As Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is making final requests to councilors to approve her 2023 budget recommendation, a new analysis suggests they do not have a complete picture of the city’s greatest budgetary item – the police – and other departments.
A new analysis from a former City Council Office of Financial Analysis suggests that the Police Department’s budget significantly understated the department’s true annual cost.
The mayor’s $ 16.4 billion spending plan requires an overall professional development budget of $ 1.94 billion next year. But taking into account the other costs attributed to the professional development that fall into lesser known budget buckets that the actual cost is over $ 3 billion. Previous police budgets under Mayor Rahm Emmanuel seemed similarly billions less than their actual cost.
So says Jonathan Silverstein, a former COFA analyst, who says the city should be more transparent in its budget practices and show how major costs – such as pensions, overtime and legal settlements, benefits, and fleet and facility management – add for Chicago taxpayers .
The issue is particularly relevant as the city struggles with crime and an ongoing debate over general police funding. Several councilors in recent years have called on the city to shift funding from the police to alternative responses, including violence prevention, housing and other services to people. Some of their comments echoed statements made around the “defund the police” movement that had gained momentum during the George Floyd-inspired protests in 2020.
Transparency around one of the biggest positions is also essential to start tackling the city’s rising debt and pension obligations, Silverstein told the Tribune. “Before you start dealing with your budget, you better know what you are spending your money on.”
A spokesman for the City Budget and Management Office declined to comment.
Silverstein and others admitted that this problem affects several other city departments with pensions and benefits costs in different budget ranges. But the CPD deserves special attention, argued Silverstein, because of its size and the extent to which it increases the overall budget with overtime and legal costs that exceed budgeted amounts. CPD responsibilities are also a significant cost factor in the newly created Office of the Public Safety Administration, which provides joint services to Chicago’s public safety departments.
Silverstein, who is currently working for another municipality in the region and has written his own study, compiled his analysis from the city’s budget documents and data. In some cases, when the city reports things like benefits and pensions payments to civilian workers as a lump sum, it produced estimates based on the number of Police Department employees or the number of employees in certain negotiating units.
Laurence Msall, head of the Civic Federation, a fiscal surveillance group, said the analysis “points to the biggest political debate taking place in cities across the country: how much should we spend on policing.” The topic was particularly relevant to Chicago, he said, which is governed by a federal decree of consent and where the department has been scrutinized for transparency in the placement of officers. Msall previously called greater transparency in decisions on approval and staff expenditure.
Msall said that while the Civic Federation did not evaluate other organizations’ research, Silverstein’s analysis appeared reasonable based on earlier reviews of city federation budgets. The Civic Federation similarly alerted the city to dump costs into a budget bucket known as “general finance” that includes debt, insurance premiums, pension contributions and other benefits for city government employees. The combination of these costs makes it difficult for society and policymakers to track changes over time and gives “enormous leeway” to the mayor’s budget team “without actually measuring costs,” Msall said.
This has become increasingly problematic, Msall told the Tribune, as “the city’s use of the general finance category has been growing rapidly, especially in the past five years.” In total, it amounts to $ 7.8 billion in the mayor’s budget for 2023, which Msall noted, was a huge part of the overall spending “in this one category, which has increased by more than 56% in the last five years.”
The city has also set aside $ 183 million for a Brotherhood Police Order contract as part of general finance in 2020 and 2021.
The Police Department’s greatest cost in “general finance” rather than in the department’s budget is pension payments. The city pays up to two funds for CPD employees: one for sworn workers; other civilian workers. According to city budget documents, contributions to the Chicago Police Pensions and Benefits Fund (for sworn officers) totaled $ 5.3 billion in 2012-2022. Silverstein also estimated how much the city is paying for civilian workers ‘pensions, estimating that over the same period, the city paid more than $ 330 million to the Municipal Workers’ Pensions and Benefits Fund for CPD workers.
Benefits are also a significant cost factor in “general finance”. Silverstein was similarly reverse engineered an estimate of how much your city pays for CPD benefits – including premiums, insurance claims, deferred compensation, and d*aths due to disability and service – based on the number of employees in the department. He found that the city paid more than $ 2 billion in such benefits between 2012 and 2022.
And the city doesn’t take into account the cost of the CPD vehicle fleet, or building and utility costs in the police budget – instead managed by the Department of Assets and Information Services. Silverstein obtained cost estimates for various police stations and CPD headquarters, utilities, and vehicle repair costs in 2017-2019, and revised them for previous years based on inflation. In total, he estimates that they cost the city over $ 30 million annually.
Other major cities Silverstein has looked at, such as Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix, have pensions and employee benefits in their police budgets. While New York City does not include retirement and pension costs in its police budget, expenses for construction services, natural gas and electricity, and fuel and vehicle maintenance are reflected in the NYPD’s budget. Houston includes fleet services; Los Angeles budgets for water and electricity, construction services, and interest and bond redemption. Phoenix’s budget records services provided to the Police Department by nearly two dozen other departments.
Msall and Silverstein credit the Lightfoot administration with some budget improvements, including shifting legal and adjudication costs to the CPD budget, and better budgeting for bills and overtime.
However, despite these improvements, both measures continued to exceed budget in recent years.
The city paid $ 639 million in police-related judgments and settlements between 2012 and the end of 2021, but only $ 329 million was committed during this period. It has exceeded the budget every year, with the exception of 2020, when the courts were largely closed due to the pandemic.
In 2012-2021, the city also allocated an approximately $ 720 million budget for in-service overtime, but spent approximately $ 1.2 billion. If current trends continue, the department could “exceed the 2022 overtime budget by $ 65 million,” says a Silverstein study.
Ald. Maria Hadden, 49, whose job prior to joining City Council was leading participatory budget projects, said the report was “definitely food for thought,” especially given the disputes that have arisen in the current police budget.
“My concern is that if we have costs split like this, when we already have concerns about (police) staff management, overtime or billing, if we look at these numbers split like this, maybe we will make different decisions,” Hadden told the Tribunal.
The city would benefit if it took similar action for each department, she said because current budgetary practices “don’t paint the whole picture.”
Cara Hendrickson, executive director of BPI’s good governance group, said: “This report, the city’s overall budget, should really get Chicagoans to ask if their money is being spent effectively promoting public safety.”
Hendrickson said the report raised questions about cost control and overall budget transparency. She pointed out that “the many technology contracts that the city uses, such as ShotSpotter, are expenses that are included in the Public Safety Administration Administration Office, not the CPD budget,” reducing the Police Department’s budget as well as making it “more difficult for communities that they may be concerned about surveillance or the use of technology like ShotSpotter, analyzing how this tax money is spent by the department.
Councilors are expected to pass the final vote on Monday.
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