Champaign community and police forum largest in memory

Champaign police discussed pressing matters in law enforcement in an open forum Monday night. Over 310 people were in attendance for the event, according to the Champaign Fire Department.

Community members were given one hour to talk about a set of discussion questions with police and each other after hearing remarks from the keynote speaker, former Danville Chief of Police Carl Alexander.

“If you can’t talk about what’s going on, you can’t solve anything,” Alexander said. “Tonight is the night to talk about these issues, so be honest, be truthful, and you’ll be surprised how it all comes together.”

Discussion was limited to four questions:

  • What does good police-community relations look like?
  • What are police barriers to good police-community relations, and what steps can be taken to eliminate those barriers?
  • What are community barriers to good police-community relations, and what steps can be taken to eliminate those barriers?
  • What issues are youth facing, and what suggestions do you have for overcoming those issues?

Lavon Miller, local high school student who participated in the forum, said he took a lot from the discussion.

“I came to give my opinion and get it heard,” Miller said. “But I learned things like how to handle the situation when the police come up to me.”

Bill Glithero, member of the Champaign Human Rights Commission and part of the committee that planned the event, said the turnout was much better than expected.

“We were hoping for 200 people,” Glithero said. “But it’s been my experience that getting that many people is extremely difficult, which makes this turnout a pleasant surprise.”

Champaign Chief of Police R.T. Finney said he was also impressed by the turnout.

“Police turnout was not a problem as one-third of the force volunteered to participate,” Finney said. “Neighborhood forums are not uncommon, but this is the biggest (citywide forum) we’ve had.”

Multiple city council members were in attendance, in addition to Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart. Marci Dodds, District 4 councilwoman, discussed the possibility of holding similar forums in the future.

“For it to work in the future, people have to know what they said here mattered,” Dodds said.

Participants were also given a questionnaire that asked for feedback about the effectiveness of the forum.

Miller said he hopes the result would be productive, adding “I hope what we say here affects the future.”