With Anthony Cobb’s last day as Champaign police chief less than two weeks away, City Manager Dorothy David is seeking public input from community members on what they’d like to see in his successor.
We asked five past and present members of city commissions: What’s priority No. 1 on your list?
Want to weigh in yourself? Submit a Letter to the Editor here.
‘I would like to see an increased effort on the part of the police chief and HR to be intentional about a diverse talent pool’
Interim chair, Champaign Human Relations Commission
“Before getting into what I’d like to see in the next police chief, I would first like to extend my strong appreciation and thanks to Chief Anthony Cobb for his exceptional service to this community and to the law enforcement community.
“Being an African American in leadership comes with added pressure and it’s respectfully important to know when to bow out. He served honorably and I wish him the best in his new role.
“With regard to the next chief, aside from transparency, I really hope we can get a chief that is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion on the police force. As a member of the HRC, during our last annual Human Resources report, this is a question I really pressed HR Assistant Eric Reynolds on.
“We currently have not one Africian-American police woman on the Champaign police force or a force that’s representative of the community it serves. I would like to see an increased effort on the part of the police chief and HR to be intentional about a diverse talent pool.
“With the increased gun violence in this community and a lack of cooperation from community members, talking with someone who looks like you and who can resonate with your experience can make a huge difference.
“Years ago when Officer Peat, who is a person of color, was on the street with the Champaign police force, she was respected, she was like a mother in the community. She didn’t play.
“This community needs a chief who is also committed to police/community relations.
“There has always been divisiveness with police and the community. Since the tragic death of Officer (Chris) Oberheim, that divisiveness has been highlighted with Blue Lives Matter advocating for officer safety, which I do see as priority and legitimate concern, and the African American community advocating for respect, equitable treatment and service.
“This, I see, as an opportunity for partnership and allyship. When it comes to gun violence and the safety of our community and officers, the advocacy should be unified. We need a police chief to ensure we are creating the right partnerships and community initiatives.
“Finally, I would like a chief in favor of strong systems of accountability for and among our law enforcement men and women.
“Rightly so, law enforcement wants the cooperation of the community members when it comes to gun violence or any criminal behavior but seems to be tone deaf when people don’t share what they’ve witnessed out of fear of becoming a snitch or a target of violence. Yet the blue code of silence is part of the police culture when it comes to bad actors.
“Post-George Floyd, I want a police chief who will enforce the duty to intervene if another officer witnesses misconduct, even if that conduct is being perpetrated by a subordinate or superior officer, and ensure that all officers feel psychologically safe to do so without fear of repercussion, confidence or decreased morale.
“Accountability also incorporates the dismantling of systems like contract agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police that make it difficult to terminate officers like Matt Rush and policy reviews to identify where barriers to accountability exist and how those policies can be modified to ensure accountability.”
‘The right chief is out there; however, there’s work to do before we’re ready for them’
District 8 representative, Champaign County Board
“Chief Anthony Cobb leaves big shoes to fill.
“We need a chief who is similarly committed to community building, one who has a fully articulated sense of transparency and the citizen police review process.
“We also need to move forward. We need someone with experience developing and coordinating alternatives to policing, particularly mobile units staffed with social workers that can be dispatched to a scene in mental health and domestic crises.
“I worry our city would have trouble attracting a candidate that fits this bill. We lag embarrassingly behind comparable cities in developing alternatives to policing. The much-anticipated One Door program is dead. Local health-care providers simply won’t cooperate. In result, our police department is over-tasked, our gun violence rate soars and we set our chiefs of police up for failure.
“That’s a job offer I’d turn down.
“We cannot ask a police chief to take on community tasks without providing the needed resources. The right chief is out there; however, there’s work to do before we’re ready for them.”
‘We need servant, authentic leadership at the highest level for this community’
REV. JAMES FIELDER
Champaign Police Citizen Review Subcommittee
“My hope and prayer is that the new police chief, whoever he or she is, will take these words literally and figuratively — ‘to protect and to serve.’ We need servant, authentic leadership at the highest level for this community.
“Our police chief will be our police chief, as Anthony Cobb was, and in some ways still is. That means he or she will take care of their troops, and lead them to serve our community. There should be no compromise.
“This conveys not only getting the criminal element off the streets, but more so ensuring that community members feel protected when there is a need to call a police officer.
“When we see the uniform, regardless of race, color or orientation, we should feel that we will be served and protected.
“My prayer is that whoever becomes our police chief has that desire, first and foremost.”
‘Our new police chief’s educational background should include mental health’
Champaign Human Relations Commission
“In addition to making Champaign feel safe, we deserve a police chief who will develop a climate of respect toward the community served.
“This person should be a leader who truly believes in developing police officers who will enforce this practice toward our community.
“In selecting the new police chief, consider the following:
“First, our new police chief’s educational background should include mental health. The new police chief should be familiar with the most recent research regarding mental health, and open to extending that education to their fellow police officers, as well as our community. This person should have some training in crisis intervention, or advocate for that training for their fellow police officers.
“Second, our new police chief should understand and take a vested interest in the unique issues that we are facing here within Champaign. We are all aware of the most recent increase in gun violence amongst our youth.
“Our new police chief should be solution-focused, and willing to take an active role in not only advocating for the decrease in gun violence, but working with the community to implement intervention strategies to address it.
“Third, our new police chief should develop a community-oriented policing approach to encourage more interaction with our community. More interaction would decrease the gap between the police and the community.
“If the gap is lowered, then trust within the police force should develop, which can help to shrink the crime rate within our community.”
‘I hope the new chief will be a visionary leader committed to broader solutions about crime and safety’
Chair, Champaign Police Citizen Review Subcommittee
“It can be difficult for people within law enforcement to look beyond policing solutions to address the public health and safety crises that we are facing.
“I hope the new chief will be a visionary leader committed to broader solutions about crime and safety than simply ones based within the police force.
“Policing is reactionary, it doesn’t prevent crime or deter it. In a chief, we need proactive leadership willing to look to other agencies, partnerships and solutions to address the root causes of crime, things like poverty and mental illness, to really improve our community.
“If the goal is to improve public safety, there are many ways to achieve that but most of the best tested and researched ones do not require more police or harsher enforcement.
“I believe Champaign is the perfect-sized community, with a diverse population, to demonstrate what can be done with a leader of broad vision for ways to improve overall safety and health in communities at the helm.”