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Alderman says police overtime is main reason he voted against mayor's budget

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Just four out of 50 aldermen voted not to approve Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $7.3 billion budget for next year. 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack said the main reason he voted against it was unanswered questions about the Chicago Police Department’s portion of the pie. More specifically, the department’s growing overtime costs—and the lack of information on the expense.

Waguespack said over the last couple of years, he and other members of the self-titled Progressive Caucus repeatedly have asked both the budget office and the police department for more information on police overtime. And, during budget hearings last month, Waguespack directly asked Supt. Garry McCarthy for a month-by-month breakdown of overtime costs. The superintendent and budget committee chair agreed it was a request the police department could fulfill—but it didn’t.

“What we’re just gonna vote yes, even though we don’t know about $100 million worth of budgeting and specifics on it? That is unacceptable,” Waguespack said. “We actually have to vote on it, which really puts us in a horrible position.”

Waguespack said he didn’t receive anything from CPD or the city budget office on the issue before he cast his vote Wednesday. Waguespack also said he and others were mocked by fellow aldermen for asking about hiring more officers in lieu of spending millions on overtime. Other members of the council echoed the superintendent’s stance that it would cost more to employ additional officers.

“I found that pretty offensive,” Waugespack said, “especially when the police department superintendent himself could not provide details about how his budget worked from month to month.”

Waguespack believes the lack of transparency on the subject shows that the police department is “out of control” in the way it’s budgeting for overtime. In 2013, CPD budgeted $32 million for overtime but wound up spending over $100 million. This year’s projected expense is $95 - $100 million, more than $20 million over what was budgeted.

“I don’t think they’re providing evidence to the people of the city that shows they should be allowed to continue doing this,” Waguespack said, adding that it’s bad policy to carry on this way.

Waguespack was part of a group that last year supported an amendment to spend $25 million to hire 500 new cops to deal with violent crimes—but the plan was blocked in committee. Fellow Progressive Caucus member Ald. John Arena (45th) voted for that amendment too.  He pointed out the trend to overspend on overtime during budget hearings last month—and asked Supt. Garry McCarthy if [the proposed] $71 million was going to be sufficient for next year?

“You know what, alderman, I can’t answer that...I really can’t,” McCarthy said. “I can’t answer that next year we’re going to do that much better. We’re trying to knock it down. We're putting systems in place to do that, and slowly but surely I anticipate we're going to bring it under control.”

WBEZ pressed the police department for an explanation as to why Waguespack’s request was not fulfilled before the budget was called for a vote. CPD spokesman Martin Maloney wrote in a statement that the CPD receives numerous information request during the budget process. And that “if any of these responses have not yet made it to the inquiring aldermen, they will be delivered soon.”  

Katie O'Brien is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow her @katieobez.

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