Changes to Police Contract Come from “The Work of the Citizen”

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Two out of three proposals presented two years ago by the grassroots organization, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ), were included in the police union contract approved by Champaign city council on Tuesday night, December 4, 2012.

In April 2010, CUCPJ delivered their three proposals to city council with allies from the local NAACP, Ministerial Alliance, and Planner’s Network, a student group. They were put forward after widespread public outrage to the police killing of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington on October 9, 2009. Since then, due to the work of CUCPJ and others, several important changes in Champaign have resulted: the early retirement of former police chief and the hiring of an African American police chief; the unseating of Tea Party-endorsing Mayor who himself was a retired police officer; financial support for a summer employment program for local youth.

The recommendations to the police union contract were written with the help of members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), the local graduate student union, who had recently won a contract after a two-day strike. These students offered valuable research and writing skills in the drafting of the proposals. They included: 1) a residency requirement for officers to live in the city of Champaign 2) drug testing of officers involved in incidents that result in death or great bodily harm, and 3) public access to complaints against police officers. The first two proposals, in some version, have made it into the new police union contract.

In the new agreement, the city will offer a $3,000 to officers who move into the City of Champaign. If an officer fires their weapon, and there is injury to person or property, they must submit to an alcohol and drug test.

In speaking before the city council on Tuesday night, Aaron Ammons, of CUCPJ, highlighted how these changes came from the community. “The work of the citizen,” he said, “is rarely, if ever, brought to light and appreciated in the way it should be.”

Belden Fields, of CUCPJ, addressed the third proposal for access to police complaints. The group had been mistaken, he admitted, in asking for this in the police union contract. It’s not a bargaining issue,” he said, “It’s a legal issue.” As Fields has reported in The Public i, the decision in the Gekas v. Williamson case by the Fourth District Appellate Court of Illinois, and two rulings from the Illinois Attorney General’s office, state clearly that complaints against police officers are public documents. The city of Champaign has refused to acknowledge the decisions and explain its current policy of withholding the names of officers in complaints. The city must disclose the names, Fields said, and adopt policy in line with the recent rulings.

The City of Urbana is currently considering an ordinance putting such a policy in writing.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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