There’s Something Happening Here

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Gun violence in Champaign-Urbana has certainly dominated public discourse of late. As a city council member, I hear a lot of it.

Here are some common myths being thrown around about local gun violence and law enforcement:

“The libs on City Council have handcuffed the police from doing their jobs.”

None of the local governments—not the city of Champaign, not the city of Urbana nor the County Board—have passed any kind of legislation that alters the way local police patrol, investigate, or apprehend offenders. The closest to such a thing was in Urbana, where the Urbana Police Department voluntarily adopted a new traffic enforcement technique in 2020 whereby traffic enforcement was concentrated in areas of frequent accidents. At the state level, there was a prohibition passed against chokeholds. In Urbana, chokeholds were already forbidden in the use of force policy.

“The libs on City Council have defunded the police, that’s why the rise of gun violence is rising.”

None of the local governments have decreased any of the police budgets by even a dime. In the city of Urbana, a record $12 million was allocated; in the city of Champaign, $28 million was dedicated to their police department; the County Sheriff’s Department got $6.2 million; the jails, $8 million; circuit clerk, $1 million; circuit court, $1 million; public defender, $1.4 million; state’s attorney’s office, $2.5 million; juvenile detention facility, $1.8 million; and court services, $1.7 million. It is true that the students at the U of I voted 78 to 22 percent to defund the U of I Police Department by 25 percent. So far, the U of I Board of Trustees has ignored that referendum: the U of I Police Department gets $8 million a year.

“The libs on City Council cry ‘racism’ when the police do traffic stops to prevent gun violence. Therefore, police don’t do traffic stops.”

This assumes racially motivated traffic stops curb gun violence by seizing guns from Black drivers. It’s true that the pandemic has decreased the number of traffic stops local police have performed over the last year. In Urbana, the traffic enforcement in areas of frequent accidents was supposed to reduce the racial disparity in traffic stops. Problem is, it didn’t work. Between January, 2020 and June, 2021, 51 percent of all traffic stops in Urbana were of African American drivers, despite African Americans making up only 16 percent of the population. On August 19, the Champaign County State’s Attorney wrote in the News-Gazette that since 2019, police have seized over 400 guns. Guns have been seized; racially disparate traffic stops have been conducted. None of this has any bearing on the number of shootings.

“The Democrat liberal State’s Attorney always gives probation to gun offenders.”

Actually, the majority of those convicted of gun crimes go to prison. Here is what the state’s attorney wrote in the News-Gazette: “From January, 2019 to date, defendants have been charged in 488 cases with illegal possession or use of firearms, ranging from simple illegal possession to unlawful discharge to first-degree murder.

“Our police officers have located and seized over 400 firearms in these cases. Of these 488 cases, 226 are still pending and 262 have been resolved. Five were transferred to our federal partners for federal prosecution. Three of the defendants were killed in shooting incidents while their cases were pending. Two defendants were found unfit to stand trial.

“Of the remaining 252 cases, 33 were dismissed because we determined we could not meet our burden of proof at trial. Two cases resulted in not-guilty verdicts at trial. The remaining 217 have resulted in felony convictions either by plea or jury trial, for an 86 percent conviction rate. Of those 217 convictions, 124 defendants were sentenced to prison, 86 were sentenced to probation and seven defendants are awaiting sentencing.”

“The libs on City Council and the Unit 4 School Board have removed the School Resource Officers (SROs) from the schools and that’s why there’s an increase in gun violence.”

It was the Champaign Police Department that voluntarily removed the SROs from Champaign schools because of a staff shortage. Neither the Champaign City Council nor the Unit 4 School Board made the decision to remove SROs. Having SROs has no effect on the amount of gun violence.

“The libs on City Council have caused a staffing shortage in the Champaign Police Department.”

Since January, 2019, 32 Champaign police officers have left their jobs, while 17 officers have been hired. The Champaign Police Department is allotted 125 positions; 104 of those are currently filled. Champaign City Council has proposed to revamp its hiring process to make it faster and easier to hire officers.

“The libs on City Council have criticized police officers so much that nobody wants to be a police officer anymore.”

Here is what Dr. Michael Schlosser, the Director of the Police Training Institute, said in the September 11 edition of the News-Gazette: In fact, the 14-week session that will begin Monday is the largest in several years. In the last few years PTI has had classes of 207 (2018), 203 (2019) and 200 (2021). This year’s class (three sessions) will be about 267, filling a growing need in Illinois for police officers. More than 100 will be in the group that begins its formal training on Monday. “And we have more people than ever pre-enrolled in our classes in 2022,” he said. “It looks like we could have about 100 in each of the three sessions.”

“We need to hire more police officers to keep us safe.”

Police cannot predict the future; police cannot be everywhere at once; police cannot control who is going to get high, get drunk, get angry, have a mental breakdown, or hurt somebody. Police are not mental health counselors, they are not drug and alcohol addiction therapists, they are not conflict resolution negotiators, they are not employment specialists, they are not educational advisors, they are not relationship healers, and they are not housing advocates. Despite the Urbana Police Department arresting 756 people in 2016, crimes of all kinds numbered 4,041. In my neighborhood, police were fully funded and on the job, and still, over 100 cars had their tires punctured in a single evening. On August 28, there was a drive-by shooting two doors down from where I stay. And yet the public keeps repeating the mantra: the police keep us safe. All police can do is react after the fact. The bad stuff still happens. Sure, when an arrest is made we content ourselves with the thought, “At least that guy isn’t on the streets anymore,” forgetting there will just be another person the next night doing something they shouldn’t. All the police can do is investigate a situation, collect the evidence for a prosecution, use whatever force is necessary to put the handcuffs on us, stick us in a squad car, and drive us over to the county jail. Champaign County books 15 people a day into our county jail. It never seems to get better. Like the mail, crime just keeps coming.

“The shooters are gangbangers from Chicago engaging in gang initiation rituals.”

In a survey of criminal justice experts, the News-Gazette asked why gun crimes are increasing in this area in its September 19, 2019 edition. None of the experts mentioned Chicago, gangs, or gang initiation rituals. They said the shooters are from here, went to school here, and have not formed organized gangs.

What is true: it feels so good to scream at elected officials, so that will continue.

Christopher Evans worked with Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice for ten years before becoming Ward 2 Alderperson for the Urbana City Council.

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