A Residency Requirement Might Help Police Situation
Dannel McCollum, a former Champaign mayor and a Democratic candidate for the state Senate in 2002, is a historian and a freelance writer.
This piece originally appeared in the News-Gazette on Dec. XX, 2011.
I was shocked to see the Champaign police video of the arrest in June of a young black man for jaywalking in Campustown. The apparent physical violence of the arrest and the use of pepper spray for so trifling an offense seemed clearly over the top. Unfortunately, the Champaign police review of the arrest was perfunctory at best. Once the video of the arrest became public last month, the dismay of the public and city council members was immediate.
In an attempt to get ahead of the public outrage, the city manager asked for an independent review of the incident by the state police. That agency, apparently uncomfortable dealing with Champaign’s hot potato, in record time returned what could be described as a whitewash of the incident, concluding that the CPD’s handling of the arrest was within department training and procedures.
Like many on the Champaign Police Department, the arresting officer does not live within the limits of the city, a situation which I believe is part of the problem. In the 1970s or early ‘80s, in the give and take of labor negotiations, the city managed to gain a residency requirement – to work for the city the employee had to live in the city. But in the municipal election of 1987, the unions lobbied hard to get the residency requirement abandoned. Gaining the support primarily of several newly elected council members, the requirement, a concession gained through collective bargaining, was to my dismay unilaterally abandoned by the council. As the newly elected mayor and a seasoned council member, I was appalled. If the city was good enough to work for, it was good enough to live in.
More to the point, I believed that it was important for city employees, especially those involved in public safety, to share the urban experienced by being directly in contact with their fellow citizens and conversant with their problems. But taking advantage of the concession, many workers moved out of the city. At present, four out of five Champaign police officers live outside of the city.
As a long term resident of the city, 74 years and counting, I have seen our police department professionalize into a highly competent force with many outstanding members. But the exodus of officers from the city has had unfortunate consequences. Rather than a “we” feeling between the police and the public, it has become instead a more “us” and “them” situation, which has caused many to perceive the force as more like an army of occupation. To some extent, this latest event is an example of what can result.
There are no miracle answers to the current difficulties in police-community relations. But certainly a reinstitution of the residency requirement, at least to the extent of living within the confines of Champaign-Urbana, would be a major step forward. From my point of view, it should be a condition of employment, a right of the city to impose, outside of labor negotiations. Other strategies should be pursued as well – the status quo is not working.