Illinois Public Media News
The theft of more than $10,000 worth of copper building materials taken last week from the University of Illinois' Natural History Building has prompted university police to look at efforts to protect its other copper-rich buildings.
Skip Frost, the Patrol Division Commander with the University's police department, said the incident was the largest of its kind on campus in recent memory. Frost said the university is in talks with building contractors to figure what can be done to prevent more thefts from happening.
"What we'd like to do and what we're able to do are two different things," Frost explained. "There are so many things that could be done, including securing (copper) in a better fashion, having better key card access, and improving locks, but you can put all those things in there, that does not mean crime is not going to occur."
Copper prices went up in November, and have continued to rise this month, reaching more than $4.00 per pound. Ameren spokesperson Brianne Lindemann said she expects there will be more thefts from homes and businesses as commodity prices for copper go up.
"You need to secure any building that you have," Lindemann cautioned. "You definitely want to keep some lights on. You just want to make sure that those buildings look like somebody has been in there.
A lawyer for a police officer falsely accused of shootings along the Illinois-Indiana state border says his client's been receiving hate mail.
Authorities arrested Brian Dorian as the gunman in the Oct. 5 shootings that left one man dead and two others injured. But days later they ruled him out as a suspect.
Dorian was cleared after detectives verified he'd been home logged onto his computer on the morning of the attacks and so could not possibly have been involved.
The investigation into the shootings has apparently stalled, with investigators saying they have no suspects. But attorney Bob O'Dekirk said he fears Dorian will continue to be wrongly viewed with suspicion by some until there is an arrest.
The University of Illinois plans to close its Police Training Institute by the end of 2011.
The decision to eliminate the training facility comes after a budget review panel raised concerns about the institute's long term economic stability.
The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looking at cost-saving measures at the U of I said there is no justification for the university to provide $900,000 a year to train police officers.
"We believe this decision to be necessary because we cannot justify using resources to fund PTI that derive from student tuition and the shrinking state funding available for our core education and research missions," according to the 'Next Steps' letter released by Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter and Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs as part of a recent 'Stewarding Excellence' report. "Fundamentally, our primary mission of educating lllinois' undergraduate, graduate and professional students must remain a priority."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the university can no longer rely on tuition dollars to keep the program going.
"The university has a very proud history of supporting law enforcement training," Kaler said. "Funding for this purpose hasn't kept pace with the increase in costs, and so we had to review where this kind of training falls within the missions and the priorities of the campus as a whole."
With the closure of the 55-year-old training program, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh predicts that police training will be moved to the Illinois State Police Training Academy in Springfield. Walsh, who was trained at the PTI and now teaches there, said it is unfortunate that the program will leave the university.
"I think it is advantageous to have it part of the University of Illinois because the police officers then at least socially during the 12 weeks there here can interact with students from literally around the world," Walsh said. "I think it's a good thing for diversity training."
The PTI has cut its expenses by 45 percent in the last three years, and the report said the institute could improve its cost structure by trimming $666,251 from its budget. Still, the commission said the chances that the institute will latch onto additional funding or new partnerships are slim. The PTI is considered Illinois' flagship training facility.
(Photo courtesy of the Police Training Institute)
University of Illinois officials are holding a forum Saturday afternoon to address the U of I's response to the recent wave of campus violence.
On Monday, a student was sexually assaulted in a dormitory bathroom. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano said that attack prompted U of I officials to organize the meeting, which she hopes will help inform parents about what they can do to protect students.
"Students are in a lot of contact with their parents," Romano said. "So parents can remind their students to lock their doors, remind their students to use safe walks, to walk with friends, to use safe rides, and that sort of thing."
The university in recent weeks has agreed to hire more police officers, installed dozens of security cameras, and activated a call center where operators who can answer questions about the attacks. Romano added that she hopes this town hall meeting will encourage students to come forward if they witness violence.
"If they report a crime or if they see something suspicious, and perhaps they've been drinking," she said. "They're not going to get a drinking ticket."
U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor reported that police have made more than 25 arrests related to the campus assaults and robberies.
The town hall meeting will start Saturday at 3pm at the Illini Union's Courtyard Cafe. The event will be streamed live at http://illinois.edu/here_now/videos.html as well as for viewing at a later time. Questions may be phoned in during the meeting at 217-244-8938.
A string of campus assaults and robberies in recent weeks has led the University of Illinois to activate its campus call center for the first time.
The latest incident involved a U of I freshman who was sexually abused Monday morning in a dormitory shower. University police Chief Barbara O'Connor said just in the last day, the university has been flooded with about a hundred e-mail and phone messages regarding that attack.
"You know, whenever we get parent calls and or e-mails, we attempt to take an individualized approach to responding to those, but at some point, the volume becomes so significant that you can't keep doing that any longer," O'Connor said. "We're at that point."
She said the call center will allow the university to give plenty of attention to each caller, and give university police more time to investigate criminal activity.
"We can get inundated so much so that the work of doing the investigation can get bogged down in responding to e-mails and phone calls," O'Connor explained.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the 60 volunteers who have agreed to help out at the call center work in student affairs, and have extensive experience handling privacy issues. They were each required to go through a 90-minute training session before they could start working the phones.
The U of I community is encouraged to forward all messages regarding crime and safety on campus to 217-333-0050.
