Cobb: Change 'won't happen overnight'
CHAMPAIGN — Clutching a purple towel, Anthony Cobb repeatedly wiped his head and face Friday as he was introduced as the new chief of police for Champaign.
The 42-year-old Champaign native and lifelong community resident will probably want to keep the towel handy.
"I know we have obstacles to overcome and I am confident that we can overcome them, but it won't happen overnight. Please understand it will take a few months for the department and me to synergize," said Cobb, the second black police chief in the history of Champaign.
He starts his new post March 12.
"This is a process, and mistakes will occur. I plan for the department to be transparent when they do occur," Cobb said.
The city council chambers were full of faces already familiar to Cobb, who's been an Urbana police officer for 19 years and five months: Champaign city administrators, city council members, police administrators, police critics, community activists, his own family, reporters, photographers, friends and even his pastor.
While City Manager Steve Carter was quick to call Cobb the best of the almost four dozen candidates — four of whom were interviewed — there was no mistaking the edge that being the hometown guy had for Cobb.
"This guy is going to do things as chief nobody has thought of because he knows us," said Craig Walker, a Champaign investment banker, long-time Champaign resident and self-described "big fan of the police department and our officers."
"He came in with recommendations from everyone from Congressman Tim Johnson to his local pastor. He knows the community," Walker said. "I have great hope for the future. Champaign has taken a great step."
In announcing Cobb as his choice for the $140,000-a-year position, Carter noted Cobb's visibility in the community and his role in putting community policing into practice in Urbana.
"We expect him to be very visible in the community," Carter said, as Cobb nodded in assent.
A news release prepared for the announcement included facts not only about Cobb's police experience and professional memberships but about him being a Little League and high school football coach, his service on the boards of Community Elements and the Urbana Municipal Employees Credit Union, and his 20 years of mentoring children.
Cobb has a daughter, Troy, 15, and a son, Myles, 12. They currently live in Savoy, but Cobb will be expected to move to Champaign within six months, as is required of all department heads, Carter said.
Champaign police Sgt. Tom Frost said he was hired in Champaign about a year before Cobb was in Urbana and recalled them patrolling the north sides of their respective cities during some tense times as rookies.
"I certainly do remember those days. I was in northeast Champaign and he was in northwest Urbana. It was standard protocol to listen to each other's calls. He was there when I needed him. You didn't care where your backup came from," Frost said.
Cobb is the second of five sons born to Delores Cobb-Derricks, who was present with her husband of 13 years, Ezell Derricks.
Cobb thanked his family and his community for holding him "accountable" as he grew up. He attended Booker T. Washington Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School and Centennial High School.
His mother said she became a single parent not long after Anthony's twin brothers, now 35, were born.
"When I was raising them, people said young black men were doomed for extinction, but I refused to accept that," said the woman who has worked as a school bus driver, a gas station clerk, a factory worker, in an office, and driving MTD buses through the years. She also attended the University of Illinois after graduating from Parkland College.
"I wanted them to understand how important education and hard work was," she said.
They seem to have gotten it. Cobb's four brothers work in ministry, as a lawyer, a middle school principal and an associate dean of students at the UI.
Asked by a friend if she was proud of her son the chief, Cobb-Derricks replied: "Prouder. I was already proud. I'm quite sure he has a tough job ahead. Now is not the time to quit praying."
Bishop Lloyd Gwin, pastor at The Church of the Living God, said he's known Cobb for 17 years and calls him a "genuine person."
"He means what he says and he says what he means. He's trustworthy," Gwin said.
Gwin was one of the dozens of people that Carter talked to in researching Cobb's background.
The city manager called the background and reference checks on Cobb "the most extensive" ever done for a department head.
Carter and Cobb arrived at their contractual agreement Thursday. Cobb had been offered the job a week earlier.
Cobb said he let Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly know about the offer.
Reached Friday in Milwaukee where he was moving his parents, Connolly said he was "incredibly excited and incredibly sad" about Cobb's new duties.
"Our loss is also going to be our gain because I have so much confidence in Anthony as do people in this community. It's going to be a win-win," Connolly said. "Because of all the people he knows, it's going to make it easier to address community issues through all the law enforcement agencies."
The Urbana Police Department has been spared the public airing of internal strife, not because there isn't any, according to Cobb, but because they're good at dealing with issues "before they make it to the front page of the paper or the 6 o'clock news."
"He's perceptive enough he's going to build a good management team. Anthony realizes nobody can solve anything on their own and you've got to work with people. Anthony is very good at doing those kinds of things," Connolly said.
Connolly and Cobb said they'll meet with the department's three lieutenants next week to discuss shifts in the Urbana police administration.
"Anthony did the day-to-day operational stuff. It's not just one person, though. We try to go five deep so everybody is aware of the day-to-day stuff — three lieutenants, myself and Anthony. I don't want for a moment to give the impression there won't be a huge void because there's going to be, but we'll be able to make it," Connolly said.