Pubdate: Tue, 01 Feb 2005
Source: News-Gazette, The (Champaign, IL)
Copyright: 2005 The News-Gazette
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


URBANA - Urbana mayoral candidate Laurel Prussing said during a
candidates forum Monday night that she supports creation of a citizens
review board to investigate complaints against the Urbana Police Department.

Incumbent Mayor Tod Satterthwaite said he thinks the current system,
where the police department investigates citizen complaints
internally, has worked well, but he also said he would be "willing to
explore" the idea of a citizens review board.

The exchange took place Monday at a forum for mayoral and city council
candidates, sponsored by the Urbana police and firefighters unions, at
the Lincoln Hotel in Urbana. About 40 people, many of them city police
or firefighters, attended.

Satterthwaite and Prussing, both Democrats, are squaring off in the
Feb. 22 Democratic primary for mayor. A third Democratic mayoral
candidate, Shirley Hursey, did not attend the forum.

Anthony Cobb, a city police sergeant and president of Fraternal Order
of Police Lodge 70, moderated the second half of the debate and began
asking a series of provocative questions.

Asked about the citizens review board, Prussing responded: "I think if
there are compaints against the police department, it's important to
have an independent review.

"People can't audit themselves, they need someone else," she

Satterthwaite defended the internal police reviews of complaints,
though he added he would be willing to consider a citizens review board.

"The current system has worked well," he said. "We have a professional

Satterthwaite estimated that the city receives about 25 complaints
against police each year, and that about 10 percent of those
complaints are "founded," resulting in disciplinary action against the
officer or a change in police procedures.

"The last thing we want to see is a system where citizens are
encouraged to file frivolous complaints," Satterthwaite said.

Cobb also asked a question about the policy of Cunningham Township to
offer cash payments to the indigent, while City of Champaign Township
offers vouchers to the poor that pay approved expenses, such as for
food or bills. Cobb argued that Cunningham Township's policy prompts
felons and parolees to locate in Urbana. The Urbana City Council also
acts as the Cunningham Town Board.

Satterthwaite said he would be willing to change the township's policy
to use the vouchers instead of providing cash payments.

"Obviously, it's much more attractive for the client to get the cash
because they can spend it wherever they want," he said.

Prussing indicated she would be hesitant to support a change to
vouchers, but she also said she doesn't want to see Urbana become "a
magnet" for the poor.

"I think there's a movement to make Champaign more attentive to the
needs of the poor," she said, adding that the city might have to work
out a common solution with Champaign and Savoy.

Cobb also informed the mayoral and council candidates that Urbana
currently doesn't have a city ordinance against possession of
cannabis. He said that often forces officers to decide between not
charging a suspect who is in possession of a small amount of
marijuana, or else writing them up under state law, which can leave a
person with a criminal record. With a city ordinance violation, a
suspect would just have to pay a city fine.

Satterthwaite and Prussing both indicated they would support making
cannabis possession in smaller amounts a city ordinance violation.

"A state charge is much more serious, it starts a criminal record,
which is something a youngster doesn't need," Satterthwaite said.

The mayoral candidates also said they could support an ordinance
making it illegal for armed security guards to wear uniforms similar
to those worn by Urbana police. Cobb said two Urbana apartment
complexes recently have hired armed security guards.

Cobb also informed the council that, on average, there are four police
officers working between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day. He compared
Urbana's police staffing with that of other central Illinois cities,
with Urbana generally having a smaller force than other area cities.

Satterthwaite said he believes adding more police officers is the
city's "No. 1" priority if he is re-elected.

Prussing said she thinks the current administration hasn't looked
closely enough at the costs of encouraging certain types of
development in the city, such as residential development, which she
said often requires an increase in city services.

"Most communities just don't try to push residential development," she
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake