More citations, 'more calm' in downtown Champaign

More citations, 'more calm' in downtown Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — Warm weather is bringing the nightlife — and an increased police presence — outside as Champaign adapts following a June 24 downtown shooting.

No one was hit, and no property was damaged, when Malcolm Comer allegedly fired several shots from a 9 mm handgun into the air around 1:30 that Saturday morning near the corner of Walnut and Taylor streets. Comer was arrested for reckless discharge of a firearm and unlawful use of weapons.

In the three weekends since that incident, Champaign police have visibly beefed up their presence downtown — and it's showing in the results, say city officials and business owners alike.

For the month of June, there were 32 citations written in the downtown area. Through the first 11 days of July, there were 48, according to CPD data provided to The News-Gazette.

"Certainly, we've seen a change," said Blind Pig owner Chris Knight, the most publicly vocal proponent for change following the June 24 incident. "I'm very pleased with the police and it's more calm."

The 48 citations in July covered a wide range of offenses:

— 30 were issued for possession of alcohol or liquor on public property or parking.

— Three were for vehicular noise.

— Three were for public urination.

— Two were for resisting or obstructing an officer.

— Two were for possession of cannabis.

— Two were for minors in possession of alcohol or liquor.

— One was issued for each of six other violations — aggravated battery, fighting, pedestrian walking on roadway, traffic signal violation, unlawful use of ID and not having a driver's license.

 

'It only takes one person'

Obtrusive downtown congregation and loitering were spotlighted after the shooting. Knight said sidewalk crowds have thinned out since.

"The officers mainly stand and watch but some do community policing," Knight said. "They'll chat and joke with customers."

"Their presence is much more prominent," added Jake Wallace, front house manager at V. Picasso, who agreed that downtown safety had been problematic before the ramped-up police presence.

"I feel that everyone feels better and safer, and it's had no negative business impact."

While the visual of more police could give off a dangerous image, Sean Baird ultimately thinks it's good for business.

"It only takes one person," said the owner of Watson's Shack and Rail. "If someone were to get shot, it could hurt business."

Bob Sarver, who tends bar at the Esquire Lounge, wanted the officers around well before June 24.

"I had one customer who got a ticket and complained about the officers," Sarver said, "but generally they're appreciated."

Sarver said he has watched officers issue tickets to customers of downtown establishments who loiter outside the designated outdoor seating area, echoing a complaint that Knight shared in the wake of the shooting.

 

Clear boundaries coming soon

Kevin Phillips, the zoning administrator for the city of Champaign, said outdoor seating areas for any downtown businesses are established in one way or another. Some have fences or dividers; others rely on less-recognizable silver circular markers in the ground.

Those markers, Phillips admitted, aren't always the easiest to see. So, in the next couple of weeks, Champaign's public works department will paint black lines on the ground to better designate the markers and their boundaries.

"They'll be clearly identifiable and non-intrusive," Phillips said. "We don't want any ugly big black lines."

The painting plan, he said, is for each marker to have two lines that point outward and form an "L" shape. If the city decides that any two markers have a large enough space between them, a dashed line will be painted between them.

 

Shootings down across region

Not only was what happened the morning of June 24 rare for downtown; it was also unique for all of Champaign County, especially when compared to recent years.

Through the first six months of 2017, there were a total of 34 "substantiated" shots fired incidents within the jurisdictions of the county sheriff's office and the Champaign, Urbana and UI police departments, according to figures compiled by Urbana PD. (Self-inflicted shootings were not included).

Heading into the second half of 2016, that number was 60, according to Urbana police.

In 2015, it was 68.

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