CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — “It totally caught us off guard. I don’t think we have ever experienced anything like that,” Patron Jeff Paustian said.
The City of Champaign is taking a new approach to nightlife safety.
“We thought it was kind of weird; we asked the bartender ‘what’s going on? Is that a police officer?’” Patron Davi Rufino said.
It wasn’t a police officer.
An unarmed guard walked into a downtown bar to make sure people were interacting peacefully and patrons have questions.
“I thought, ‘that guy doesn’t look like a police officer,’ I saw the badge and stuff so I got kind of curious,” Rufino said.
The city privately contracted four guards and one supervisor from AGB Investigative Services.
In a community that’s concerned about crime with an understaffed police department, they wanted to call in some help.
“It’s not a long-term measure, but I think it’ll have a decent impact this summer and fall and winter,” Champaign Center Partnership Executive Director Xander Hazel said.
The Champaign Police Department says the goal is to use the new guards to address order maintenance issues, like people blaring music, or people carrying alcohol out of restaurants. And that helps free up time for the police to handle serious crime. Plus, they just want people to feel safe downtown.
“We appreciate the security because nothing bad happened last night, but it was a little weird to invade the space,” Rufino said.
Businesses like the Esquire Lounge are pleased. Last year, gunfire led them to close early.
Esquire Lounge Owner Jackie Samson says she’s glad the city is doing something about crime, and that anything will help. She says last weekend was better, but it will take time to see results.
If a serious crime is committed, the guards can’t intervene. But, they will be wearing body cameras and can be a witness for the police when they arrive.
“Downtown Champaign is a great place for people to come together; it’s very family-friendly and there’s a lot to see and do,” Hazel said. “We just want to make sure that people are safe doing it.”
The guards will be patrolling the area between Washington, University, First and State streets.
Ambassadors for the neighborhood services department may also be helping people with different tasks downtown and you can identify them by their orange vests.