Update: 8:18 p.m.
The Champaign City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday night to approve the contract with AGB.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A law enforcement shortage in the city of Champaign is proving profitable for a Chicago-based security firm.
Champaign Unit 4 School District has spent “approximately $17,475.50” a week since August to fill a gap left behind when the Champaign Police Department cut its school resource officer program amid the direst staffing shortage the agency said it’s ever seen.
In another attempt to bolster security, City Council will vote Tuesday on a contract to place AGB’s private security officers downtown on weekends too.
Champaign police reported 33 “unserviceable positions” last July, including 21 vacancies. The remaining 12 officers were unavailable, either due to off-duty status or because they were still in training. That number is down to 27 unserviceable positions, according to the $203,986 proposal the city is set to vote on Tuesday night.
About half of those missing officers (14) are listed as in training, which gives Deputy Chief Geoff Coon hope that openings will also be sliced in half within the next couple of months.
Deputy Chief Coon says adding continuous patrols downtown during peak hours has become a necessity, especially where business is expected to pick up in the summer months.
Bar owners have complained to WCIA reporters over the last year about the increase in violence in and around downtown, adding they feel helpless in controlling what goes on right outside of their doors.
The added security officers would not carry guns, according to the proposal, but they would be allowed “less-than-lethal options,” like pepper spray or batons.
“Keep in mind these are security officers, they’re not sworn personnel,” Coon said. “And like I mentioned before, their job is to deal with order and maintenance issues, keep small things small, to alert us to anything that looks like it’s going to be problematic. And obviously, we’ll respond in a timely manner.”
If the proposal passes, five security officers will become commonplace in the “downtown business district” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. beginning on May 26.
Coon said the officers will be in clearly marked uniforms with body cameras, sometimes on foot or in a marked vehicle.
The contract would be in place until the end of the year. Coon said he hopes the department’s increased hiring efforts will have paid off by then, making this a one-time expense.
One of those efforts includes a marketing campaign created by Champaign firm Surface 51 to recruit officers in Illinois and beyond state borders. Coon says it’s brought in a couple of the recruits currently in training. He says the campaign will continue for a couple more months before the police department can evaluate its success.
A few of the 46 license plate readers the city began installing Monday will also be placed within the business district, according to Coon.