Finney’s exit lets police start anew

After serving eight years as Champaign’s police chief and over 30 years in law enforcement, R.T. Finney has announced he will retire from his position in January.

Finney’s resume speaks for itself: He was police chief in Carbondale for four years before coming to Champaign, where he oversees a department of 156 people. Recently, Finney was named president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

But what might not stand out on his resume as a beacon of Champaign police integrity was his involvement in the death of Kiwane Carrington, a 15-year-old African American who was fatally shot after a scuffle with Finney and another Champaign officer.

Carrington’s death, more than anything, highlighted the growing rift between the police and the black community in Champaign. And though this incident marked a turning point in police relations with the community, it was not the first — nor the last — accusation of racial discrimination directed towards Finney’s department.

Last spring, when racial tensions were reaching tipping points, Finney revived the long dormant Champaign Community and Police Partnership group, which had not met with the public for 10 years. And although he tried to initiate efforts for reform, The Daily Illini Editorial Board said the measure was not enough then, and that remains our stand, as “further accusations”:http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/7165141-452/bias-by-cop-inspires-her-to-seek-change.html of racial profiling have surfaced since the meetings took place.

Blame for these racial tensions cannot be placed solely on Finney, who is a dedicated and thoughtful public servant. He should not be held responsible for individual officers’ prejudices. Instead, we see his retirement as a way for Champaign Police to turn a page on the ugly past. Hopefully a new chief of police will be the symbolic change that will usher in a new era of police and citizen relations.

A group of city officials and citizens alike will be tasked with finding Finney’s replacement. The input of the community will be key in finding an applicant who can foster this needed change. It is our hope that members of Champaign’s black community will take part in this conversation.