason why, in this environment, that we are exceeding overtime budgets by $100 million when we have more resources at our disposal. It raises the questions of how are those resources being deployed.”

The mayor said “a lot more responsibility and power” is being given to deputy chiefs “from an operational standpoint” and that it makes sense to hold those officials accountable for overtime as well.

“What the superintendent is doing is wholly consistent with the message that we’ve sent to all city departments: We can’t continue to spend overtime dollars like a drunken soldier — particularly not when departments like the police department have more than enough personnel to be able to get the job done,” Lightfoot said. “This has got to [stop]. The first and foremost instinct can’t be, ‘We’ll just throw bodies at it.’ That’s not a smart policing strategy. And it’s certainly not fiscally responsible.”

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) applauded Brown for trying to get a handle on overtime but questioned requiring officers to get a signoff by supervisors with the rank of deputy chief or above.

“I would find it very difficult for a deputy chief to be able to authorize everyone’s overtime before that overtime is taken,” said Taliaferro, chairman of the city council’s committee on public safety. “That’s a function that’s probably served the best by commanders simply because they’re in the districts already.”

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).
Sun-Times file

He said former interim Supt. Charlie Beck had district commanders approve overtime. Before that, overtime was approved by sergeants and watch commanders, who are lieutenants, the alderman said.

“The superintendent has to run the department as he sees fit,” Taliaferro said. “I’m not going to completely disagree with it, but, in my opinion, it may be too much for a deputy chief to handle.”

In February, City Hall Inspector General Joe Ferguson said the police department hadn’t done enough to control overtime, identify “patterns of fraud and abuse” and prevent officers’ fatigue.

The department has taken some steps to rein in overtime since Ferguson made a series of recommendations in 2017. The department switched from paper records to electronic timekeeping, required cops to swipe in at the beginning and end of regular and overtime shifts and made overtime reports a feature at CompStat meetings — at which the superintendent holds supervisors accountable for their performance.