Champaign to be more like Urbana in reporting police complaint data

Champaign to be more like Urbana in reporting police complaint data

Last week, the Champaign City Council approved changes to its police complaint process, and included in those changes was a goal of better reporting complaint statistics.

OK, so what does that mean?

Several times over the course of a year, the city council and human relations commission will receive reports on the number of complaints the police department has received. These reports come in the form of verbal updates, the police department’s annual reports or other written memos. The reports are also made available for the public.

Right now in Champaign, police complaint statistics are presented as aggregate data. I direct your attention to the images at bottom of this page. The top is a portion of the 2008-2009 annual report from the Champaign police department. Notice Champaign reports aggregate statistics: the number of complaints, how many were sustained and how many were appealed, among some other categories.

Now, compare that with Urbana’s most recent police complaint report (the image beneath Champaign’s report), which Champaign city officials have said they now want their reports to more closely resemble. Urbana reports the date of the incident, the type of incident, location and demographics of the complainant. They also have a “comments” column for information not conducive to the other categories.

Both of these reports are seen by the cities’ councils and other officials who ultimately make decisions pertaining to the police departments and how to remedy complaints. As you can see, Urbana officials have a lot more data to work with.

Council member Gordy Hulten said the data is important to the city of Champaign because of the government structure: police officers are accountable to the police chief, who is accountable to the city manager, who is accountable to the mayor and city council, who are accountable to the voters of the city of Champaign.

“I think it’s important to note that, under that structure, the council and the mayor essentially serve as the citizen review board,” Hulten said at last week’s meeting. “We are the citizens’ voice in the process.”

And right now, he went on to say, he does not have enough information to act in that role, especially as a new council member.

Council member Marci Dodds later echoed Hulten when she said she also doesn’t have enough data to respond to constituents’ questions if they were to ask her about specific police complaints.

“We need more information, and we need to know more about the process than even is included here,” Dodds said. “If somebody says to me, ‘Why was this exonerated?' I’m going to say I don’t know, and that’s not an acceptable answer.”

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