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Mayor defends $136 million in overtime costs for police, fire

 
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Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about 2014 budget with Sun-Times editorial board last month. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the 2014 budget with the Sun-Times editorial board last month. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: December 9, 2013 10:23AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended runaway overtime in the Police and Fire Departments that will cost Chicago taxpayers at least $136 million this year.

Taken together, the $93 million in overtime spending by the Police Department and $43 million tab in the Fire Department make it look like overtime has turned into a cost-saving management strategy.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy all but admitted that when he argued that it was “cheaper to pay a police officer overtime than it is to hire a fully-loaded-with-health-benefits and-pay officer.”

But Emanuel rejected that argument on both fronts.

“The strategy is, two years running, a 23 percent reduction in overall crime. The strategy is a 24 percent reduction in shootings as well as in homicides. The strategy is to see a level of safety in Roseland like I have in Ravenswood. That’s the strategy,” the mayor said.

“If the superintendent determines that he wants to tactically use overtime to saturate a neighborhood with strategic saturation and foot patrols, that’s what he does. My strategic goal is that…we have public safety throughout the city shared by every resident.”

As for the $43 million in Fire Department overtime, Emanuel said it’s the direct result of a hiring freeze that allowed the city to resolve two hiring discrimination lawsuits he inherited.

One was filed by black firefighters bypassed by the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam. The other by women who challenged a test of physical abilities.

“The reason there was an overtime issue in the last budget was because we were making sure that we were going to address those two legacy lawsuits where the department was found [as] discriminating, both on race and gender,” the mayor said.

Hiring was frozen, Emanuel said, as a way of “making sure that we preserve and reserve those positions so we can make sure more women are coming through the training as well as African-Americans. They will have positions in there. And that’s how we addressed it, [through] overtime.”

Earlier this year, the City Council agreed to spend nearly $2 million — and $1.7 million more in legal fees — to compensate dozens of women denied firefighter jobs because of a discriminatory test of physical abilities that City Hall has now scrapped.

Last year, Chicago borrowed the $78.4 million needed to compensate nearly 6,000 African-American would-be firefighters bypassed by the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 entrance exam. The borrowing compounded the cost of a settlement that was twice as high as anticipated.

The city had already agreed to hire 111 bypassed black firefighters. The cash damages went to about 5,900 others who never got that chance.

The mayor did not explain how he intends to “reserve” firefighter jobs for African-Americans and women.

Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said this week he intends to “start attacking this overtime problem” on Nov. 18, when 150 recruits enter the fire academy. When that group is mid-way through six months of training, there’ll be another 150-member class, then another, he said.

Next year, Chicago will hold its first firefighters entrance exam in eight years.

The written test will be pass-fail with passing candidates assigned a random number and called in that order. After that, candidates will be given a background check, a drug test and a test of physical abilities, all of them pass-fail. Those who pass all three will be offered spots in the next class of firefighters. There are no quotas for women and minorities.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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