Champaign police bringing back downtown-focused team for summer

Champaign police bringing back downtown-focused team for summer

CHAMPAIGN — So far in 2018, there have been 47 shootings in Champaign and Urbana — up from 35 for the same period last year.

Local law-enforcement officials shared those statistics — and plans for how to curtail gun violence in the months ahead — at Wednesday's meeting of the Community Coalition, which includes members of government agencies, businesses and community groups in Champaign and Urbana.

Since violence typically spikes in the summer, Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said his department is reviving its Community Action Team for the season. That unit is made up of three officers who are tasked with answering fewer 911 calls than usual so they can spend more time working directly with neighborhood residents.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Cobb said, the team will focus on the downtown Champaign area, where a highly publicized shooting occurred outside crowded bars early one Saturday morning last June.

No one was injured, but plenty of patrons expressed fears after the incident. It wasn't repeated in the months that followed.

"We want a concentrated, concerted effort," Cobb said of the team. "In past summers, we used hodgepodge efforts, but now we want the same consistent faces."

Instead of working on high-priority crimes like homicides, Cobb said the team will focus on smaller-scale incidents that impact quality of life. He said those could include loud music or traffic violations in neighborhoods, as well as unruly congregations of people at bars or food trucks.

The team will use problem-solving techniques on issues as they arise, and Cobb said meetings are also being conducted with residents to find out what problems they experience.

Other initiatives discussed Wednesday:

— Champaign police recently implemented a new requirement for every sworn-in officer, no matter their experience level, to complete at least one hour of community engagement work per month, Cobb said.

There are 125 sworn officers on the force, Cobb said, and they'll perform a range of services, from mentoring youths to volunteering on soup lines.

— For CU Fresh Start, the local program to curb gun violence, there will be more work this summer that focuses on community.

Champaign Community Relations Manager Tracy Parsons said the program has mainly focused on law enforcement so far, holding three "call-in" interventions for individuals who police identify as susceptible to gun violence. The next "call-in" is scheduled for tonight.

"We haven't built up the community side of things as well as we need to ... so people aren't falling through the cracks," Parsons said of Fresh Start, which was launched in 2016.

Parsons said a two-hour community meeting — "Ending Gun Violence in Our Community" — has been scheduled for 6 p.m. June 28 at the Douglass Branch Library. The discussion will include ways to coordinate organizations and resources for people at risk, he said.

— Urbana Police Chief Sylvia Morgan announced that she'll retire in August, and the city will conduct a nationwide search for her replacement. When Morgan was named as former Chief Patrick Connolly's successor in 2017, she said she'd retire after a year.

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