Champaign police hear concerns of excessive force, mental health response


Screenshot of Zoom

Champaign Police officials gather in a Zoom call for the second community listening session. Dr. Travis Dixon (first row, center), professor in LAS, moderated the session via Zoom on Sept. 29.

By Mona Alrazzaq, Staff Writer

At the City of Champaign’s second community listening session with the Champaign Police, held on Tuesday, public commenters focused on previous cases of excessive force, along with recent police-involved incidents that rung through the Champaign community.

The meeting began with a brief introduction and summary of the last session by Champaign Chief of Police Anthony Cobb.

“We need to review which services are appropriate for police response, more investment into community resources, improved communication and a conversation over mental health,” Cobb said.

In the last session, citizens were concerned over the status of a case in which a red truck drove through protesters outside of Rogue Barber Company in Champaign at a Black Lives Matter protest in July. Cobb said that this case is “currently at the state’s attorney office with a charge in consideration.” 

Cobb then introduced the moderator of the listening session, Dr. Travis Dixon, professor in LAS. Dixon went over the ground rules for the session and then called on the first speaker in the Zoom call. 

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Brian Dunn, a citizen of Champaign, started off the session with his perspective on the process of defunding the police. He mentioned that the beginning of the process means “having funds to operate mental health crisis response teams that operate independently of the police.”

Dunn argued that such response teams could have saved the life of Richard Turner, a homeless man who in late 2016 was tackled, had his face pressed into the ground while he was being detained by Champaign police officers and was later pronounced dead. In 2019, a judge cleared an excessive force leveled against the Champaign officers involved. 

Other cities have adopted mobile crisis unit programs that decouple mental health and substance use crises from police responses, which have decreased the police response rate, Dunn mentioned. 

“The time has come for more than just lip service. It’s time for action and time for change,” Dunn said.

A lot of the recommendations from citizens that followed reiterated support for mental health and psychiatric response teams separate from the police. April Garrison, a former caseworker at a college in San Diego, recommended something similar to a program implemented there named the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team. 

Emily M. Rodriguez, teaching assistant in LAS, criticized Champaign’s police officers’ role as the first responders when a sexual assault is reported. She claimed that having police as the first responders disconnects the women from the resources available to them on campus to help them deal with sexual assault. 

“I know these women are typically scared and don’t know how to communicate with police particularly after an incident like that,” Rodriguez said. 

Kristin Jones, another speaker, agreed that the entire system of reporting sexual assault needs to be reformed and promoted “trauma-informed training.” She also argued for eliminating the time limit for citizens to file the complaint and providing different locations for somebody to file a complaint. 

Another concerned citizen, Daniel Thompson, reiterated prior calls for action against racial disparities in policing, instead of a simple conversation.

“We can talk intent and policy until we’re blue in the face, but if the numbers bear out that there’s a discrepancy, then that’s problematic and we have to continue to go back to the drawing board,” Thompson said. “I think it would be exhausting for a member of an impacted community to hear these conversations to spin around and for only intent and not impact to be a thing that is looked at.”

Drake Materre, graduate of AHS, questioned why nobody has been charged in the red truck incident that Cobbs mentioned in his introduction and also criticized the response and forced movement of a food pantry built by his friend. He also suggested a diversion program in which, depending on the nature of the crime, the person charged has an option of a diversion path that increases their involvement in the community as a substitute for incarceration.

Kristie Stasi, a lifelong Champaign resident, was upset by listening to some of the comments tonight. She said it appeared that some citizens who spoke “don’t really seem to know what police do or what their role is.”

“I’m not gonna lie, the people in jail right now are not the people we want walking around in our community,” Stasi said. 

Niko Johnson Fuller, another speaker, followed that people are currently “rightfully concerned with police behavior.” 

He mentioned the case of Tavion Jones-Premo, who was wrongfully arrested with excessive restraint and taken into juvenile detention for ten days at 16 years old. The city settled with Jones-Premo, now 18, for $74,500. 

A former police officer for the Indiana State Police, Greg Boysaw, offered his perspective on this issue by advocating for police engagement with the community as well as emphasizing the importance of officers knowing “if they see something that isn’t fair, equal or unbiased by their peers or leadership, they need to be able to say something and say something without repercussion.”

The last speaker, Alicia Williams, a social worker in Champaign County, agreed with Rose’s call for the implementation of trauma-informed care in the police academy. She said that in order to implement trauma-informed care, “police officers need to realize they’re also part of the problem.”

She also called for the implementation of a program that accounts for citizens with intellectual disabilities as well as mental health problems, similar to one that was implemented in Bloomington called Frequent User Systems Engagement. 

“Public safety requires a true community partnership, and your concerns are a huge part of it so hearing them this evening was definitely helpful,” Cobb said at the end of the session.

There are three more community listening sessions set for Saturday from 1-3 p.m., Oct. 9 from 1-3 p.m. and Oct. 13 from 6-8 p.m. 

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