Champaign police increase residency bonus but most officers still prefer to live out of town; Other area departments show similar pattern

You are currently viewing Champaign police increase residency bonus but most officers still prefer to live out of town; Other area departments show similar patternDarrell Hoemann
Looking south to the Champaign Police Department Building on First Street. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/CU-CitizenAccess

Most employees of the Champaign and Urbana police departments live outside the cities they serve, even when lucrative bonuses are offered, records show.

More Champaign and Urbana police live in Mahomet instead of the cities they work in. Of Champaign’s employees, 30 reside in Mahomet, while 27 stay in Champaign. Of Urbana’s employees, 13 live in Champaign, 11 live in Mahomet and only eight live in Urbana.

Some don’t even live in Illinois.

Data on employee city of residence was obtained by CU-CitizenAccess in March via a Freedom of Information Act request, alongside demographic information. This information was obtained for four local agencies: Champaign, Urbana and the University of Illinois police departments, and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office. This data includes all employees, not just standard police officers.

About 85% of Urbana Police Department’s 71 employees don’t live in town, but a little more do now compared with data on police officers in 2021. Twelve employees do not live in the county, about 16%. There is no residency bonus in Urbana.

“Where someone lives is a personal decision and we support the right of employees to decide what works best for them and their particular situation and circumstances,” Urbana Interim Chief of Police Robert Surles said in an email.

Nearly 80% of Champaign Police Department’s 132 employees do not reside in town. The ratio is about the same as it was in 2021 when compared with data on police officers despite a significant change in the department’s residency incentive. 

The department more than doubled the bonus amount since 2021 from $3,000 to $7,000 for basic officers. But through a temporary program, experienced police officers hired before the end of the year will get a one-time bonus of $10,000 and an annual bonus of $7,000 just for living within city limits. Experienced officers recruited through the program also get a $20,000 hiring bonus regardless of residency.

According to Champaign police officials, part of this expansion came from a collective bargaining agreement the city council approved with the Fraternal Order of Police on March 1, 2022. Officials explained that the program is a voluntary opportunity for officers to receive an incentive payment to live within the city limits of Champaign, but participation is not mandated.

“This is a matter of personal choice between each officer and their family,” officials said in an email. The report to the council accompanying the changes said the provisions are designed to incentivize officers to invest and engage in the city. 

“Even as some officers may go home to other places after work, they spend most of their waking hours in Champaign, maintaining the safety of the community and engaging with its residents,” officials said.

A few officers reside in distant cities over 90 minutes drive from their patrolling area. Two Champaign employees, respectively, live in Kewanee, 139 miles from Champaign, and Beecher, which is 102 miles away. An Urbana employee lives in Peoria Heights, a village 99 miles from the city.

Two Champaign officers live in Perrysville, Indiana, a 50-minute drive through four other cities and five miles over the state border.

Among the 132 employees of the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, over 90% reside in the county — only 13 employees live outside the county. 

The sheriff’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.

The University of Illinois Police Department patrols the university’s campus, of which the jurisdiction expanded as part of an agreement with Champaign police because it’s facing a shortage of officers. 

Over 74% of the 118 employees reside out of Champaign-Urbana. A total of 22 live in Champaign and 8 live in Urbana.

Patrick Wade, the senior director of strategic communications for the department, said in an email there is no current or planned residency program since the department is a state agency. He said he believes residency does not affect how police officers serve the community. 

Wade pointed out that most of the department’s employees live within a short commute of Champaign-Urbana and see themselves as a part of the community, with himself living in Savoy but identifying as a member of the town he serves. He said Champaign County is a very close-knit community. 

“Whether we live in Champaign-Urbana or 10 minutes outside of town, we serve the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. That’s very near to the hearts of our staff members,” Wade said. “We are public servants who have a sense of responsibility to this university community and a deep obligation to preserve its safety and the safety of all people who call it home. Many of our students are only here for four years and then move on, but they are still capable of feeling a deep affection for this campus.”

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