CHAMPAIGN — City council members on Tuesday night planted their stamp of approval on Police Chief Anthony Cobb's first six months at the head of the department.
Cobb said 18 people have moved to new positions within the department after a flurry of retirements and reorganization throughout 2012, but he promises all the officers who are new to their positions are still backed up by years of experience in law enforcement.
"It's unprecedented to have all this movement," Cobb said.
The internal shuffle is accompanied by the hiring of three new police officers in the past three weeks, and Cobb says more are to come. The department is coming out of an 18-month hiring freeze due to budgetary restrictions, and officials are still playing catch-up.
"We're moving in the right direction," Cobb said of the hirings. "We're very optimistic about where we're headed."
It will still take several months to get back to a full police force, he said, and each new officer will spend about a year training.
Cobb also commented on policy changes that have taken place since he started as chief, and noted the goal he set when he started.
"We wanted to be accountable, credible and transparent," he said.
Since then, he said he has instituted an "open-door policy" for officers within the department, and he recalled changes that have been made to the citizen complaint process. Every complaint against an officer lands on his desk within one business day of its filing, he said.
That puts the complaint on his radar early as the internal investigation into its allegations begins.
The professional standards division, which handles those complaints, has been turned over to Lt. Jon Swenson after the retirement of its previous head, Deputy Chief Holly Nearing.
Swenson has been "really doing some research, looking at best practices when it comes to the complaint process," Cobb said.
Even Martel Miller, a regular at city council meetings and consistent critic of the department, said the differences have been apparent.
"People notice the change," Miller said.
In other business, council members voted 8-0 to deny a $1,000 raise — from $5,000 to $6,000 — for whoever will be occupying their seats in spring 2015. Council members review their salaries every six years, and the $1,000 raise was recommended by an advisory committee.
Council member Paul Faraci said Champaign residents have seen some taxes and fees go up within the past several months, and he thought tacking a raise for city council members on to that bill would be seen as a "slap in the face."
"I don't think we as a council felt it was appropriate," Faraci said.