CHAMPAIGN — The City’s Offer: A 1.5-hour Q&A with the three finalists for the next Chief of the Champaign Police Department. Tuesday evening, dozens answered the call.
For more than 90 minutes, Cmdr. of the St. Louis police. Angela Coonce, Idaho Falls Police Chief Timothy Tyler and Illinois Department of Natural Resources Police Chief Bryce Johnson were peppered with pressing questions on the fourth floor of the downtown terminal from Illinois.
“I think they did a great job, and it was a great format,” Reverend Jacqueline Minor said of the contestants before leaving. “If you didn’t get your question answered, you didn’t ask it.”
It was the end of a 13-hour day for the three finalists, which began Tuesday with four panels of interviews with city staff, police officials and community partners.
In Tuesday night’s public session, citizens got to the heart of the matter: they asked how the hopefuls would bridge trust gaps between the community and police, how they would fit Champaign’s demographics, how they would address police recruitment. and retention.
Many asked the candidates to explain their strategies for dealing with gun violence after an increase in shootings in the region, or probed their thoughts on hot-button issues like automated license plate readers.
The room was filled with intense conversations as the crowds swirled between the three finalists, positioned in different corners. But it proved successful for at least some of the participants.
Osajuli Cravens, Director of Engagement and Development for Courage Connection, stayed through the process and got her most pressing questions answered. Primarily, how candidates would prioritize ongoing training for mental health and domestic violence cases.
“One of the things I really want to be part of a domestic violence agency was to see how we can work together not just as community members, but as community partners,” said Cravens. “Service agencies have the information that can really help police in these situations.”
Amber Oberheim, widow of slain field officer Chris Oberheim, had a clear goal for Tuesday’s event: “To be an extension of intelligence gathering within the Champaign Police Department.” She interviewed the department’s agents beforehand about the lingering questions they had for their potential leader.
She focused on how the finalists would work to prevent gun violence upon taking office. In the end, Oberheim offered him ideal traits for whoever takes the job.
“Humility, commitment and the ability to see the big picture,” she said. “A desire to serve the community and an ability to lead – without hesitation – people within the department.”
Although the city’s website says the position is ‘open until filled’, City Manager Dorothy David thinks they have the right finalists after receiving more than 50 applications, it said. she declared.
“We really think these are three very qualified candidates and I am optimistic that we will find our leader in this group,” David said.
She said a late May or early June start date is a “realistic goal” for this primary research.
“My goal is to have someone in place as police chief as soon as possible, but we really have to do our due diligence in a process like this,” David said. “I’ll take the feedback I’ve received, do a full review of everything I know, and narrow it down to the top one or two finalists.”
What will follow, she said, is a rigorous background check process that will take several weeks and culminate in contract negotiation.
“Our process is going as fast as possible, but our goal is not to do it quickly,” she said. “Our goal is to do it right.”
Tuesday’s busy schedule for the finalists included an open house for police employees in the afternoon. Another is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. today to catch some of the officers working nights or early mornings, city spokesman Jeff Hamilton said.
“Now it’s about digging into the details, ‘tell me about your experience in this area. What did you see that worked, what did you see that didn’t?’” A said Hamilton, “To find out more about their experience, qualifications, traits and characteristics as a leader, and whether they’ve done their homework on our community.”
The city asked what citizens wanted from their next police chief in five meetings it held Aug. 9-14, and collected feedback through email and polls through Aug. 20.
“I really want someone who can bridge the gap between the community and the police, building that trust,” Cravens said. “Not just in the community, but in social service agencies, making sure we all work together. Because we are all here for the same thing, to build a better community.