University of Illinois police say a raid on the apartment of two Champaign women has led to the recovery of some 100 DVDs and video games stolen from the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library. The DVDs and games were reportedly worth about $2,700.
Authorities say 21-year-old U of I student Laura Cordova and Victoria Lopez, who is also 21, were arraigned Friday in Champaign County Circuit Court on felony charges of burglary and theft. Lopez was also charged with misuse of a credit card.
Campus police say security cameras showed two women stealing on Sept. 29
Pictures of the women were circulated on campus, leading to tips from the public.
Cordova and Lopez were released on $2,000 bond apiece and they are ordered to return to court Jan. 4 with their public defenders.
The former Champaign County Sheriff's deputy waging a write-in campaign for sheriff says poor fiscal management in that department prompted him to run.
Jerommie Smith of Sidney said last year alone, deputies served more than 12,000 summons, subpoenas, and evictions, and attempted to serve 15,000 more. He said that is cutting down on training time for deputies, and their ability to patrol the streets. Smith said the department could also save money by hiring out a private agency to serve those papers.
"You look at the private agency, and see that's a flat fee of 35 dollars," Smith said. "I've spoken to other people that say that most of the time, it only costs us 35 dollars. If you figure the time to pick up that piece of paper and take it and serve it, by the time you pay the deputy's wages, and with mileage, you're probably at 50 to 60 dollars."
Sheriff Dan Walsh said serving those papers only takes a deputy a minute, while the civil duties generate more than $200,000 towards their salaries. He added that his department is hardly in a position to pay an agency, with cuts of more than 11-percent the last couple of years.
"As they're out there serving papers, what's the difference if I'm 'patrolling' or I'm driving down Vine Street to go serve a paper on the Urbana Chief?" Walsh asked. "I'm still there, and if I see something, I'm going to take action. So, I don't think that's a good idea at all, and I don't think it really takes away from their ability to patrol."
Smith's campaign as an independent was cut short because more than 500 petition signatures were declared invalid after a supporter of Walsh challenged them. He said those voters had yet to change their address, and a write-in campaign is a bit of a challenge. He said according to Champaign County Clerk's Office, anyone wanting to vote for him can simply mark 'J Smith' in the write-in space.
Smith, who operates a gym in Urbana, said he is getting a lot of support in door to door campaigns.
Walsh has been sheriff since December of 2002. He said facing his first election challenge has occupied his evenings and weekends, but not regular work hours.
Illinois State University has fired a McLean County board member from his job with the university's Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
The Bloomington Pantagraph reports that ISU sent 48-year-old Robert Nuckolls a certified letter on Wednesday informing him of his termination. The action came a month after Nuckolls was indicted on criminal charges related to a dispute with a woman who said Nuckolls restrained and injured her after she tried to end their relationship.
Nuckolls is charged with felony unlawful restraint and misdemeanor counts of domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of domestic violence.
The Pantagraph reports that attempts to contact Nuckolls for comment have been unsuccessful.
(Photo courtesy of the McLean County Government)
A federal judge in Chicago has set an April 20 trial date for the second corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Blagojevich's defense attorneys on Friday asked Judge James Zagel to put off the trial, which was originally expected as early as January. The judge agreed with the attorneys, who say they need more time to prepare now that fewer lawyers are on the Democrat's defense team.
A fund the ex-governor tapped to pay more than a dozen attorneys at his first trial has run dry, meaning taxpayers will be footing his legal bills. Because of that, Zagel has said Blagojevich can only have two attorneys and a paralegal.
Blagojevich was convicted of lying to the FBI in his first trial, but jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts.
(Photo courtesy of the Department of Justice)
A sixth year of courtwatching in Champaign County has shed new light on predominantly white and female juries.
The statistics released Thursday by the County's League of Woman Voters and University of Illinois College of Law show that a woman is 1.5 times more likely to serve on a jury than a man.
The analysis of courtroom proceedings also showed the odds of seating a white juror are nearly four times greater than having an African-American or other minority on the jury. U of I Law Professor Steve Beckett said he hopes new questionnaires and public service announcements will improve those results, but he said their efforts can only go so far.
"We have to make the decision that the courts don't belong to the judges, and the administrators, and the attorneys, and the state's attorney - they belong to the people," Beckett said. "So long as the people are satisfied by not coming to jury duty then you're not going to have diversity in your court system. When the community decides that it's going to live up to its civic responsibility and come to court, then you will have diversity."
Beckett admitted one problem is the $10 a day per diem given to jurors. He said many who are self-employed cannot afford to sit on a jury. Beckett, who is a Democratic County Board member, also pointed out that the county cannot afford to pay any more right now.
Joan Miller chairs the League of Women Voters Justice Committee. She said the imbalance of women-to-men serving on juries is a national problem, but said Champaign County may be one of the few areas trying to do something about it. Her group has prepared new public service announcements aimed primarily at young people, with hopes they will demystify the experience of serving on a jury.
"Think about what it's like for a young person who's never had experience with the courts," Miller said. "Or maybe he has to walk into the courthouse and into a courtroom and we're hoping some of these will make it less stressful to respond to jury summons."
The County Board operates an advisory committee on jury selection, seeking ways to boost minority participation. Beckett pointed out that the new juror questionnaire is being prepared by a judge, the circuit clerk, state's attorney and public defender's office. He said the old survey asked if they any family members had been convicted of a crime, which he suspected may have deterred some people from serving on juries.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
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