Champaign and Urbana police still mostly white despite repeated attempts at racial diversity

You are currently viewing Champaign and Urbana police still mostly white despite repeated attempts at racial diversityDarrell Hoemann
The window for the Urbana Police Department office inside the Urbana City Hall on Thursday, September 4, 2014. photo by Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

Despite years of pledges and efforts to bring racial diversity to their departments, only 31 of 203 employees — or 15% — at the Champaign and Urbana police departments identified as a race other than white.

Demographic data on all employees’ race, age and sex was provided to CU-CitizenAccess in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, alongside residency information.

As of March this year, the Champaign Police Department’s 132 employees are 87.88% white. This number has remained relatively the same despite numerous promises and efforts to diversify the police force. In 2014, the police staff was 88% white and in 2021 it was 87.6% white. However, only 61.3% of the Champaign population is white according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates on July 1, 2022. 

Only nine employees identified as Black, three as Asian, two as Hispanic and one as American Indian — totaling about 12% of the department. Each underrepresents the proportions present in the city’s population. In comparison, 17.8% of citizens in Champaign identified as Black alone in 2022 estimates, 15.1% identified as Asian, 6.6% identified as Hispanic and less than 1% identified as American Indian. 

Of the Urbana Police Department’s 71 employees, 77.78% are white. This is a 10% increase in racial diversity since 2021, where the staff was 87.9% white, but the latest Census estimates show 60% of the city of Urbana population identified as white.

Nine officers identified as Hispanic, making up 12.5% of the department, and seven identified as Black, making up 9.7%. In comparison to Census estimates, 8.2% of citizens identified as Hispanic and 16.9% identified as Black alone. Urbana police have zero Asian or American Indian employees according to the data.

Champaign police officials said they are making multiple efforts to increase diversity and eliminate some of the challenges that it has.

“In 2021, the City of Champaign redesigned the Police Officer recruitment program in an effort to increase the pool of qualified and diverse candidates,” officials said. Changes to the program included a continuously updated eligibility list, removing interview eligibility limits, changing the appointing authority to the city manager and removing the $25 fee for applications.

Urbana has had more recent success in diversifying their police force compared with Champaign. Interim Chief of Police Richard Surles said this came as a result of intentional focus:

“Every public and private sector employer is struggling with staffing at this point. That includes the Urbana Police Department. While the City of Urbana and the City of Champaign routinely compete for some of the same potential employees, we focus on promoting a culture of candor and respect. There is always more to do in this space, but it is something on which we have been intentionally focused.”

Champaign’s Human Resources Department is advertising for police officer recruitment on a continuous basis. It has focused advertising on social media, at colleges and universities, on minority recruitment websites and local minority and community organizations. Ads also appear on the websites The Blue Line and Police1, which primarily recruit law enforcement. 

Furthermore, the city has partnered with the National Testing Network for advertising and testing. The network features the ability to conduct virtual testing, which “allows applicants the flexibility to test when and where it is most convenient for them,” officials said. 

Surles said the department and the city are committed to improving its workforce so it best aligns with their values, including diversification.

Both city governments have made promises to increase the effort to racially diversify their police departments. Champaign and Urbana signed the 10 Shared Principles with the NAACP and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police in order to establish a better connection between citizens and police in 2018. One of the principles is diversity in the police force. 

Champaign police officials said the department has changed what it’s looking for in applicants since signing: 

“Presently, Champaign Police are working with a national firm to develop a Marketing & Branding strategy for the recruitment of a diverse pool of candidates through targeted digital advertising. Furthermore, other improvements to the Police Officer Continuous Recruitment include the implementation of two additional preference points categories adopted by Council. Applicants who live within the City of Champaign city limits may receive five (5) residence points, and applicants that are fluent in a language other than English may receive five (5) language fluency preference points.” 

Former Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin signed the principles at the time. Surles said those principles are codified in their departmental policies, and said they are a “common sense approach to improving interactions with the public and outlines expectations for both police officers and the public.” 

“The department continues to focus on finding and considering all qualified applications for open positions,” Surles said. “We focus on finding good people, with good hearts, a dedication to service, and whose values and beliefs align with ours. Diversification of our workforce has been a product of those efforts.”

Of the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office’s 132 employees, 120 identify as white, making up 90.9% of staff. Census estimates show 71.2% of the Champaign County population identified as white.

The sheriff’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.

Of the University of Illinois Police Department’s 118 employees, 16 have no race or gender recorded. But among the 102 with race recorded, 87 employees identified as white alone, about 70.5%. In 2022, 41.3% of the enrolled student population at the University of Illinois identified as white, though the department patrols areas nearby campus as well. 

Senior Director of Strategic Communication Patrick Wade said the department has working plans to increase diversity:

“In 2021, we hired a Director of Diversity and Engagement to critically examine what we are doing to promote diversity in hiring and retention, as well as promoting an overall equitable work environment for our existing staff. A comprehensive diversity plan is currently in development. We also joined the 30×30 Initiative to increase the representation of women in our workforce and at leadership levels,” Wade said. 

He also stated that the demographics have naturally fluctuated over the years. 

“We are a relatively small department in terms of the overall university, so normal turnover (new hires, retirements, resignations, etc.) can change the percentages in a relatively short time frame.”

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