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Chicago Police cancel days off ahead of NASCAR as city plugs staffing holes with overtime

Chicago Police cancel days off ahead of NASCAR race
Chicago Police cancel days off ahead of NASCAR race 04:13

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As Chicago plays host to NASCAR this weekend, the Police Department is canceling days off for officers for the Fourth of July – again.

But while city officials said they have plans in place for large crowds and traffic downtown, concerns over holiday violence remain. Interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller said they would be canceling days off to ensure they would have enough officers to provide security to the NASCAR street race this weekend.

"I want to emphasize right now that resources in our neighborhoods would not be affected by large events happening downtown and elsewhere," he said at a news conference on Wednesday. "Residents will see an increased presence with more officers on foot patrols and bike patrols in our downtown areas."

But the Chicago Police Department is short around 1,500 officers right now, and concerns about officer burnout and staffing levels remain as the 4th of July weekend has typically been associated with increased gun violence.

This also all comes less than a week after the Chicago Pride Parade and celebrations canceled Chicago Police officers' days off last Sunday. Later that night, those officers were needed in Lakeview as large groups took over parts of the neighborhood – the area around Clark Street and Belmont Avenue in particular. Large crowds also flocked to that same area late Monday night.

These were not the first such incidents we've seen this summer – and it was not the first time canceled time off played a role in controlling it.

"We have to play the cards that we're dealt right now, and we're dealt a short hand. We simply don't have enough patrol officers on the ground," said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), "so the ones that we do have, we have to rely on them to work extra watch and have days off canceled, unfortunately." 

Of course, officers can't be everywhere at once. But days off Saturday and Sunday canceled for all full-duty sworn officers – and also Friday, Monday, and Tuesday for some officers – overtime is being used to effort to cover the city this holiday weekend, and a major event in the NASCAR race.

We wanted a closer look at the realities of making it all happen. 

At least 13 people were fatally shot and about 60 people were wounded in Chicago last 4th of July weekend, according to data from the city's Violence Reduction Dashboard.

During that same time period, there were at least 5,000 officers working roughly 70,000 overtime hours in addition to officers who were scheduled to work that weekend. 

The 4th of July weekend typically has the highest call volume for 911 calls in Chicago. Last holiday weekend saw roughly 18,700 calls logged between July 1 and 4, according to data from Chicago's Office of the Inspector General. (About 1,900 calls, or 10%, were calls for fireworks.) 

A non-holiday summer weekend such as last weekend had 16,200 911 calls for Friday evening through Monday morning.

Meanwhile, police overtime data show focusing in specifically on the month of July, there were record highs for overtime last year – with 237,752 hours of overtime worked by officers.

Compare that to 170,910 in 2021, and 100,472 overtime hours in 2020 – not including some voluntary overtime programs.

The superintendent addressed our questions about overtime and possible burnout at a news conference earlier this week.

"We're looking at that very closely. We also have the command staff and supervisors out there walking the line; making sure the officers are OK, they're hydrated," Supt. Waller said. "We have plans in place where the officers won't work a certain amount of days in a row."

But concerns remain. 

"The concerns are very much real," said Ald. Hopkins, chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee.

Among the concerns are whether all this police overtime is sustainable, and whether officer wellbeing is being considered? 

"It is a conversation that happens," Hopkins said. "We start by asking for volunteers." 

Hopkins added that recruitment efforts are a huge priority right now, in order to get the police force where it needs to be. 

"We're fortunate that we have a relatively young police force," he said.

But when it comes to this weekend – and if it's all too much? Hopkins emphasized that aldermen didn't make the choice about overtime, and he says only time will tell. 

"We hope we can get through this weekend without any unfortunate incident," Hopkins said. "There will be violence. There will be shooting – just like there has been, you know, every 4th of July for the past however many years. But we're going to be out there doing our best to respond to it and to keep everybody safe." 

Hopkins said the NASCAR race this holiday weekend wasn't a very good idea in the first place.

"It's just another reason this really wasn't the best decision to make. Had aldermen been involved in the decision-making process," he said. "I know I would've voted no on bringing NASCAR here. I wasn't given that opportunity." 

But after the race, Hopkins said, the next mission will be to decide how to move forward.

"After this event is over, we will have to spend some time in July and possibly into August – however long it takes to gather the data – and take a look back and see, was it worth it?" he said.

Molina first sent the Mayor's office a request related to this story on Tuesday. As of Friday, there had been no response.

Other revelations from police overtime data

Beyond the 4th of July holiday, the police overtime data, which was obtained through a public records request, offers a unique view into how often police were responding to events preceding and during the pandemic.  When the Cubs played – and won – the World Series in 2016, police officers were putting in an extra 50,000 hours a day. 

When former Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke received a guilty verdict in October of 2018 for the killing of Laquan McDonald, there were nearly 30,000 daily overtime hours in the days surrounding the verdict.

And in May of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, more than 10,000 CPD officers worked a combined 500,000 overtime hours in the two weeks that saw widespread protests, unrest and looting across the city.   

There were more than 60 people killed and 270 people wounded by guns during that same time, according to city violence reduction data.  

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot and then-police Supt. David Brown used canceled days off during the pandemic to stem unprecedented violence and unrest, which in turn exacerbated an exodus of officers from the force. The Chicago Police Department currently has 11,704 officers, according to data from the IG's office, short almost 1,500 of the 13,200 officers that were budgeted this year. 

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