Monday, January 23, 2006

Policing the Police

Champaign-Urbana is a community with three police forces, one for each city and one for our campus. A series of local controversies including suicides in jail, allegations of racial profiling, and the arrest of local activists (who were investigating the police) have led many local groups to call for the creation of citizen police review boards.

A citizen police review board would be an impartial body of citizens that are independent from the police, who perform oversight functions, investigate complaints against police officers, and suggest policy reform. Currently, all complaints against the Champaign and Urbana police are handled within the department.

A Student Senate report on racial profiling recommends police review boards for all three local police departments. There is a common perception that police are inclined to protect one another. Victims of profiling and police discrimination are more likely to feel they are treated fairly if their complaints are reviewed by a citizen review board. Citizen review boards give the community more confidence that complaints will be handled impartially.

Citizen review boards also offer advantages for the police. Often these boards can shield police from civil liability. Additionally, they impartially dispense with frivolous complaints while avoiding any accusations police are covering up misconduct to “protect their own.” Perhaps most impotantly, citizen boards increase the public trust in local police.

Unfortunately, there is little momentum towards creating a board for the Champaign police. However, Urbana is making real progress. In September, the Urbana City Council unanimously approved a task force to study creating a police review board. One of the most effective students I’ve ever met, Jen Walling, is on the task force. Jen told me that later this semester the taskforce will present a plan to the city counsel on how to implement a review board. For more information on these efforts visit:

The Student Senate is advocating for the creation of a University Police Complaint and Policy Review Board to ensure fairness in disputes between our students and the University Police. This board would give students, faculty and staff a voice in University Policing.

Creating citizen police review boards is only part of the solution. The Student Senate and the student ACLU are launching the “Know Your Rights” campaign to protect students from police abuse. Student Affairs and Housing in particular have been extremely supportive of these efforts so far. Housing is distributing Know Your Rights door hangers to every room in the residence halls with information on what to do if the police want to search the room.

The campaign is also using bar cards with simple rules for students who encounter police while out drinking to keep a bad situation from getting much worse. Both the card and door hanger, along with other student rights information can be found at along with other resources on students rights. Many of these resoruces are from Student Legal Services, which offers free legal advice to all students. The lawyers at student Legal Services are dedicated advocates for students and you should keep them in mind if you are ever in trobule with the police or with the university.

Even if all three police forces eventaully have police review boards, the most effective check on police abuse is a well informed citizenry. Know your rights. Protect yourself. And do your part to police the police.


Since Friday’s column there’ve been two major breakthroughs for students. First, State Represenatative Naomi Jakobsson is now sponsoring HB 4867, the Textbook Pricing and Access Act. Second, I spoke with Professor Paul Kelter, the Director of General Chemistry. Beginning next fall, he promised to have bookstores also offer unbundled versions of Dr. Zumdahl’s chemistry text. Dr. Kelter is also considering working with the Student Senate to create a pilot program for textbook rental to save students more on textbooks.

Published in the Daily Illini on January 23, 2006.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh, I generally agree with you on issues such as this one. However, here I have to dissent. The solution isn't another bureaucracy, susceptible to the same corruption as the police. The solution is to limit police power in the first place. As long as politicians ignore unfair police tactics and citizens fail to punish them for it, we'll have this problem.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh, You should have brought more heat in your colume, while several of our local police groups, like campus and urbana, are working hard on this issue, some of police groups (I won't say which local group I could possible mean after commenting on Urbana and Campus) have been very unresponsive. All together though, I liked it.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I enjoyed reading your column today. I was really impressed that you started the ball rolling on textbook pricing reform. The fact that you could get the chemistry department to respond so quickly to your requests/demands is great.

I strongly support a citizen police review board because civilian oversight of law enforcement and military is one of the most important checks on power in this country. Unlike the FBI and CIA which must report to Congress, and the US military which is headed by the President, local police departments are subject to very little civilian oversight. With the exception of of the mayor (who is likely to be the police chief's buddy/high school friend) residents of a municipality have little sway over the actions of the police. It would be great if Urbana/Champaign/Campus were able to form CPRBs to keep tabs on the local police departments.

Also- I have the Student ACLU website up. There is a KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CAMPAIGN section that I will be adding more info to shortly. You should check it out:


11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so basically what your saying is that the police shouldn't exist??? Do you also think that prisons shouldn't exist, and that people should just write self-healing poetry instead???

You're a total nut, how did you become president of my hott student body???


12:10 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Reed - thanks for the comment. On the point of raising public trust independent review boards intuitively seem like they will treat citizen complaints more fairly than police judging other police. I do agree with you on the broader point. I just think limiting police power will be a lot harder than creating a review board. Although it wont help as much as limiting police powers, it's attainable.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Colin - thanks so much for the feedback and support. I'm looking forward to checking out the new ACLU site.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Matt Diller said...

Take a look at Eastern Illinois University's textbook rental program when you get the chance. I don't know much about it, but the friends I have who went to Eastern seem to have liked the program. I can put you in touch with a friend of mine in EIU's administration (housing, unfortunately, but he should know who you can contact) if you want to know more.

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great entry. You know that I like police review and I'm glad that you advocated it in the DI.

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice job wiht the chem bundling. fuck the police....go joshhhhh.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great writing Josh. Your article reminded me of the Prison Conference we did a few years back. I am still awaiting the day when America becomes wise enough to understand that prisons create crime, while poems create peace. The corrupt and racist police culture must be torn asunder.

You are a true ACLU liberal, never be ashamed to admit that. See you around Lincoln Hall.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Dear Leo - Thanks for reading.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Prof. Hartnett - Thanks for the note, keep up your fine work.

3:47 PM  

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