Chief Timothy “Tim” Tyler on recruitment, community relations and gun violence

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — 29 years in law enforcement has led Chief Timothy “Tim” Tyler to Champaign, marking a new era for the police department.

He started the job Monday, a position that’s been filled on an interim basis since Chief Anthony Cobb’s departure last August.

“I want to be with winners and the citizens of Champaign are winners,” Chief Tyler said in his initial in-office interview.

Prior, Tyler was Chief of the Illinois Conservation Police — law enforcement for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — since he was appointed in 2020.

Conservation police are responsible for enforcing federal and state violations at state parks.

“I’m from, you know, Mississippi, and I fish and hunt now. So it was really the perfect job for me as a, you know, an outdoors person to actually protect the natural resources,” Tyler added, referencing his hometown of Hazlehurst, Mississippi.

The majority of his more than 29-year career has been in Illinois. Tyler has also given 32 years to the U.S. Army, he’s still a Colonel in the Army Reserves.

“My first job there I was a military police soldier. And I’ve risen from Private E-1 to Colonel there as a military police soldier. So this is all I know,” he said.

In the 1990s, Tyler worked with Illinois State Police for several years, including time as a district commander for the Metro East Assistance Team outside of St. Louis. Although his career has been primarily focused in metro cities — including his start in Markham, Illinois outside of Chicago, he said Champaign is the place to be.

“We have great citizens living here. The economy is great and mostly the culture. It’s the most outstanding and the diversity is what I thrive on,” Tyler elaborated.

“So it’s really no difference if you’re a state trooper, if you’re Champaign police officer, it’s all about serving people and making sure our constituents our citizens feel safe.”

Renée: How are you going to engage the community, and encourage them that your department stands with the public?

“Our job in law enforcement is real simple. We’re protectors. And we’re here to create a safe haven for our citizens…But I just wanted to get back how I grew up where cops lived next door to me, and I was able to go and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at their house. That’s what I think law enforcement is,” Tyler responded.

“I know without a shadow of a doubt that our police department and our community are one, and you will see that more and more as we grow.”

Tyler took the helm of the Champaign Police Department at an interesting moment. Aside from the month of February, shootings and gun-related homicides are down in 2022 from last year for the first time since at least 2019.

“You will continue to see to reduction,” Tyler said.

Meanwhile, another central Illinois metro — Decatur — has set a record this year with nine murders in the city so far in 2022, already more than the eight seen in all of 2021.

To be clear, Champaign has still seen more shootings so far in 2022 than it had at this point in 2020 when much of the country began to see a staggering rise in gun violence coupled with the global pandemic.

I’ve been blessed by God to be a police officer in the United States. Plain and simple. This is not a job, it’s a calling.

Tim Tyler, Champaign Chief of Police

Renée: As someone who’s worked in the Chicago and St. Louis metros, how are you equipped to address the gun pipeline and gun culture that’s clearly taken hold of Champaign, and particularly, young Black men and teens?

“Yeah, so I’m glad you brought that up. I don’t hide behind the fact that our victims of gun violence have been African American males, very concerned about that, especially being African American myself,” Tyler said.

Tyler said he’ll be working closely with the U.S. and State’s Attorneys’ offices, sharing intelligence to track down known offenders.

“The most important part of reducing criminal violence, especially in a minority community, is working with the leaders in the minority community and asking them, ‘What techniques can we use? What do you feel that’s effective?'” he said.

“We had a lot of success when I was in the east St. Louis area where we didn’t have a large amount of police officers,” which is key in a city that’s been stifled by a small staff.

26% of sworn positions, 33, were unserviceable last summer, meaning they were either vacant or the person was on leave A year later, it’s improved by a few hires — down to 27 unserviceable positions in May — but the situation was still dire enough that the department felt the need to hire private security downtown.

Tyler said hiring is priority number one.

“It’s my goal to make sure that our police force is what is authorized right now, make sure that the police officers and civilian force are trained. And my third and most important is to make sure that the police in a community are one,” he continued.

The chief said he’s confident in the steps already underway, including bringing in a marketing company to recruit and making testing for possible officers available year-round.

“We are looking for people to apply. We have a great benefit packet for you,” he added, touting a $20,000 signing bonus.

“We’re not doing anything different than fortune 500 companies that are doing.”

He assured reporters “diversity is huge” to him in the hiring process and promised anyone wishing to apply, “You’re going to be treated fair here, no matter what your race or sex or your sexual orientation.