CHAMPAIGN — Activists and city council members had positive words to say about the direction of the community on Tuesday night when they approved of a new labor contract for police union members.
The three-year contract includes 2 percent minimum raises, a residency incentive for officers and mandatory drug tests after the on-duty discharge of a weapon.
"We know that the community will be better overall and the police department will be more accountable to the citizens, all of which I believe will lead to a better relationship between the two," said Aaron Ammons, a founding member of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice.
For years, that activist group and others have been pushing for a number of items to be bargained into the police union contract, including a residency requirement and mandatory drug testing.
"Tonight we see a change," said Champaign resident Seon Williams. "It didn't happen overnight, but it happened over a little time."
Council member Deborah Frank Feinen said thanks were deserved all the way around, including the city's human resource department and the police union members. She said the residency issue was a tough bargaining point, but negotiators were able to devise a creative way to get it into the contract.
Under the agreement, police officers who establish residency inside the city will be paid $3,000, an amount intended to cover moving expenses. If officers are currently Champaign residents, they would be eligible to receive that payment if they move to a new home within the city.
The incentive is good only once per officer, and the recipient would have to pay part of that back if he or she moves outside the city or leaves city employment within three years after receiving the payment.
Police union members "worked with us as well; they saw these things as important," Feinen said. "And overall, I think we're moving in the direction that the community had hoped we'd move without in any way harming our police force."
The new contract also would make drug-and-alcohol testing mandatory immediately following an on-duty weapon discharge that results in injury or property damage.
Previously, city officials were permitted to request an officer submit to a drug or alcohol test only if they had reasonable suspicion that the officer was under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances at work or if the officer was assigned to a special unit.
Those rules would remain in place, but under the new contract, drug tests may also be ordered "at the discretion of the Chief of Police as soon as possible" following the on-duty discharge of a weapon.
The contract includes pay increases based on experience. Officers and sergeants with zero to nine years on the Champaign police force would receive a 2 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2012, another 2 percent raise in July 2013 and another 2 percent raise in July 2014.
Officers with 10 to 14 years experience would receive 2.5 percent increases on each of those dates, and those with 15 or more years would receive 3 percent raises.
The annual cost of base salaries for police would increase from $7,288,360 this year to $7,791,343 in 2014, according to city documents.
Williams said community members are taking note of the steps police and city officials have taken in the years since the October 2009 fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington.
"I see a lot of change on the ground," Williams said. "A lot more people are thinking a lot more positive about the city of Champaign."
Council member Will Kyles said he is very pleased with the new contract, too.
"This is the community we want, and this is where we're going," he said.