CHICAGO (STMW) — The Chicago Police Department is launching a new overtime program to put off-duty cops in the city’s most dangerous parks, even as overtime becomes a hot-button issue at City Hall.

Two officers will patrol each of 20 parks, which were chosen based on three years of crime. The officers will work four-hour shifts, mostly at night.

The initiative, which starts this month, will cost about $250,000 through the end of the year. Another $4 million is budgeted for next year, officials said. The money will come out of the Chicago Park District budget.

“This critical effort will help keep our parks safe for all residents and encourage parents to enroll their children in the many programs and classes offered through the Park District,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in an emailed statement.

The new program comes about a month and a half after a mass shooting Sept. 19 in Cornell Square Park near 51st and Wood in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Thirteen people — including a 3-year-old boy — were wounded in the shooting, which occurred before the park’s 11 p.m. curfew. Four men have been charged.

Police would not say whether Cornell Square Park is one of the locations covered by the initiative. The department would not identify the parks involved.

On Thursday, police Supt. Garry McCarthy took heat for the almost $100 million his department is expected to spend in overtime through the end of the year. At a City Council budget hearing, some aldermen criticized the spending, saying they would rather have the department hire 1,000 new officers for $50 million.

The superintendent said he can make do with the officers he has, pointing to historically low crime totals through the end of October.

He also said police overtime spending is expected to decrease next year because recruits paid straight time are replacing veteran officers who have been working overtime in Operation Impact, a separate program that covers 20 of the city’s most violent zones.

Some of those “impact zones” surround parks that are included in the new park overtime initiative, said Robert Tracy, the police department’s chief of crime control strategies.

Tracy said the department will scale back the program in the winter when fewer cops are needed in the parks. Overtime allows the department flexibility to do that, Tracy said, adding that on-duty cops could not work a four-hour shift anyway.

He added that the park initiative will supplement park patrols conducted regularly by on-duty officers.

In police districts with lots of parks, commanders assign a special “park car” to check on them, Tracy said, and after parks close, beat officers go in and tell people to leave.

“We are in the parks year-round and almost every single day,” he said. “This is in addition to what we already do.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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