Editorial: The Cook County sheriff's deputies' Super Bowl abuse of sick time

Few of us begrudge the extra costs - even the sometimes substantial extra costs - that accompany a professional sports championship. The planning. The ticker tape parade. The extra traffic management. The high costs of security. The cleanup. A party of the highest order requires extra attention, and we get something out of it. In addition to memories that last forever and a shot of civic pride that can last for years, there are even measurable temporary boosts to the local economy through the money spent on team paraphernalia, dining out and other commerce.

But the "Super Bowl flu" that Jake Griffin chronicles in his report on Wednesday is another matter altogether. First, no Chicago team was even associated with the quarter of a million dollars the Cook County sheriff shelled out in jail overtime for the most recent Super Bowl Sunday and day after. But more than that, the overtime had nothing to do with security or transportation or any other activity involving the basic mission of the sheriff's office, protecting the citizens of Cook County.

It merely covered the pay for the 766 deputies who came to work when 1,309 of their fellow officers thought it would be fine to stay home and watch the big game, then take an extra day to rest up. Representatives of the Teamsters Local 700 union who represent the deputies would not return Griffin's calls, but such a massive sick call - especially when added to the excessive deputy sick time linked in a Chicago Sun-Times report to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight - clearly demonstrates an employee culture with no regard for abuse of sick time.

Nor was Cook alone among Chicago-area counties whose sheriff's deputies forced suspiciously high overtime costs on Super Bowl weekend. Will County paid more than $19,000 in overtime to 80 officers who had to cover for 94 who called in sick. Only nonunion DuPage County reported zero overtime costs related to sick time that weekend.

Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for the Cook County sheriff, noted that, limited by union agreements, the office has "very limited tools" for policing sick time claims. Clearly, it needs to acquire some, but such situations also are governed by two factors that are difficult to measure - a sense of shared mission and mutual trust.

Of course, no one should diminish the difficult job that jail guards and other deputies do. Still, the same public unions that are constantly reminding us of the commitments their members make to their jobs ought not be tolerating or fostering an environment in which almost two-thirds of staff members think it's OK to stick the taxpayers with a $241,000 overtime bill so they can watch a football game. Indeed, it ought to be partnering with the sheriff to find ways to counteract such an environment, both sides working to create an atmosphere of respect for each other, the job being done and the taxpayers who are paying for it all.

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