Johnson Says He’s ‘Frustrated’ With City’s ‘Out of Control’ Overtime Spending

Mayor Brandon Johnson takes questions at a March 13, 2024, news conference at the Garfield Park fieldhouse. (WTTW News)Mayor Brandon Johnson takes questions at a March 13, 2024, news conference at the Garfield Park fieldhouse. (WTTW News)

Mayor Brandon Johnson said Wednesday he is “frustrated” that the city of Chicago spent approximately $524 million on employee overtime in 2023 — 19% more than in 2022, with more than half of the total amount used to compensate Chicago Police Department officers for working extra hours.

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“Yes, I’m frustrated, yes,” Johnson said in response to a WTTW News story that was the first to report that the Chicago Police Department spent $293 million on overtime last year, 40% more than in 2022 and nearly three times the $100 million earmarked for police overtime set by the Chicago City Council as part of the city’s 2023 budget.

“This has been a situation that has gotten increasingly out of control,” Johnson said at an unrelated news conference. “The superintendent and I, we both agree on that.”

Johnson said the desire to rein in overtime prompted Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling to end the deployment of police officers working overtime to sit in their cars along Michigan Avenue to act as a crime deterrent. The end of that policy, known as “scarecrowing,” was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Between 2019 and 2023, Chicago’s total overtime bill soared 62%, costing Chicago taxpayers an additional $202 million, according to city data. Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot led the city between May 2019 and May 2023, when Johnson took office.

“We inherited a really stagnant, just awful, abrasive system,” Johnson said. “That type of spending on one particular element of city government. There has to be more equity and a more dynamic distribution of those resources in order for us to actually really get at solving crime in Chicago.”

Johnson acknowledged that the massive amount of money spent by the city on overtime for police officers complicates his effort to transform the Chicago Police Department into an agency prepared to take a new approach to public safety by focusing on the root causes of crime, like poverty and disinvestment.

“When we talk about investing in people, and that policing alone cannot be responsible for all of the societal ails, we recognize our budget has to reflect that as well,” Johnson said. “That is the transformational challenge that we have. We want to get this right.”

Chicago taxpayers spent $167.5 million on overtime for police officers between July and January, under Johnson and Snelling’s leadership, as compared with $126.5 million during the first six months of the year, according to city records.

Chicago taxpayers spent significantly more on overtime for officers even though Snelling ended the practice of routinely canceling officers’ regular days off instituted by former Supt. David Brown.

CPD officials said their operations have not only been strained by a nationwide staffing crunch that has hit law enforcement agencies but also by the need to police major events and large gatherings throughout Chicago, including the NASCAR Chicago Street Race and the Air and Water Show.

The city’s police overtime bill is expected to swell in 2024, especially with the Democratic National Convention coming to town in August. While a $75 million federal grant will offset the cost of security for the event expected to formally make President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris their party’s nominees in the 2024 presidential election, officers are likely to have to work overtime to ensure adequate patrols citywide.

A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago. 

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

Contact Jared Rutecki: @JaredRutecki | [email protected]

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