Urbana’s new chief ‘a fan’ of license plate readers, will start ‘clergy patrol’

By Chicago 4 Min Read

CHAMPAIGN — Urbana police Chief Larry Boone likes community, data and technology — and that includes license plate readers, he told the Champaign County Community Coalition on Wednesday.

“I am a fan of Flock cameras, let me just say that,” said Boone, the former head of the Norfolk, Va., police department, who was sworn in as Urbana’s new chief in July. “I’ve hinted to that since I’ve been here; this is the first time I’ve publicly said that.”

Urbana has been a rare holdout against automated license plate readers from the Atlanta-based company Flock, while the city of Champaign, Champaign County, Parkland College, the University of Illinois and multiple area communities have been using the crime-fighting technology for over a year.

For area communities of over 5,000 people, Urbana is the sole holdout.

Beyond new tech, Boone talked community relations, including starting a new “clergy patrol” where clergy members can do ride-alongs with UPD officers from 9 p.m. to midnight.

“We already had a bunch of passengers itching to ride,” Boone said.

Boone is still relatively new to the community, so he spoke about his early tours of areas where gunshots were heard.

He found areas where it looked like “nobody cared”: properties were run down, common areas smelled bad and drug paraphernalia could be found laying around.

“I look at crime as a disease,” Boone said. “Every city has a section where crime will spread if you don’t attack the disease.”

Diagnosing this disease included interviews with residents about their living conditions; treatment will include holding landlords accountable for property mismanagement.

Champaign chief Timothy Tyler focused Wednesday’s coalition presentation on acts of kindness by his officers in recent weeks, but brought stats to share as well.

Tyler said Champaign has seen a 46.5 percent reduction in gun violence from this time last year and a 73 percent reduction from this time in 2021, the worst year recorded by the department.

Also this year, the department has seized 139 illegal weapons.

On the topic of tech: Champaign officers showed up to the coalition meeting in brand-new body cameras, and Tyler mentioned the city council’s recent approval of more Tasers for the department.

“When we are in an incident, we can use less-than lethal force to make sure that our community members get home to their families,” Tyler said.

University of Illinois interim chief Matt Ballinger shared updates about two on-campus incidents involving gun play that have occurred since the last coalition meeting.

In one, near Second and Green streets, those Flock license plate readers came in handy in tracking down a suspect.

The other, which happened near Third and Healey streets, involved altercations at a large party and resulted in some minor injuries.

UIPD is still looking for evidence in that case, which can be uploaded through the department’s website.

Ballinger also mentioned recent demonstrations on campus.

“It is our job to facilitate that freedom of speech and do so with a passion that promotes freedom of speech along with protection from counter demonstrators,” Ballinger said.

Champaign County sheriff’s chief deputy Shannon Barrett only had one shooting incident to report, in which the offender has already been located.

She put the call out for donations to the food drive on Nov. 28 — to the sheriff’s office, specifically, not the police departments.

“In all honesty, it all goes to the same place, we’re just in a little competition,” Barrett said. “Regardless of where you donate, we would appreciate your donation for that campaign.”

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