Roughly two dozen people who retired as Chicago police officers and started collecting pensions have returned to city government as civilian employees – “double dipping” by now drawing two taxpayer-subsidized pay checks, one for salary, one for retirement, a Better Government Association/CBS2 investigation found.

The practice is legal but comes at a time when the city’s budget and pension funds are strained to the point where massive tax hikes and/or service cuts are likely. A suburban legislator is pushing for a law that would prohibit retired cops throughout Illinois from collecting a police salary and a police pension at the same time.

City and police pension records obtained by the BGA and CBS2 show at least 23 retired pension-drawing Chicago cops are now back working for at least six city agencies, including the police department.

All told, they’re paid $3.1 million a year in pensions and salary, the records show.

In most cases, those 23 people are now making more money in total from pensions and pay than their final salaries as police officers. In at least one case, a retired officer who returned as a civilian more than doubled his annual income compared with his pay at the time of retirement.

Some of the double dippers include:

  • James Roussell, who retired as a Chicago police commander in March 2014 with an annual salary of $154,932. He started collecting his police pension (now at $117,704 a year) the next day. He was rehired in April 2014 as police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s chief of staff, a civilian post which carries a $162,012 salary. His total taxpayer-supported income now is $279,716.

    Roussell, now 64, said he hit the mandatory retirement age of 63 for sworn officers, wasn’t ready to quit working and was asked by the department to come back in his current role. “They called me up and asked me to do this,” Roussell told the BGA in an interview. “It’s all pretty straightforward.”

  • Donald O’Neill, who retired as the police department’s director of management and labor affairs on March 15, 2014, with an annual salary of $154,932. The very next day he started collecting his pension (currently $117,241 a year) and was rehired as the police department’s civilian director of human resources with a present annual salary of $150,396. His total taxpayer-supported income is currently $267,637.

    O’Neill, 55, declined to comment.

  • James Hickey retired as a police lieutenant on Sept. 30, 1999, with an annual salary of $78,312. The very next day he started collecting his pension (currently $67,500 a year) and was rehired as a civilian. He is now working as the police department’s assistant director of research and development with an annual salary of $104,232. His total taxpayer-supported income is now $171,732.

    Hickey, 65, declined to comment.

Chicago cops can retire and start collecting pensions at age 50 if they’ve been on the job for at least 20 years.

McCarthy, the highest-paid city employee, makes $260,004 annually.

The police department defended hiring back the retired officers, saying their experience is critical.

“These are all existing budgeted positions that could be filled with any individual, regardless of whether they are receiving a police pension or not,” police spokesman Martin Maloney said via email. In some instances, “these retired officers agreed to accept a lower salary [than] their non-retired predecessors – something that saves taxpayer money. Our goal is to provide residents with the best service possible by hiring the most qualified person into a given position. The knowledge offered by some former sworn members is a benefit to the department and a benefit to residents.”

These retired officers can’t earn a second city pension because Chicago’s civil service retirement funds have language barring it. But they could get a second annuity if they took a job with a Downstate or suburban police department or as a civilian government employee outside Chicago.

Other retired pension-collecting Chicago cops are now working for Chicago’s Aviation Department, City Council, Independent Police Review Authority, Law Department, and Streets and Sanitation, according to records and interviews.

Double dipping government employees certainly aren’t new to Illinois, or limited to Chicago police.

Wayne Watson started collecting his State Universities Retirement System pension after stepping down as chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago in 2009. He then became president of Chicago State University, but recently had his salary cut to comply with a new law that restricts how much people can make if they are collecting a pension and a salary from a public-sector college.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) introduced legislation this year that would stop retired cops from collecting their pensions and going back to work as officers for a different department. Wehrli said he introduced his bill because of a situation in Naperville where a high-ranking police officer retired, started collecting his pension and came back as chief.

Wehrli’s bill passed in the Illinois House and is currently in the Senate where he said it likely will die.

“I’m looking at introducing any legislation to get us out of this fiscal mess,” Wehrli said. “This process of double dipping . . . it’s a problem that we need to address. Without pension reform the fiscal crisis only gets worse.”

Collectively, Chicago’s municipal government, including Chicago Public Schools, has a $30 billion pension deficit. The Chicago Police Pension Fund alone is about 30 percent funded and has $7.2 billion in unfunded liabilities – how much is needed to cover expected pension payments.

Last week the state Supreme Court struck down a pension reform measure for state government’s similarly beleaguered pension funds.