CHAMPAIGN — Members of Champaign’s Human Relations Commission were supportive of proposals brought to it that aim to make complaints against the police more transparent and shift funding toward mental-health services.
Emily Rodriguez, chair of the commission’s Citizen Review Subcommittee, presented the recommendations at Monday’s meeting.
“We know that we are tasked with improving police and community relations. And we have an opportunity to do that in a really structural way. This is our moment,” she said. “Because of this political moment, we have a consensus among Champaign city officials that change is required.”
She called for 10 percent of the police department’s budget to be moved toward the creation of a pilot program that would address community mental-health needs, for the police department to not be the first recipient of complaints and for a process for complainants to check in on the status of their complaint.
She also said that in next year’s contract with the police union, the city manager’s office should prioritize giving the police chief have more authority to implement changes and dismiss officers.
The Citizen Review Subcommittee plans to vote at its September meeting on the recommendations, which will then be sent to the police chief and city manager’s office for feedback.
“We’re hoping for that (feedback) by 2021,” Rodriguez said.
Members of the Human Relations Commission were generally supportive of the ideas, especially surrounding the complaint process and shifting funding toward mental health needs.
Commissioner Willie Comer said he recently tried to file a complaint at the police department and waited 50 minutes for an officer before giving up.
“If that’s the kind of service that people are going to receive, especially during this time, it is going to be very much unacceptable, and people will not file complaints,” Comer said.
He also said it “taints the integrity” of the process to have the complaints routed first through the police department.
And Comer said there should be some way for the public to see which officers have had multiple complaints filed against them.
“Somehow, some way, we have to be able to do that,” he said.
Commissioner Demario Turner also supported routing the police complaints through another office first.
“It’s intimidating for the complainant, it’s in some ways victimizing for the complainant, and in other ways, it’s antagonizing for the complainant,” he said.
He suggested officers should hand out cards or pamphlets about the complaint process to help educate people that they have the option to file a complaint.
Commissioner Barbara Bressner said she liked the idea of putting more resources toward mental-health needs and social services.
“I really appreciate the fact that the police do deal so much with issues that really are social work–related, mental–health related,” she said.
Commissioner Robin McClain agreed, and said it would be “a good thing to include mental-health workers in some capacity.”
Before Rodriguez’s presentation, Lt. Kevin Olmstead gave a report on the complaints received last year.
In 2019, nine complaints were filed, up from five the previous year.
Four officers received verbal counseling, and those four and another officer were given additional training, Olmstead said. And four complaints led to policy reviews and revisions.
He also noted that the city received 33 compliments last year.
“Just from the outside looking in, one would think that we’re really good,” McClain said.
But she said the presentation indicated the need for improvements.
“After looking at the recommendations,” McClain said, “it appears that there is some work that needs to be done.”
Police spokesman Tom Yelich declined to comment on the specific recommendations, but said the department is “committed to working alongside to the community to seek input and identify areas for improvement.”
Champaign police have planned community engagement sessions for this summer and fall, and last month it updated its use-of-force policies to include de-escalation, the duty for officers to intervene during unlawful use-of-force and an explicit ban on chokeholds.