City officials believe it is worth whatever cost. Since the spike in murders, the city also has demolished dozens of abandoned buildings believed to be gang hangouts and signed a $1 million contract with a group that uses convicted felons to mediate gang conflicts. Although it has previously spent extra money on officer overtime, it was at a far lower scale than the current effort.
“Right now one of the biggest priorities is to change the appearance of the city of Chicago,” said Alderman Willie Cochran, a former police officer. “We have to change the news stories.”
Others express doubt that the overtime initiative is mainly responsible for success on the streets. Some officers quietly talk about the recent weeks of snow, rain and frigid temperatures, jokingly thanking “Officer Weather” for keeping people off the streets.
“I hope the number (of homicides) is real and not based on worse weather in February than we had in January,” Brookins said. “If it is a real number, kudos to the superintendent.”
McCarthy said the initiative makes sense both financially and tactically.
“It’s cheaper to pay a cop overtime than to hire a fully loaded cop with health benefits,” he said. “Second, we can do it right now; we don’t have to hire somebody and wait” several months for the officers to be trained.
As to the idea of burning through his overtime budget far before the end of the year, McCarthy said Emanuel has assured him money will be there for him to protect the city.
“I have an overtime budget, but the mayor freed up other moneys to do this,” he said.
The $32 million allotted for police overtime is $3 million more than was allotted for overtime the year before but more than $1.7 million less than what was spent in 2011. Emanuel has not spelled out where the money would come from if and when the department burns through its own overtime budget.
What it all is costing the officers themselves is also a question that’s being asked, with some on the force quietly expressing concerns about officers burning themselves out before the summer.
“Working long hours takes a toll on one’s body,” said Mike Shields, the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, who has been calling on the city to hire more officers.
Brookins said many officers are signing up for as much overtime as they can.
“They’re loving this,” he said.