City leaders hope to improve community relations with police

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — George Floyd’s death in Minnesota is forcing community leaders to take a closer look at how they operate. As protests continue throughout the U.S., Urbana’s mayor hopes to improve the relationship between people who live there and the police department.

Mayor Diane Marlin says city leaders are still in the early stages when it comes to creating change in the community, but they want people to know that they hear them. 

“Bottom line – our police department, like every other department in our city, is here to serve our community, to protect our community, and our people need to have trust in those who are doing that,” said Marlin. Building that trust is something Marlin knows will take time, but she says groups will be meeting in the coming months to figure out how to do it.

Those include the city council, the NAACP and state police. They will also take a closer look at their civilian police review board, which was created 12 years ago.

“It’s time to look at those policies and the structure of that and see what really needs to be done to really update it.” 

Out of the 25,000 calls a year that Urbana police handle, Marlin says their use of force is minimal, but those are still things that need to be looked at closely.

“Our use of force involves maybe 150 incidents, so that’s less than one percent of all the calls for service that we get, but those 150 incidents are the ones that can be the problematic ones.”

One example is the use of force investigation for a shots fired call in April. Officers were investigated for hitting Aleyah Lewis. They were later cleared. While these discussions are still in the works, Marlin says they are past due.

“There’s a part of our community that has never felt that trust or believed that the police was there to protect and service, and that’s what we need to work on, because on the whole, our police officers are good people with good intentions who do their jobs well; but once in a while you have incidents that don’t go as well, and those are things that need to be addressed.”

Even though those officers were cleared for hitting Aleyah Lewis. Some aren’t happy about what happened. That was a big topic of discussion at Monday’s protest.

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen was not available for an interview Wednesday, but she sent the following response to our request for comment.

Honest discussions about racial inequities and the exploration of ways to strengthen community-police relationships must and will continue to occur in Champaign.  I was deeply moved by the way our community rallied together in solidarity and peaceful demonstration earlier this week and in the mutual respect that was shared between our residents and law enforcement.  This is a great sign that we have a strong foundation on which to build.  I invite people interested in joining the dialogue to participate in the Community Coaltion meeting next Wed at 3:30 PM.  Information about that meeting will be available at the City’s Website and the Coalition Facebook page.

Deb Feinen, Champaign Mayor

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