Champaign County suffers chronically high number of domestic violence calls and cases

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The Champaign County Courthouse. Screenshot from Google Street View.

In the first two months of this year, there were around 10 calls per day to emergency services regarding domestic violence and disputes in Champaign County.

It is the leading statistic for emergency calls about specific crimes each year since 2019, exceeding calls for theft of property and other criminal activity. Only medical, follow-up and traffic stop calls have higher numbers. 

Overall, domestic calls are consistently among the top calls for service in Champaign County, which has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Illinois. 

“I review the court intake list every morning, and invariably there are multiple incidents of clients being charged with a variety of domestic violence offenses,” Champaign County Public Defender Elisabeth Pollock said. “It is a vast majority of the cases we see.”

Indeed, Champaign County has higher domestic violence crime offense rates than the state average, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority’s (ICJIA) Statewide Prevention Plan for 2020-2024. The authority is developing a new plan for 2025-2029 and it is expected to release this summer.

The state rate of domestic violence crimes per 100,000 residents is 840.39. In Champaign County, this rate is exceedingly higher at 1,430.10 crimes per 100,000 residents, the sixth-highest county rate in Illinois. The counties with the top rates in Illinois are Warren, Sangamon, Peoria, Richland and Macon.

“It’s terrifying,” University of Illinois School of Social Work researcher Dr. Rachel Garthe said regarding these rates.

Dr. Garthe, also an associate professor at the university, was a member of the team that collaborated with the criminal authority to form the Statewide Prevention Plan.

She said the numbers only reflect those who reach out to law enforcement for help while some may reach out to local services like Courage Connection, or others who do not reach out at all because they are “terrified for their lives.”

“Those numbers only tell part of the story and even that part is really terrifying to see that there is such a high number,” Garthe said.

The issue of domestic violence in Champaign County has been prevalent in law enforcement data and community surveys in recent years.

In the Champaign County Community Health Plan for 2021-2023, domestic violence was listed as a top community health concern by 36.91% of participants, seventh overall. Mental health, child abuse and gun violence topped the list.

In the 2023 Champaign County Sheriff’s Office Annual Report, of the 14,591 calls for service last year, verbal or physical domestic altercations topped the list with 1,021 calls. The number of domestic altercation calls for service increased by 1%, or 151 calls, compared with the previous year.

The high level of domestic violence in the county can be reflected in METCAD 9-1-1 of Champaign County’s call for service data, provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by CU-CitizenAccess. Nearly 5,000 calls for service in 2023 were for domestic incidents out of almost 165,000 calls, ranking seventh overall.

Domestic calls have been consistently in the top ten types of calls made in the past five years, and only sit behind call types regarding medical emergencies and traffic violations, making this the most common call type for violent crimes.

The top ten calls for service in Champaign County by call type in 2023. Domestic calls, highlighted in orange, ranked seventh. Overall, the top ten make up 46.7% of all calls for service in 2023.
The number of calls for service for domestic crimes per year since 2016, which peaked in 2020.

There were 654 domestic calls within the first 60 days of 2024, rounding up to roughly 11 calls per day. 

Gabrielle Shwartz, associate director for advocacy for the University of Illinois Women’s Resources Center, emphasizes how these rates in Champaign County may be much higher than reported.

“Domestic violence is a crime we often see response from law enforcement,” Shwartz said. “I would stress that most sexual and domestic violence goes unreported, so these rates are probably much lower than they actually are.”

Champaign County’s jail bookings from the past 10 full years, 2014 through 2023, shows there were 7,210 bookings for domestic crimes, the majority being domestic battery. Overall, there were 7,589 charges for domestic crimes.

Prior to September 2020, the county’s booking system provided information about the inmates’ time in jail, including sentencing, release date, release time, number of days or hours in jail and more. Additionally, background information on inmates such as marital status, employment status, the city they reside in and reason for release were all previously provided.

Since this change, information is limited to inmate number, booking time, race, sex, release year, crime and the arresting agency. 

Despite the high rates of domestic violence and other data showing its prevalence in the county, some efforts to relieve the issue have failed.

According to a 2014 article by CU-CitizenAccess, a group of 30 to 40 members that included judges, police officers and community organizations was formed to create the Central Illinois Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force. 

After just two meetings, the task force was dismantled. In the article, co-chair Lisa Little was quoted saying the task force was “on hiatus but not gone.”

After nearly a decade, there has been no motion to reestablish a domestic violence task force. 

“We’re in a time where violence prevention used to not be talked about as much,” Garthe said. “I’m hoping we keep getting funding to have more of an impact in our communities because I think it’s the time that people are listening.”

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