After more than a year as a privileged and responsible member of the Champaign Police Department’s Use of Force Committee, let me offer my opinion as to its nature, expectations and value.
First, our selection and training paralleled the decision to facilitate the majority of patrol officers with body cameras to better secure the majority of communications between the police and the policed as a potential source of review.
Although I was not wholeheartedly supportive of the structure or methodology of the body camera action, it soon became the core of our evaluation process.
Prior to the full meeting of committee members and departmental staff, these members and all community members were given the opportunity to not only review existing taped scenarios but also privy to the actual paperwork associated with the incident.
Repeatedly, review consensus was that the officers acted professionally throughout the vast majority of the situations presented. In those rare exceptions, when less than stellar performance was observed, it was addressed immediately by an assigned departmental liaison and directed to the chief.
Significantly, it was overwhelmingly concluded that officers repeatedly appeared to have increased risks to their personal safety and security as they participated in the interactions.
Secondly, each tape was assessed as to its consistency with policy, the need for additional training and a general overview of the interactive process. The following generalizations evolved from our observations:
No. 1: An ongoing hostility existed between many young violators and large numbers of black community members. This phenomenon occurred repeatedly in spite of positive dialogue initiated by the officers that was primarily non-confrontational.
No. 2: A continuation of training deficiencies including cover utilization, failure to wait for backup, inefficiency in controlling arrested individuals, cross-fire situations, etc., seemed to persist over the year.
In some cases, the training issue seemed inconsistent with the selected approach.
No. 3: In each meeting, the committee members were prompted to fully exchange their ideas with those present, including active officers and other community representatives.
Each member of the committee felt the overall experience was one of growth, greater understanding and an increased respect for the difficult and critical role of Champaign police officers.
However, the continuation of such activity in the same manner seems to limit the program’s application and potential positive expansion of the activity.
In that regard, the following suggestions are offered:
No. 1: The creation of an evaluation tool directed at securing the degree of trust/distrust between the police and the public ought to be developed and distributed.
No. 2: More in-depth learning of the tape selection process, the relationship of the state’s attorney’s office in the process of policing and its conclusions, shared training and legal dynamics with a public component, and greater mutual depth.
No. 3: An increase in public reviewing of selected tapes and committee conclusions need to be encouraged. Evening hours, greater publicity, enhanced community commitment, etc., needs to occur.
No. 4: The publication of a monthly consensus of the ratio of incidents reviewed, the conclusions reached and a general accounting of community members present for distribution at scheduled Champaign City Council meetings. Additional blending of this activity and other appropriate community groups should be undertaken.
In general, the endeavor was of great value for the few originally selected. As such, it was felt that the experience should be enhanced in its societal scope with the goal of greater understanding and recognition of the police and their function within the community.
Both the police and the public are of critical concern to the future of our community and such efforts are crucial for greater respect, support and knowledge sharing.