Budget Analysis: Chicago’s Office of Public Safety Administration Cost City More Than It Saved

New department created $4.3 million in staffing savings but $139.8 million in overhead costs.

Findings

The creation of a new City of Chicago Office of Public Safety Administration (PSA) in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inaugural budget for fiscal year 2020, which the mayor’s office announced as a cost-saving and efficiency measure, has not demonstrated substantial administrative savings in the subsequent budget years.

Analysis of city budgets by the Better Government Association’s policy team found an overall increase in spending on public safety following the creation of the Office of Public Safety Administration. Slight savings in personnel budgets were outweighed by growing departmental overhead in the affected public safety categories. Specifically:

  • PSA/CFD/CPD/OEMC have reduced budgeted positions in shared staffing categories by a net total of 36 positions since 2019, which in 2022 resulted in $4.3 million in staffing savings

  • Savings in personnel have been outweighed by non-personnel departmental expenses. PSA’s non-personnel spending of $139.8 million in 2022 was not matched by reductions in the same expense categories in CFD/CPD/OEMC.

  • Since 2019, public safety overtime is up by roughly $31.5 million, including roughly $1 million in PSA overtime. Although overtime reduction strategies are a stated part of PSA’s departmental mission, PSA has not publicly released any overtime control measures or findings.

  • Overall public safety spending on only the budget categories included in PSA’s budget have risen a total of $151.3 million since the creation of the new office. As a share of the total city budget, those public safety expenses have risen from 2.18% of the total budget in 2019 to 2.21% in 2022.

While the reductions in staffing are commendable and have the potential for long-term savings, currently-available budget data demonstrates increased public safety administration costs since the creation of the PSA. The BGA policy team found no evidence to demonstrate that the new office is substantially decreasing administrative costs in the fire, police, and emergency management departments or in public safety overtime.

Based on available data, the BGA policy team concludes that the Office of Public Safety Administration is not an effective tool for reducing public safety administrative budgets.

Background

As part of her first budget proposal, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for a new Office of Public Safety Administration (PSA) with a $34.4 million budget, described in the initial announcement as “a comprehensive plan to strengthen and realign the administrative functions of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), Chicago Fire Department (CFD) and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).” City Council ultimately passed a 2020 budget that included $33.5 million for the new department.

In a press release announcing the formation of the new department, the mayor’s office touted the PSA as a cost-saving measure and highlighted efficiency and cost-reduction goals, including:

  • Redirecting uniformed police officers and firefighters from desk roles in headquarters to active field roles

  • Consolidating civilian staff from the finance, human resources, information technology and logistics divisions of CFD, CPD and OEMC into the new department

  • Providing data analysis for overtime management at and working to develop long-term strategies to decrease overtime

The PSA has not produced any public-facing reports or analyses since its launch, but publicly available budget data shows the growth of the new office and its impact on the budgets of the three public safety agencies from which it was intended to consolidate costs and positions.

Analysis

Staff Positions

In its three years of existence, PSA has budgeted for roughly 100 unique employee titles/codes, covering a wide range of functions and specializations including accountants, electrical engineers, motor truck drivers, and others. Looking only at those specific titles taken on by the new PSA department, BGA found 656 total employees within CFD, CPD, and OEMC in the 2019 budget, the year before PSA was created.

In 2020, the city saw a net increase of 69 budgeted positions across the employee titles/codes shared by PSA and the existing CFD/CPD/OEMC departments. The fire, police and emergency management departments cut 342 positions, while the inaugural PSA budget added 411 new positions.

Staffing allocations have reduced in subsequent years, bringing the combined number of roles below the pre-PSA total. As of the 2022 budget, CFD/CPD/OEMC have eliminated 390 positions in roles covered by PSA since 2019, while PSA has taken on 354, for a net reduction of 36 positions.

The staff reductions have helped lower the total appropriations for roles covered by PSA. In 2019, CFD/CPD/OEMC spent a combined $76.8 million on positions that would later be included in PSA budgets. By 2022, that CFD/CPD/OEMC spending was reduced to $39.2 million, while PSA budgeted $33.2 million for the same roles, for a combined total of roughly $72.5 million, or $4.3 million in staffing savings.
 

