Despite pledges over the years to diversify the police department, both the Champaign and Urbana police staff have remained overwhelmingly white.
In 2014, the police staff in Champaign was 88% white and Urbana’s police staff was 84% white, CU-CitizenAccess reported at that time.
Almost seven years later, those numbers are virtually unchanged.
In Champaign, 99 out of 113 police staff members, or 87.6%, are white. Seven staff members are identified as Black, three are Hispanic, three are Asian, and one is American Indian, according to data provided by the city in response to Freedom of Information Act request from CU-CitizenAccess.org.
In Urbana, 51 of 58 police staff members, or 87.9 %, are white. Four are identified as Black, three are Hispanic and there are no reported Asian or American Indian employees according to data provided by a Freedom of Information Act response.
In both cities, the percentage of white officers substantially exceeds the cities’ populations. In Champaign, about 60% of residents are white, and in Urbana, about 54% of residents are white according to the U.S. Bureau of Census’ 2019 American Community Survey. 18% of residents are Black in Champaign, and 16% of residents are Black in Urbana. Separately, about 6% of Champaign residents and 7% of Urbana residents identify as Hispanic of any race.
More recently, both cities have signed onto the 10 Shared Principles with the NAACP and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. One of the principles states that police departments will work to have more diversity in the police force.
Champaign Police Spokesperson Tom Yelich said in an email the police department agreed to the 10 Shared Principles in 2018. The Urbana City Council approved the 10 Shared Principles June 22 in 2020, and the police department signed onto the 10 Shared Principles September 17.
NAACP Champaign County President Minnie Pearson said local elected officials are making an effort to improve diversity within police departments.
“As the NAACP president, who was working with the police department, along with the ACLU, and other community groups, I see some movement,” Pearson said.
She said leaders in Champaign and Urbana “are all putting forth effort.”
“Because I think right about now, our people want peace, they want cohesiveness,” she added. “They want everybody to understand and value each and every one and respect a person as a human being and quit using skin color and quit using the gun (as a) means of control.”
But Tracy Parsons, community relations manager of the city of Champaign said, “You know, we look at communities like Champaign-Urbana, where officers of color are very few in the forces.”
As a result, Parsons said, “And so there’s a feeling around, especially in the community, that the officers are not aware of the communities or individuals in the communities. There’s a lot of perception of issues that police carry, and community members also carry about police.”
Tamara Cummings, general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union for Champaign and Urbana police departments, said in a statement to CU-CitizenAccess:
“Diversity in a police force is a good thing. The more skills, perspectives and insights you bring to the job the better.”
Yelich said the police department tries to focus on community policing, and tries to get community feedback.
“We understand that the community is our best partner, our residents, they are our best partner,” Yelich said. “We work for them. We are public servants. And we know that trying to continue to build upon and advance and strengthen police community relations is a work in progress.”
CU-CitizenAccess contacted several community organizations with recently organized events combating gun violence, but none returned a request for comment.
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