Champaign budget cuts target police force

With the recession affecting governmental budgets at every level, it is no surprise that the city of Champaign has had to cut its spending for three years in a row.

One area the Champaign City Council decided to cut this year is police staffing.

“It’s hard to measure what the effect is of having 110 police officers instead of 120,” Deputy Mayor Thomas Bruno said. “On some nights it might not make a bit of difference, but the public needs to realize we don’t have a magic wand.”

Bruno continued to say that Champaign has been dealing with budget problems by refraining from filling vacant spots, shrinking the size of the work force, reducing city services and pushing back some long-term capital improvements.

“We still are cutting, so this year — just like the two previous years — we’ve had to spend even less than we spent years before,” he said.

“But we got out ahead of it, and so it’s (the budget) depressing, but it’s not shot yet.”

The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, a public workers union, sees the cuts as a huge detriment to the city.

According to an AFSCME press release, if these positions are reduced, the projected police overtime for July 2011 is expected to be 160 hours at time and a half, or 1.5 times, their regular pay, which would cost more than one full-time salary position.

In short, this means the city could actually end up paying more by cutting its police officers.

After a holiday weekend with multiple shootings, Champaign police officials did not respond to calls for comment.

The press release also pointed out that the city budget for fiscal year 2011-12 cuts police support services by 40 percent but gives raises to several city officials, including the city manager.

The city manager will receive a 2 percent raise, which will be his first raise in two years. Bruno said the raises were given to adjust for inflation.

The AFSCME press release said the cuts to police staffing and the skyrocketing overtime costs will hurt the police department’s ability to keep Champaign safe.

The press release said that, when Champaign police tried similar budget and staff cuts in 2006, employee turnover was high. It added that police officers were often taken off their patrol duty to cover support services, such as festival security, for which they were not trained.

Bruno disagreed with the organization’s claims, saying police services would not be drastically affected.

He also said that, in a perfect world, the city would be able to fully fund the police, but Champaign does not have the necessary resources in the tough economic times.

“We don’t have the revenue, we’re not going to have deficit spending (and) we’re not going to borrow from future generations, so we will make do with fewer police officers on the streets,” Bruno said.