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CHAMPAIGN — There will be no uniformed police officers assigned to be present daily in Champaign schools when students return to class in three weeks.

In a joint announcement made Thursday morning, the Champaign Police Department and the Champaign school district said they were temporarily suspending the school-resource-officer program due to a shortage of officers.

In April, Champaign school board members approved paying for two officers for the coming school year at a cost of $349,611 despite reluctance about having resource officers in schools in the future.

The district has not yet made any payments for the coming school year, and those will cease while the program is suspended, said district spokeswoman Stacey Moore.

According to figures released by the city of Champaign’s human-resources department earlier this month, the police department is allotted 125 positions, but only about 104 are currently filled.

Since January 2019, the city’s report said, 32 Champaign officers have left the department while only 17 have been hired. The city council is currently considering ways to shorten the hiring process to alleviate that gap.

In the release, police Chief Anthony Cobb, who will be leaving his post in a week, said the safety of students is a priority.

“Though we have suspended our School Resource Officer Program due to staffing resources, each officer still has the ability to monitor, visit and check in on our schools to help foster safe and positive learning environments,” Cobb said. “Our relationship with Unit 4 is not ending, and we are committed to continuing to provide public safety resources to the best of our ability.”

New Champaign Superintendent Shelia Boozer called the suspension of the program “an opportunity for us to proactively approach the security of our students and staff from a social/emotional and equity lens.”

“We plan to strengthen student supports through restorative practice, therapeutic crisis intervention training and introducing Student Support Advocates as part of our staffing,” she said.

The district has had resource officers in its middle and high schools since the 2006-07 school year.

Cobb said police will respond to calls for service and be available for major crises when needed.

“Police remain committed to providing resources for special and athletic events at school facilities and maintaining a visible presence before and after school as patrol resources allow,” he said.

Neither the police department nor the school district said how long the suspension of the program had been under consideration.

“We have engaged in ongoing conversations with CPD and exhausted all staffing possibilities prior to suspending services for the upcoming school year,” Moore said.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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