If you’re old like me, and you’ve been reading Smile Politely since the Bush Administration, like me; you may recall that I have Opinions about Urbana’s approach to ordinance enforcement.
How to hush that barking dog?
Or maybe your problem is the cloud of marijuana smoke, or another pungent smell, wafting over the fence. Perhaps it’s the family of raccoons living in that pile of bracken/disabled vehicle on your neighbor’s driveway.
Maybe you want to talk to your neighbor about it, but can’t access his porch through the precariously balanced boxes of old newspapers & mason jars full of toenail clippings.
Sometimes your neighbor doesn’t want to hear your complaints. Furthermore, there’s his gun collection to think about.
Years ago, I wrote here about other municipalities, and their modern approach to solving the non-immediate, non-life-threatening illegal activities that plague daily life. The nuisance issues. Today, I’m presenting the thoughts of Urbana’s latest slate of candidates for city office This afternoon, having contemplated these responses, I’m going to drop my ballot in the County Clerk’s collection box. The voting ends tomorrow.
(Scroll to the bottom if you want to read about the City Clerk’s race.)
THE QUESTION FOR THE CANDIDATES
I'm collecting statements for a Monday column in Smile Politely. There's just one issue, and most of you have already spoken to a variation of this issue, which is police reform.
The question is this: What can/will the city do to change/improve its nuisance enforcement?
"Defund the Police" lost Democrats a lot of votes in the 2020 congressional elections. But the deaths associated with armed response show that America's municipal governments need to find a way to police conflicts among their populations without guns drawn.
Some communities have this figured out. Urbana still does it the old way. Consequently, a lot of people are reluctant to call the city about a neighborhood miscreant.
What's the better way?
Please let me know if you'd prefer to answer in a phone call rather than an email.
Photos provided by candidates.
THE RESPONSES: MAYORAL CANDIDATES
Thank you for contacting me! Our divisions are things people don't think about, and nuisance complaints speak more to our barriers in our community when we call the police for things that are nuisance complaints instead of talking to our neighbors first. I believe one way that we can change this by encouraging community programs and organizations similar to the corn festival and neighborhood organizations that will provide opportunities to help Urbana's residents socialize and work together. I believe that having an area where residents can get to know one another and work together will help build trust in our community.
As for defending the police I do not mean abolish the police, at least not in the short term. I believe instead in using a major part of the vast resources put in the Urbana police department, which takes up 32% of Urbana's general operating fund, to fund proven social programs that will directly address urgent social issues. For example, much of Urbana PD's calls are in response to domestic violence. The police have become a de facto social service provider for which they themselves admit that are not trained for. Instead of relying on the police we could build shelters and provide resources for survivors of domestic violence. By the time the police are called domestic violence and other issues it will already be too late for many people. There are so many points where the government and community could have intervened before the police had to be called.
Deescalation policy adoption, then training of the police force. Prohibiting rifles at a scene of a call for service unless it is a home invasion or other event that would reasonable require a swat team to be called. Otherwise, keep the rifle in the trunk of the squad car -- each officer has a hand gun, that is plenty of fire power. Keep your gun in its holster unless/until you see a weapon drawn. Start by talking before approaching the suspect. If there are two officers, one can watch for signs of conflict while the other opens the conversation with the individual to assess the issue playing out. Don't start off drawing a weapon from the start. Scope out the situation first. If the issue is related to mental health or an emotional issue, try to talk the person down to a clam state. Call for additional help--a counseling professional may need to be hired for each shift to participate professionally.
These are the policies that might better serve lower level, non-violent calls for service.
(Diane Marlin asked for a clarification of terms, then apologized for not submitting a final response. If she responds today, we’ll add her statement here.)
THE RESPONSES: WARD 1
(Jake Fava asked for a clarification of terms, but did not provide a final response)
UPDATE: 3:00 p.m.
What you're talking about is SUPER important - the adage of "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" comes to mind when discussing this issue. Put simply, the training and equipment that we give our police officers aren't always leading them to appropriate responses for the kinds of calls that we currently expect them to respond to. We don't need to have armed and uniformed officers at the scene of every call, and we DEFINITELY don't need violence involved in the majority of situations. Lots of folks are uncomfortable calling police for fear of the situation being unnecessarily escalated - something we've seen happen time and time again, including just this month when a 9-year-old Black child was pepper-sprayed by Seattle police.
So many communities struggle with this, in large part because a lot of folks aren't even aware that there are any alternatives out there. However, communities across the country have been exploring new ways to respond to calls that take some of that burden off of their police forces. One of the best examples we can point to that's been in the news a lot recently is the City of Denver. Back in June, the city launched a pilot program directing emergency calls to a two-person team (a medic and a clinician) for problems relating to "mental health, depression, poverty, homelessness, or substance abuse issues." This has enabled them to take an individualized, person-centered approach to every situation instead of having to resort to the one-size-fits-all "solution" of the police.
