New police chief has homegrown roots

With the appointment of Anthony Cobb to the city of Champaign’s highest law enforcement post, the new chief brings with him another advantageous asset: He is a Champaign-Urbana native.

With a pool of more than 45 candidates considered for the position back when the search began, Cobb’s familiarity with Champaign-Urbana was an important factor in his appointment, which was made official Friday.

Cobb, born and raised in Champaign, began his law enforcement career in 1992 with the Urbana police department. He has remained in the department ever since; in 2010, he was promoted to assistant chief of police.

Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly has worked with Cobb for those 20 years. He said he is “saddened and excited” to see him go after two decades of service to Urbana and looks forward to helping him with some final projects during this transition period. Cobb starts in Champaign on March 12.

“I assumed that eventually he would become a police chief somewhere,” Connolly said. “I just didn’t know it would be here.”

When the candidates were narrowed down to four, each candidate had to be interviewed by an advisory panel consisting of community members, law enforcement officials and city staff. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he left impressed after Cobb’s interview. He said he doubts that anyone else in the panel did not feel the same way after the early December interviews.

“You’ll be hard pressed not to find someone who doesn’t have good things to say about Cobb,” Gerard said.

Community feedback on Cobb was extremely positive as well, added Connolly. While hiring a replacement for former police chief R.T. Finney was Champaign City Manager Steve Carter’s job, Connolly said he can speculate that feedback may have set him apart from the other three candidates.

“The fact he knows so many people in the community and people know him as well was impressive,” Connolly said. “I look at opportunities like this and think we can do so much here. With Anthony going to Champaign I think there will be greater opportunities for better collaboration.”

Seon Williams, part of the selection committee and member of Champaign Community and Police Partnership, said Cobb’s knowledge of the area proved important. The committee’s intent was to select someone who would be willing to tackle on important community issues from the beginning.

“Knowing some of the issues that the community was going through already was one of the issues that weighed on us,” Williams said.

A community organizer and also a local business owner, Williams said building a better relationship between Champaign police and residents is something he and others on the committee considered a top priority. Cobb, someone Williams indirectly knew from his high school athletic days — Williams an Urbana High School Tiger and Cobb a Centennial Charger — would be a positive force for police and citizens, Williams said.

“We want to build a better relationship, and Friday was a great day headed in that direction,” Williams said. “He is someone kids can look up to as well. I think it is a great achievement for someone in the community to get such a high position.”