News Local/State

Champaign City Council Gives Initial Approval To Police Review Panel

A Champaign police car.

The city of Champaign is one step closer to having a Citizen Review panel for its police department. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Ten years after voting against the idea, the Champaign City Council gave its unanimous support Tuesday night to a police citizens review panel in a preliminary vote.

Champaign Police investigations of citizen complaints already get a review from the city’s Community Relations Office. Under this proposal, a three-member panel of local citizens would assist with the review, although their opinions would be strictly advisory.  The panel would be a subcommittee of the city’s Human Relations Commission, and would be able to exercise the commission’s subpoena powers.

Just-retired Deputy Police Chief Jon Swenson helped present the proposal at a city council study session Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, he told Illinois Public Media that the Citizen Review panel would look at each completed investigation of citizen complaints, prior to a final ruling from the police chief.

“They will essentially put their stamp on it as being complete and thorough”, said Swenson. “And then, they will have the ability to make a recommendation to the chief in terms of the finding --- not with regard to any discipline, but the finding, or findings in the case of their being more than one allegation.”

The Citizen Review panel is the brainchild of a special Police Complaint Working Group that met during 2016-17 under the direction of Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb, who formed the panel at the behest of the city council.

During its investigation, the Working Group concluded that the Champaign Police Department has a good process in place for handling citizen complaints — but that a Citizen Review panel could help in informing the public about that process.

The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on the proposed Citizen Review panel at an upcoming meeting. Tuesday night's study session polling included "yes" votes from at-large Council Member Tom Bruno and Mayor Deb Feinen. Both had voted against a citizens police review board when the council narrowly rejected the concept in 2007 on a 5-4 vote. 

2007 was also the year that Urbana established its Citizens Police Review Board. That body reviews rulings in citizen complaint cases after they are made by the police chief, who in Urbana, can be overruled by the mayor.

UPDATE: This article was updated to include Tuesday night's preliminary vote by the Champaign City Council — JM 7/11/17