These alternatives will certainly take different forms for different communities, but there's clearly an opportunity here to explore options beyond the single response we have right now. There's no reason we can't take after cities like Denver - launch a similar pilot program, gather data and feedback, and iterate on the approach based on how it goes. Running these kinds of small-scale "experiments" is vital to validating new ideas and identifying novel solutions to complicated problems. The truth is, we won't know what works for our community until we try something, and I'm most interested in trying things that are already being tested and proven in other communities right now.
Maryalice Wu explained that she spent the weekend canvassing, and asked for an extra day to respond. Check back tomorrow if you want to read a response from Maryalice Wu.
UPDATE: 10:00 a.m.
The city currently does have a procedure for reporting nuisance complaints. However, there needs to be better enforcement for repeat offenders as well as a more proactive review of problem properties. There are complications when a property is a rental and tenants change often. I feel that the city should send out a notification to all tenants once a year in September letting them know about the city rules about proper waste disposal, appropriate outdoor furniture, best practices with electrical cords, and other health and safety items. In addition to education outreach, the city should do a review of property complaints by address at least once a year to identify repeat offenders. More ramped up enforcement needs to be established for properties that have recurrent issues ranging from notice of abatement to fines. For rental properties with repeat offenses, the city should consider issuing a temporary increase in the specific property’s annual rental registration fee to the cover the increase in monitoring until the problems are resolved.
THE RESPONSES: WARD 2
I did not know that citizens were reluctant to call the city about "neighborhood miscreants." Urbana averages 25,000 calls a year for police service, so I don't see any "reluctance" to call police. And I certainly didn't know that the Urbana Police Department was answering those types of calls with "guns drawn." Urbana's newly adopted emphasis on de-escalation for its police department should assure citizens that common calls for "nuisances" won't be met with lethal force.
I don't believe property owners should be held responsible for a tenant's mental health crisis, or a tenant's drug addiction. Alternatives to police answering a call have yet to be fully developed. The One Door program is expected to refer all mental health and drug addiction situations to CU at Home for evaluation and treatment. That program has yet to be rolled out.
Problems of loud parties, gambling, prostitution, drug selling, noise violations, criminal damage to property, and disorderly conduct could potentially be answered by a "citizens response team"- but who that would be and with what funding has not been designed. Programs for long-term intervention have yet to be designed as well. As you know, the City of Urbana has decided to hold property owners responsible for this kind of behavior on their properties. This can result in the eviction of the tenants, and the building of fences and increased lighting on the property. I would support giving tenants a chance to curb their behavior first, before resorting to eviction.
Incidents of violence, such as: forcible felonies, sexual assault, domestic batteries, all other fistfights, arson, and unlawful weapons offenses would be considered by most citizens to be best addressed by an armed police officer, i.e. "the old way."
I would like to explore techniques of restorative justice, mediation, and conflict resolution before deploying arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. We need to understand that such systems would require additional funding, training, and agreement by the citizens of Urbana.
I think this is a difficult problem. I have tried calling in noise and nuisance complaints a number of times, and have always found the City's response rather disappointing. At the same time, I do not want Urbana residents to be frequently hassled by heavy-handed policies and I do not think the police should be handling these types of complaints.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about having alternative response personnel for a number of different tasks that the police currently handle (such as domestic violence and mental health calls). I wonder if some types of nuisance complaints could be sewn into that effort so that the affected parties can have a chance at talking through a solution without any police presence.
Thank you very much for your email and thank you for your involvement in our democracy!
I stand for and value inclusivity, civility, and ensuring that Urbana is a welcoming community. I am for local government that promotes equal opportunities and rights historic wrongs. Policing that emphasizes de-escalation while ensuring public safety is important, and that is why I have advocated for the City to work cooperatively with the ACLU and the NAACP to revise the police’s policy on the use of force.
For more information on my platform, please visit my website (https://eriksacksurbana.org/).
Photos provided by candidates.
THE RESPONSES: WARD 3
Author's note: Shirese Hursey was one of two candidates who preferred to talk on the phone.
So I called her up, and we had a good ole time. Shirese is a classmate of my sister Suz, and her dad Paul Hursey was a friend of mine, and a pillar of the community.
I also liked Deborah Liu’s web page, her intelligence and responsiveness. I think Ward 3 is in good hands either way.
- Mental health calls can be addressed by crisis response teams composed of a medic and a social/crisis worker. This approach has been deployed to great success in Eugene, OR- the primary complaint there has been that the service is underfunded and takes too long to respond.
- Thefts that are not currently in progress can be recorded by an individual who is not armed.
- Domestic disturbance calls can be addressed social/crisis workers, as with mental health calls
- Medical/welfare calls can be addressed with medics.
Residents don't call the police because the presence of an armed "authority figure" has the potential to escalate the danger of a situation rather than de-escalate, and too many kids have been shot in the back by cops.
My general impression is that the police in general (and UPD is no exception) think that to do their jobs effectively, everyone has to fear and respect their authority when they walk into a room. I don't think that's true. Around 95% of police time nationally is spent on issues that don't require an armed individual.