As a share of overall staffing budgets, spending on the roles assumed by PSA is down from about 2.48% of the city’s total personnel budget in 2019 to 2.13% in 2022. 

The city’s public safety departments do not make individual staffing assignments public, but in reply to a BGA policy team inquiry regarding uniformed officers assigned to desk work the PSA stated that their office has “returned 70 officers to CPD, with plans to return another 80 officers in the future.” The department did not provide details on any CPD reassignments or cite a return to active duty of any uniformed CFD personnel. 

Non-Personnel Costs

PSA’s budget has increased dramatically in the past two years as it takes on a fully-fledged departmental role, and the corresponding administrative line items within the CFD/CPD/OEMC budgets have not seen substantial reductions. The modest savings achieved by consolidating staff roles into PSA has been vastly outweighed by non-personnel administrative overhead. 

As of the 2022 budget, PSA had taken on 37 non-personnel spending categories, ranging from software maintenance and licensing to postage, gasoline and pagers. Spending in those categories dipped moderately across the CFD/CPD/OEMC budgets in 2020 and 2021, but climbed past their 2019 levels in the 2022 budget, while PSA’s spending has increased as well to more than wipe out any savings from the other departments. 

 

CFD/CPD/OEMC non-personnel spending on appropriation categories included in PSA budgets has increased above its pre-PSA levels as of the 2022 city budget, from roughly $172 million in 2019 to roughly $187.8 million in 2022, while the new PSA appropriations have added another $139.8 million on top of that.

The combined administrative budget for cost categories that PSA took on has nearly doubled, from roughly $172 million pre-PSA to roughly $327.6 million in 2022. 

Total Appropriations Increases

Combining all appropriations in categories covered by PSA — personnel and non-personnel — departmental savings compared to pre-PSA spending in the CFD/CPD/OEMC budgets total about $21.7 million as of the 2022 budget, while the PSA is operating with approximately $173.1 million in corresponding costs, for an overall cost increase of roughly $151.3 million. 

As an overall share of the city budget, public safety spending on the budget categories taken on by PSA has increased from 2.18% of the total budget in 2019 to 2.21% in 2022.

Overtime

Another of PSA’s stated goals was to reduce overtime in the city’s public safety departments. No reports or recommendations have been made public since the new department’s founding. However, overtime appropriations from the city’s annual budgets for all the public safety budgets have increased yearly since 2019, and PSA has begun budgeting overtime of its own, adding to the total. 

Since 2019, public safety overtime is up by roughly $31.5 million. In response to a BGA request for any overtime policies or analysis performed by the department, PSA replied that “There is no overtime report published by PSA, but PSA works closely with OBM and each of the public safety departments on overtime projections and justifications,” and cited improvements to “several administrative measures such as expediting the hiring process, improving upon the special events reimbursement process, and creating a unified public safety medical section which will eventually also envelop the OEMC.”

Conclusions

From a budgetary perspective, the creation of the Office of Public Safety Administration has not demonstrated substantial savings or efficiencies. The cost of operating a new standalone department has not been matched by savings in the three existing public safety departments (CFD/CPD/OEMC) from which it was meant to take workload and staff roles.

The department’s most notable success has been a roughly 5% reduction in the public safety administrative staff positions assumed by PSA. Annual staffing costs for those positions across PSA/CFD/CPD/OEMC are roughly $4.3 million lower in 2022 than they were in the 2019 budget. 

Personnel savings have been substantially outweighed by PSA’s non-personnel administrative costs, which totalled $139.8 million in 2022. CFD/CPD/OEMC’s combined spending on the same line items is up roughly $15.9 million from pre-PSA levels. 

PSA has not had any discernible impact on public safety overtime costs, one of its stated core missions. There are no publicly available reports, analyses, policy changes or other documentation regarding overtime from the office, and public safety overtime budgets are up roughly $31.5 million from pre-PSA levels in the most recent annual budget, including nearly $1 million in PSA overtime. 

Based on publicly available budget data, the Better Government Association’s policy team concludes that the Office of Public Safety Administration has not achieved its stated cost-control goals, and has not demonstrated progress on its stated overtime reduction goal. To be an effective cost-savings tool, either the PSA must reduce its non-personnel overhead costs, or those costs must be exceeded by corresponding cuts from the same expense categories in CPD, CFD, and OEMC’s departmental appropriations.