Urbana finalizes legislation to adopt police review board

By Liam Rinehart

With over twenty changes to the proposed ordinance since last visiting the issue, Urbana is posed to be the first city in Central Illinois to have a civilian police review board.

On Monday, Todd Rent, the Human Relations Officer for the city of Urbana, introduced the revised proposal to Urbana’s Meeting of the Committee of the Whole. In his short presentation, he answered some of the questions citizens and councilmembers had brought up over the course of the last two Urbana City Council meetings. The most significant change to the previous legislation is the re-inclusion of the board’s subpoena power.

The proposal passed the Meeting of the Committee of the Whole with only two dissenters and now goes to the full council on Aug. 6 for final approval.

Mayor Laurel Prussing opened up the debate by congratulating the staff who had worked on the legislation.

“There were a number of suggestions (from citizens and councilmembers) that were incorporated,” said Prussing.

However, the ability to independently investigate the chief of police’s official report through a third party was not one of the revisions, to the dismay of citizens.

“I think this is a much better proposal than before,” said Ricky Baldwin, who served on the Task Force for Citizen Police Review. But Baldwin said he was still worried about the lack of independent review.

As Rent explained, this omission was due to contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police.

“They tend to be very complex animals,” said Rent of the negotiations.

The Fraternal Order of Police also had an official representation at the meeting, as Rick Stewart, a lawyer who had worked on the contract, presented another side of the negotiations.

“This new draft of the ordinance does raise concerns and questions,” said Stewart.

More specifically, he said he was worried that legal ambiguity in the wording of the document could pose problems, especially for the enforcement of subpoenas.

There were also detractors on the council.

Councilwoman Heather Stevenson maintained her dissatisfaction with the overall spirit of the review board.

“I don’t think its appropriate that civilians review our police officers,” Stevenson said.

Primarily because of this, she has claimed from the beginning that she will not vote in favor of the ordinance, no matter how the wording may turn out.

Councilwoman Lynne Barnes said she revoked her support of the ordinance with the release of the most recent draft.

“I see twenty three substantive changes,” she said. “Of the twenty three, I’m comfortable with eighteen.”

The most contentious of these is the issue of confidentiality, which she believes has not be fully discussed.