THE RESPONSES: WARD 4
This is a great question and I think it is important to acknowledge that a lot of people are confused by conversations that are happening about police reform. As we talk about creating new systems, we need to be clear about what we mean, who will shape new policies, and how we will implement our strategies to realize this change. Like the majority of Americans, I support comprehensive police reform (1). I believe that it is important for us to use evidence-based, community-informed policies to reach this goal. Policy changes should include the following:
- A non-police response option for mental health and nuisance calls
- Prioritization of de-escalation
- Commitment to acknowledging and addressing racial bias
- Increased transparency and community guidance for policing
- Stronger accountability mechanisms to address police misconduct
These policies have broad public support (2). To ensure a proper fit for Urbana, it is essential for members of the community to have a say in the development and implementation of any proposed reform. Research has shown that half-hearted measures can be counterproductive, so this will require a significant and sustained commitment from the City (3). Urbana has started this process by adopting the “Ten Shared Principles” and approving a resolution supporting the use of de-escalation strategies (4, 5). I believe it is time to move from declarations to action and, if elected, I would advocate for meaningful change.
My footnotes didn't transfer over, so I'm including links below.
If you have any questions, please let me know. I appreciate all that Smile Politely has been doing to cover our local elections and to highlight CU more broadly.
Jaya Kolisetty, MA, MBA
Urbana City Council Candidate for Ward 4
Photos provided by candidates.
THE RESPONSES: WARD 5
My response to your question of: What can/will the city do to change/improve its nuisance enforcement? is as follows:
Nuisance enforcement can eventually result in less safety in communities when residents fear reporting violence to the police. It has also disproportionately impacted people with fewer resources, such as people of color, people with disabilities, or those experiencing domestic violence. One driver of this disparity is inequitable enforcement of nuisance laws for different demographics and neighborhoods.
To improve the enforcement of nuisance complaints, the city should examine data on the type of nuisance calls to determine who should respond and how; examine both their existing nuisance laws and their enforcement practices so that there is equitable enforcement ensuring the safety for all Urbana residents.
- Implement significant reforms to the ordinance, including adoption of broad protections for victims of crimes or those who seek emergency assistance
- Prohibit city officials from basing their nuisance decisions on calls to police for help
- Train city officials responsible for nuisance ordinance enforcement on domestic violence
(Meghan McDonald preferred to speak on the phone .. Monday between 11:45 and 3pm.)
THE RESPONSES: WARD 6
I agree that we need a better system of community safety and wellbeing. I think that many police duties could be better accomplished by other people/entities, especially related to domestic violence and personal conflicts. I think that many aspects of community wellbeing are proactive and preventative, rather than punitive. We can invest funds from local police into community development and services.
THE RESPONSES: WARD 7
UPDATED: February 23rd at 4:20 p.m.
Several approaches occur to me to provide residents alternatives to managing nuisance situations in their neighborhoods.
- Support neighborhood associations and encourage groups that organize on a smaller neighborhood level. When neighbors know each other and communicate, they are better equipped to approach concerns and work them out locally.
- Encourage the use of city departments other than the police to address concerns that are not criminal. The city needs to consider code enforcement as an administrative duty, rather than a law enforcement duty.
- Consider an ombudsman role for the city which provides troubleshooting for these and other issues. An ombudsman takes in all kinds of concerns and routes them to the appropriate place. Our police department frequently plays this role and we could shift this to a different realm from law enforcement. An ombudsman could also have mediation or restorative circle resources to support conflict resolution.
- There still needs to be a path to address challenges that escalate or occur outside of the regular business day. The after hours component is part of the driver for this role going to our police force and we will need to address how that could shift. Technology could play a role by providing a way to report a concern at any time of day and know that it can be followed up on when the resources are available.
THE CITY CLERK
The following is unrelated to barking dogs and midnight firecrackers.
Democrats have two choices for City Clerk. Phyllis Clark retired from the job once before, but returned when Charlie Smyth resigned. I emailed to ask if her pension was vested. Does she need to serve more years? She did not respond.
Titianna Ammons would be our third elected Ammons. Here’s my question to her, followed by her response.
I'm writing a column for Monday, in Smile Politely. I have just one question: How will you learn to do the job of City Clerk?
There's no wrong answer. Obviously Ms. Clark has the experience advantage. But at some point, we need new people to take the reins of government office. You've chosen to do it now. How long will it take before you're up to speed?
Thank you for the question.
As for how I would learn the job of City Clerk, I would utilize a variety of methods. Including:
- Listening to the staff for their knowledge and experience
- Working with the professional City Clerk's Association
- Reaching out to other City Clerk's for their knowledge and feedback
But most importantly, the City Clerk's job is heavily governed by city and state statute. My first priority would be to read the statutes and familiarize myself with the legal obligations and processes the City Clerk is responsible for. I'm sure once in office, additional ways to learn the nuances of the job will present themselves.
Editor's Note: Due to the timeliness of this article, there may be a few statements that are updated post-publishing time on Monday, February 22nd. In the end we do update statements, we will add editor's notes accordingly.