Urbana mayor calls for hiring of 5 new police officers

Urbana mayor calls for hiring of 5 new police officers

URBANA — Rocked by three homicides over the past two weeks and four so far this year, the city might hire five new police officers to start training in April.

In a Monday letter to the city council, Mayor Laurel Prussing requested that the budget be amended to accommodate the new officers.

Two days before, 21-year-old Robert Lee Brown was found fatally shot at an east Urbana home. He is the latest victim in the city's recent spate of gun violence.

Before Brown there was Zachary Gray, 22, who was fatally shot on Nov. 10, and Tiffany Allen, 37, who was shot and killed Nov. 16. No arrests have been made in the case of Gray's death; police say Allen's boyfriend, Terry Smith Jr., killed her and then took his own life hours later.

Out of 102 Champaign County shootings this year, 25 have been in Urbana, according to the police department. Since 1993, there haven't been more than two Urbana homicides per year.

"I think what has people upset are the shootings, which can lead to murders," Prussing said. Two Urbana residents asked the council for an increased police presence at the meeting two weeks ago.

The proposal is tentatively scheduled for discussion at the council's meeting next week or the week after. Police Chief Pat Connolly said a "perfect scenario" of training would have the new officers on solo patrol by mid- to late November 2017. He would most likely put them on the 3 p.m.-to-3 a.m. shift, which he said is when calls are the highest.

"We are already sending three officers to the January Police Training Institute class, and it is far too late to begin background investigations on any other candidates in order to have them completed before the January date," Connolly said in a memo to Prussing. He said the five proposed new officers wouldn't be able to complete training at the institute until mid-June and "would be in the Field Training Officer program for a minimum of four months" after that.

The difference between the Police Training Institute and Field Training Officer program, according to Connolly, is that the former teaches the broad fundamentals of policing while the latter homes in on the specifics in Urbana.

He said adding the officers will cost $116,250 for three months of this fiscal year and $463,820 for the next for salary, benefits, uniforms and training.

There have been 55 Urbana police officers for the past eight years, and he said five more is what he needs for tackling the violence at hand.

In terms of funding, Prussing mentioned the $200,000 per year the city saved after switching health insurance providers, $80,000 of which was reserved for all employees to have similar savings after the switch. She said that leaves $120,000 annually, and $60,000 for the current fiscal year, that can be transferred to the police department.

Prussing also proposed creating new revenue by raising the hotel-motel tax by 2 percent, providing an extra $300,000 per year if passed in December and implemented by March 1. She said $100,000 of that can be used in the last four months of the current fiscal year. If the city follows those suggestions, it will cover $400,000 of the estimated total; Prussing said the leftover $63,820 could be covered with increased assessed value from new construction.

"We have officers being pushed to the limit year after year and that's a good indication to increase staff," Prussing said. "We have a real public concern."

Aldermen had mixed first impressions on the proposal. Bill Brown asked if the city needs more officers or investigators.

"I know two of the (homicides) haven't been solved, so I'm not quite sure if this is coming from what we need or what we think we need," he said.

Alderman Eric Jakobsson asked Connolly to provide statistics on how Urbana's police staffing compares to other cities of similar size. Alderman Mike Madigan cautioned that relying on the health-insurance savings might not work since the industry is in flux and could change with the new incoming president. He also said the hotel-motel tax increase could drive away conference bookers.

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CommonSenseless wrote on November 29, 2016 at 9:11 am

5 officers x 8 hrs/day x 2 stops/hr x 250 days/yr x $120/ticket = $2.4M in new taxes.....but this is about stopping shootings, right?

constantly amazed wrote on November 29, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Just FYI the city's share is $40.05, not the full $120.

10.00 AUTOMATION 10.00
34.81 % BREAKDOWN-COUNTY 34.81
40.05 FINES 40.05
15.14 % BREAKDOWN-STATE 15.14

CommonSenseless wrote on November 29, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Good info, I was looking for a breakdown from the circuit clerk.... That leaves $800k for Urbana then. That pays for the 5 officers and leaves an additional $335K for Urbana to squander on some other useless endeavor. Perhaps they can use it for their legal fees when the go to court over Windsor road.

rsp wrote on November 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Assuming those fines get paid...

Local Yocal wrote on November 29, 2016 at 9:11 am
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Prussing is mistaken if she thinks more patrol officers will stop the violence. All a patrol officer can do is respond after METCAD has been called, after the shooting, after the shooters have left the scene. Bill Brown's question as to whether it's more investigators that's needed was a good one. 

Trench5800 wrote on November 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Perhaps with the additional five officers, another spot could be allocated to their investigations unit? 

concernedcitzen wrote on November 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm



This is why more officers is MUST in this underserved community. All of you uninformed people need to come out from behind your keyboards and realize just how bad it is in this community. This article is exactly why we need more patrol. Thank you UPD for getting another criminal and gun off the street before another life is lost..!!

aantulov wrote on November 29, 2016 at 9:11 am

Two points to ponder
1.An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Is hiring more police an act of prevention?
2. If you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result is the definition of insanity.
What can we spend money on that may be preventative, and is not being done?

Utowner wrote on November 29, 2016 at 9:11 am

Rather than hiring police officers how about we hire code enforcment officers and spend money on code enforcement legal expenses to rid Urbana of the substandard housing that attracts problematic residents?  We can no longer bear the brunt of 'affordable' private sector housing (slumlord properties) in this area.  Ratchet up code enforcement, tackle problem properties, watch rents rise and eliminate the problem.  If we're going to hire more police lets find a way to tax the slumlords rather than visitors.  I'm sick of slumlords sitting comfortably in their homes in Mahomet and Southwest Champaign while my community falls to pieces and they get rich.  Fire away that not all poor people commit crimes, but these shootings aren't happening in Stone Creek, West Urbana or Beringer Commons.

rsp wrote on November 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm

You really think this only happens in poor places? Last night it was on the street, one car chasing another shooting, not a single care what they might hit.

stingray1970 wrote on November 29, 2016 at 9:11 am
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Increasing the number of Section 8 vouchers would be a more cost-effective way of enhancing the level of violence in our community.

MillenialGolfer wrote on November 29, 2016 at 10:11 am

Another example of poor fiscal management by Prussing. Only a fool would think they could add 5 new employees as a result of a 1 year savings from health insurance costs. Nevermind that medical costs continue to rise with no end in sight. What will Laurel do once BCBS hits Urbana with a massive increase next year? They'll be forced to pay up or suffer large benefit reductions. Just because you've saved some money once doesn't mean you have carte blanche to spend it immediately. Why do we need these extra officers when we have such successful programs like Fresh Start anyways?

Pointblank wrote on November 29, 2016 at 10:11 am
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Got to hand it to Urbana Police Chief Connolly, never let a crisis go to waste. What is a problem for the community becomes a job employment program for the department. I agree with CommonSenseless' analysis that Prussing must be counting on the revenues 5 more officers could haul in.

Automan wrote on November 29, 2016 at 11:11 am
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Does the City of Urbana government profit from traffic tickets and arrests? How much revenue does arrests and traffic tickets add to the local budget?

map89 wrote on November 29, 2016 at 12:11 pm

"I think what has people upset are the shootings, which can lead to murders"....Do ya thnk??  This lady is out of touch. She should have gotten tough on this crimewave back when it began.  Now all the police can do is react. 

rsp wrote on November 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Just need those Matrix moves...

CommonSenseless wrote on November 29, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Meanwhile, something positive that didn't cost any tax dollars goes by with little fanfare.....