By Jim Hagerty
CITY HALL — The City of Rockford will utilize a federal grant to help with the cost of hiring more police officers, aldermen agreed Tuesday, Jan. 2.
The $625,000 grant will allow the Rockford Police Department to increase its force from 283 rank-and-file officers to 302. Funds will help pay for five of the 17 new officers hired this week. The department had been previously authorized for 297 officers.
The grant is through the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Hiring Program. Under terms of the three-year agreement, the city must bear the full cost of the officers for at least the fourth year. The funds will cover approximately half of each hire.
“Public safety is our top priority,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “We are excited to leverage federal dollars to increase our police force and continue making progress fighting crime in Rockford.”
The news comes a year after a four-year hiring freeze ended. The department received funds in 2013, but could not spend it because they must be used to bring on additional officers, not replace those who leave the force. The 2013 grant expires this year.
In Rockford, salary and benefits for police officers are worth approximately $100,000.
In other business, aldermen voted down an amendment to remove from the 2018-22 Capital Improvement Plan a $60,000 study to determine whether the city should construct a bike path along Spring Creek Road.
“Connectivity is important for this stretch of road because it does bridge the east and west sides,” Fourth Ward Alderman Kevin Frost said. “A lot of folks who are riding on the east side of the river or downtown, from Sportscore One (could) utilize a legitimate bike path. It will allow them to continue east to Spring Brook Road to get out to the Perryville path. It completes what is missing.”
There are also safety concerns, Frost said. Between cyclists and students he sees walking near Eisenhower Middle School, pedestrians may be in danger using the busy thoroughfare the way it is. He said although building the path may not be economically feasible, it is something he’d like to see the city explore.
“If we don’t end up with a bike path, and it costs too much, maybe we get a sidewalk,” Frost said. “This is just to determine feasibility. It’s not a commitment to the cost of a bike path.”
The measure was defeated by a 7-3 vote.
Aldermen Venita Hervey, Natavias Ervins and Tuffy Quinonez voted to remove the study.
The council voted 9-1 to approve the Capital Improvement Plan. Linda McNeely, D-13, voted no. R.