The 289 sworn officers in the Aurora Police Department will receive $500 bonuses approved Tuesday by the city council as a thank you for their efforts during the city's murder-free year in 2012.
Bonuses are meant to commend officers not only for helping bring about a year without a murder but also for reducing violent crime in the city, Mayor Tom Weisner said Tuesday. Weisner proposed the bonuses Jan. 4 as the city was basking in media attention for finishing a calendar year without a murder for the first time since 1946. The idea since has been discussed at three public meetings, concluding with Tuesday's city council meeting in which aldermen approved the measure 9-1. Alderman Rick Lawrence voted "no" and Alderman Scheketa Hart-Burns was absent.
Weisner said the bonuses, though not significant financially, are "a symbol of our appreciation."
"It's a worthy endeavor to say a public thank you," he said.
Seven of eight residents who spoke to the council before the vote -- many of them representing groups within Aurora's faith community -- also said they support publicly thanking police with bonuses.
"I think this $500 bonus is the least we can do," said Randy Schoof, pastor of Warehouse Church at 308 E. Galena Blvd. "There is no greater, more important statistic we can be talking about for the city of Aurora than to have no murders in a calendar year."
Alderman Mike Saville listed about a dozen city policies that have helped decrease murders to zero from a high of 26 in 1996. He said stricter code enforcement, a crime-free housing policy, the creation of ward funds and density reduction programs all have assisted police in making Aurora safer.
"It makes a point of how important this is for our city and how much we appreciate the force," Saville said about the bonuses.
Lawrence said he opposed the bonuses because giving blanket financial rewards is not the best way to thank officers and simultaneously encourage them to work harder.
"There's all different ways to thank people," Lawrence said. "In my opinion, money tends to cheapen the thank you."
Alderman-at-Large Richard Irvin said the city should recognize all the positive work police have done to "draw a line, a blue line if you will, between the citizenry and the criminal element," instead of criticizing the type of recognition to be given.
"It confuses me how you can take a positive recognition and turn it into something negative," Irvin told Lawrence. "Maybe (a bonus is) not the gift you would have given, but it's one worth giving."