The Public Square

Ricky Baldwin on the need for a Citizen Police Review Board


I'm Ricky Baldwin, an Urbana resident and full-time father of twin boys. I am active in the Champaign County Coalition for Citizen Police Review and served on the Mayor's Taskforce on Citizen Police Review in Urbana.

Recently the City of Urbana - that is, Urbana taxpayers - shelled out $100,000 to settle a lawsuit involving an Urbana police officer accused of rape. It was part of a larger settlement mostly paid by the City's insurance.

The officer had admitted having sex while on duty and resigned. No charges were filed despite the precedent of charges filed in other cases with less evidence, but not against Police officers. Allegedly, there had also been more than one incident in the past involving the same officer harassing women while on duty.

Local proponents of civilian oversight of the police are pointing out that, not only is this precisely the kind of case in which a citizen police review board would have been helpful - an earlier finding, or more, against the officer could have nipped the problem in the bud - but the amount of money the City paid in this single case would have been enough to pay for a review board for 20 years.

In fact, in over 100 other cities with civilian oversight boards in place, most have found it not only cheaper, but also more than worthwhile in terms of improved police-community relations.

So, while Urbana is obviously not immune to the problem of police misconduct seen in other places, the best reason for establishing independent civilian oversight is proactive.

It just makes sense. Even folks who have never had a problem with the police have spoken up in favor of the basic democratic principle of oversight. At present, Complaints against the Urbana police are investigated by the Urbana Police Department alone. But as more than one Urbana resident recently put it, "This is the fox in charge of the henhouse." It just isn't objective enough. And when it comes to government, the light of day is almost always healthy.

It is time for a citizen police review board in Urbana. It's what Urbana residents want; it's cheaper; it's better; and we need it. For information on the Champaign County Coalition for Citizen Police review, you can visit or call 217-328-3037.