Dustin Heuerman

Dustin Heuerman

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URBANA — At the halfway mark of his first term, Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman has outlined a list of initiatives for his department for 2021.

“The goal of my administration has always been to provide fair and impartial processes while working to ensure the safety of those in Champaign County,” Heuerman said.

“Events that occurred in 2020 gave me an opportunity to reflect on what the sheriff’s office does well, where we can improve, and how we can help the public have an accurate perception of what we do every day.”

His first plan involves reducing the number of calls for deputies helping people suffering from mental crises that could be handled by a social worker.

“Unfortunately, over the last several years law enforcement nationwide has been increasingly relied upon by their communities to respond to calls involving persons in crisis because of the lack of consistent and available alternatives,” Heuerman said.

In collaboration with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and similar to an initiative already in progress with Rantoul police, the “Justice Diversion Initiative” will work to reduce police contacts for non-criminal issues.

A dedicated social worker will support case management and services for people who have used sheriff’s deputies for domestic conflict or other crisis intervention.

That person will help clients identify community resources in hopes of reducing the number of times a deputy has to handle those calls, thus freeing up the deputy for crime investigation.

The sheriff’s office has increased training for deputies to better address such calls, but ideally they would be handled by trained social workers, the sheriff said.

Heuerman hopes his deputies can work hand-in-hand with a similar program Urbana police are piloting in the spring.

Heuerman’s second major initiative is to increase community contact and improve relations.

“I believe the majority of those we serve trust us and support us but we can always do better at interacting and communicating effectively with the community,” the sheriff said.

This initiative is two-fold: helping the sheriff’s office interact with the community in more intentional ways and getting the community to give the office input on developing public safety strategy and relationship-building activities.

The goals include increasing contact between deputies and the public when there isn’t a crime or crisis; collaborating with businesses to help them lessen problems they have identified; and working with community leaders on positive activities like National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, Farm Watch, Neighborhood Watch and youth athletic programs.

“One of the ways the sheriff’s office will increase communication is through development of a mobile app,” information on which should be coming in the next few weeks, Heuerman said.

Heuerman’s third initiative — a special enforcement team — started in early 2020 but got sidetracked due to the pandemic.

“There are some things that my deputies do not have time to adequately address on a routine patrol shift, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t devote resources to them,” Heuerman said.

The purpose of the special enforcement team is to incorporate problem-oriented policing into addressing trends. The main objective is to reduce activities that jeopardize the safety of those who live in, work in and visit Champaign County.

Examples include traffic details to help reduce personal injury accidents and fatalities and “hot spot” details to help address crimes that are trending upward such as burglaries and gun violence.

The team will not be full time but instead be activated periodically for specific purposes.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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