EDITORIAL: Board could restore faith in Urbana cops

Given the state of affairs in the Urbana police department, the proposed citizens review board could only strengthen both the force and citizens’ confidence in their law enforcement officers.

Creating a review board, discussed at last Monday’s public hearing, would work to prevent situations like the alleged rape of Amber Grohall by uniformed police officer Kurt Hjort last year. Hjort had a history of at least three previous incidents of sexual misconduct while on the job, a red flag that a review board would be likely to catch.

The main responsibility of the board would be to investigate the validity of complaints against police officers. But a secondary result would be an increase in the accountability of the police force to the community they serve – a goal that the department seems to have forgotten.

Though some of the comments heard at last week’s hearing may have sounded like whining, many included legitimate concerns. These concerns were not just over a single incident of individual misconduct but the police force as a whole. For instance, both Urbana and Champaign face accusations of discrimination against their traffic stop practices. A review board would a proactive step in resolving such accusations and the general mistrust of law enforcement authorities that many citizens seem to possess.

The fact that the police force is showing resistance to the proposal is troubling. As public servants, police sworn to uphold the law should have nothing to hide from the people of Urbana.

One argument against the board, that officers already have a difficult job with a large amount of paperwork, holds little water. As a non-binding entity, the review board is unlikely to create additional red tape for cops. The additional inconveniences that individual officers might face because of a review board should seem like small sacrifices to maintain the reputation of Urbana police as protectors and servants.

Police officers do have a difficult job, and they should be respected for their work. But a review board is not meant to make a good cop’s job harder; it is meant to eliminate the bad cops. More than anything, it is meant to forge the one tool essential to making the system of law enforcement work well: trust between officers and the citizens they are sworn to serve.