"The invisible dividing line of Wright Street does not keep violent crime in either city."
Chiefs ask any witnesses to come forward to help to solve recent shooting
Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said the department is working "literally daily" with Champaign on addressing gun violence in the two cities, especially as the bullets tend to fly more as the weather heats up.
This week has been no exception: Shots fired in southeast Urbana on Tuesday afternoon had police scouring the area for suspects, and a 26-year-old man who was killed by gunfire in Champaign in late June was buried on Monday.
The bulk of the incidents have been on the west side of Wright Street, but Connolly said that doesn't make the situation in Urbana any less dangerous.
"The invisible dividing line of Wright Street does not keep violent crime in either city," Connolly said. "When you look deep into what's going on, it's but for the grace of God those shootings haven't occurred in Urbana, and they easily could have."
And in Champaign, that cooperation extends to Urbana, the University of Illinois police and the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, among others, said Police Chief Anthony Cobb. They share information and what "proactive steps" they may be taking to prevent further violence.
"We're all working together," Cobb said.
And conversations about gun activity are not only a discussion among the local departments, but one that happens regularly at regional and statewide levels. Connolly said he and Cobb meet quarterly with chiefs from others areas of the state — Joliet, Rockford and Aurora, just to name a few examples — and "that's the topic of conversation at every single meeting."
The local departments also work closely with an FBI task force.
Police are constantly monitoring trends within the city. When they detect a problem, Connolly said, the Urbana department tends to respond with an "omnipresence of police" in the trouble area. The argument against that tactic is that it just displaces the problem to another area.
But the police chief said that, to an extent, he's OK with that.
"I want the people who are involved in the gun violence to look around and see people who are getting involved or police who are getting involved who say we're not going to let that happen in this city," Connolly said.
Cobb declined to say much about what kind of strategies Champaign police use in responding to gun violence — once those tactics are announced, the would-be criminals can use the knowledge to avoid them. But he did say that each situation is different and may change the tactics they employ.
But in any situation, Cobb said, public cooperation is crucial, and it's not always something that comes easily. The vast majority of shootings occur in neighborhoods where people are likely to have seen or heard something — but they won't necessarily say something.
"I understand the fear, the fear of retaliation, the fear of reprisal," Cobb said. "But we have to get the neighborhood together."
The only way to catch and convict the shooters is with help from the public, he said. Prosecutable cases need eyewitnesses and physical proof.
"We have to build it on evidence," Cobb said. "We need witnesses to come forward; we need people who are able to testify."
Prevention is important, too.
"We do talk with all our community partners," Cobb said. "We've met with the clergy and talked about a lot of these issues. The community coalition has been a big part of it."
June and July tend to be busy months for shooters and have produced some serious incidents so far this year. The fatal shooting of 26 year-old Allen Redding on June 24 came on the heels of another shooting that had occurred just a day before.
"I think a lot more people are outside; I think tempers flare a little bit because people are uncomfortable with the hot and humid weather," Connolly said. "I think there are a number of variables."
One of Redding's alleged shooters was arrested in Chicago a few days later, but police are still looking for two more. All of the men were last known to live in Champaign.
That's not unlike another recent incident, in which a man was arrested in Chicago just a few days after the June 20 shooting of three people on their Danville porch.
But whether the violence in East Central Illinois has any connection to what's going on in Chicago is hard to say and would require more analysis.
"I don't know if we can say there's a direct correlation," Connolly said.
But one thing's for sure: The numbers in Chicago, where 82 people were shot and 15 killed over the July 4 weekend, are staggering.
"It's way too many for any city," Connolly said.