City rejects bill on use of force

The Champaign City Council voted against the hiring of an outside contractor to continue an investigation into a June 5 arrest, as well as the city’s use of force policies.

The council voted 3-6 Tuesday night against a bill that would have hired CAG Consulting, Inc. to provide an overview and recommendations on the city’s use of force policies and the June 5 incident where a 19-year-old male was pepper sprayed and arrested in Campustown. The Champaign Police Department, the Illinois State Police and the FBI had previously investigated the incident but found no violation of any civil rights legislation.

In a meeting heavy earlier on the topic of maintaining economic stability, the idea of spending $85,000 on an outside contractor did not sit well with some in attendance.

Tammy Ward, the mother of the individual in the June 5 incident, commented on the issue at hand. She did not support the bill, but did suggest a further look into use of force.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to have this external investigation,” she said.

Council member at-large Karen Foster said those resources could very well be used to help out the police department in other important areas, such as the downsizing of the police front desk.

“I think that money could be found or used in another way,” Foster said. “I feel that this is not the direction I want to go with at this time.”

Gina Jackson, former Champaign council member, said what needs to be emphasized is the restructuring of the training procedures Champaign police go through, including a change to use of force policies.

“We have a well trained police department, but we need to change the policies,” Jackson said.

Motorists refueling at Champaign gas pumps will have to pay a few cents more for each gallon.

The council also passed a fuel tax coming almost two months after the Champaign City Council delayed this measure. The four cents per gallon fuel tax will become effective May 1 of this year.

Under this tax, revenues generated will go toward improving city infrastructure. According to the city’s financial department, such a tax would generate about $1.5 million annually. The city has also backlogged about $60 million in unfunded road projects.

The council was divided on the tax, voting 5-4 on the measure with Mayor Don Gerard casting the tie-breaking vote.

Opponents of the bill claim the tax could cause problems long term by driving away businesses and decreasing interest in retail investment in Champaign. Also, a popular argument was that another tax could pose setbacks to many families already struggling during these tough economic times.

Gerard, however, said he cannot stand watching streets he’s known since his childhood deteriorate and become worse with each passing year. He added that he believes a tax would have an opposite effect of what opponents claim.

“I firmly believe this will create jobs and create commerce,” Gerard said. “This is the right thing to do.”

These roads must be improved, especially since events such as the Illinois Marathon are attracting new opportunities to the area, Gerard said. Improving infrastructure, amidst an increase in gas prices, is important for future generations, added councilman at-large Tom Bruno.

“For me this is a matter of a shared sacrifice,” Bruno said.