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CHICAGO — As Chicago struggles with a growing violence problem, the head of the police union is telling his members to avoid overtime for the Labor Day weekend.

The union says the move is meant to give officers more time with their families, but some critics see it as a way for police to make a point at the expense of the people living in violent neighborhoods.

It is turning into a war of words between the powerful police union president and one of Chicago’s most respected religious leaders, and it all comes on the heels of Chicago recording its 492nd homicide of the year,  more than New York and Los Angeles combined.

Chicago has already surpassed the total number of homicides from last year, having just ended the bloodiest August in nearly two decades.

As the city approaches the long labor day weekend, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police is urging rank-and-file cops to decline overtime.

“They`ve been stretched pretty thin, so this is the last weekend they can have with their children, so what we decided to do is just say take a weekend off, don`t work those extra days,” said Dean Angelo.

The call enraged Father Michael Pfleger, who staged an anti-violence march in the troubled Auburn-Gresham neighborhood Wednesday.

“Go to hell! Go to hell, Angelo! How dare you tell police to not do overtime and make our streets less safe,” Pfleger told the crowd of protesters.

In an interview with WGN-TV Thursday, Ppfleger apologized for his choice of words, but argued his overall point remains.

“I guess I expressed my anger a little stronger than I would have liked to, but I can`t tell you how much it disturbs me for the president of the Fraternal Order of Police to be telling police to not take overtime on a weekend we traditionally have an enormous amount of violence,” Pfleger said.

“We agree on one thing and it certainly isn`t where I should spend eternity,” said Angelo. “We need more policemen.”

Angelo says the police force is down to 12,000, with fewer than 900 detectives investigating hundreds of homicides and more than 2,500 shootings.

“I don`t think there`s officers who have the opportunity to lay low in some districts because of the amount of violence they`re dealing with on a daily basis. They`re responding to more requests for service than ever before. So to say they`re laying low, how do you measure that threshold, because they`re out there working their backsides off?’

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the police force will be ready for the weekend, and he wants any officer willing to work overtime to put on the uniform.

” I won`t get upset with the FOP for encouraging their officers to spend more time with their families over the holiday weekend, but I can tell you this: the best way for officers to support each other is to be out there for them. I can assure you even though they are encouraging them to stay home this weekend, we will have adequate resources out there,” Johnson said.

Johnson says he’s working with state lawmakers on ways to curb crime in the city,  one of which would be enforcing stiff mandatory penalties for gun crimes.