The vast majority of police staff members for Champaign and Urbana don’t live in the communities they serve.
In Champaign, nearly four out of five police officers live outside the city, despite a one-time $3,000 bonus for living in Champaign. In Urbana, nearly nine out of 10 police officers live outside the city, and there is no residency bonus.
The data on residency was provided to CU-CitizenAccess.org in response to a Freedom of Information request. Champaign has a total of 113 police and Urbana has a total of 58 police.
A national study found that about 60% of police officers in major cities live outside the cities’ patrol. The Champaign percentages are much higher, as about 78% of police personnel live elsewhere, and about 88% of Urbana police personnel live outside the city limits.
A few Champaign police staff live over an hour from the city they patrol. Two Champaign police officers live in Perrysville, Indiana, which is about 50 miles from Champaign, and a third lives in Mokena, a southwest suburb of Chicago that is almost a two-hour drive from Champaign.
Tamara Cummings, general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union for Champaign and Urbana, said there are pros and cons to residency requirements — which she said varies depending on the jurisdiction.
“For example, having officers live in the community where they work increases the likelihood that the officers will have an understanding of and familiarity with members of the community they serve,” Cummings said via email. “On the other hand, I have heard very frightening stories about officers who live where they work running into persons they have arrested and they and their families were threatened.”
Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin said the police department doesn’t prioritize residency in the hiring process.
“I want to get, the most, the best people, and whether they live in Urbana, Champaign, or wherever else, we want to make sure that we’re getting the best qualified,” Seraphin said.
He added that there are less people taking the test to join the police force:
“I will say that 27 years ago, when I took the test, there were 300 people taking the test. (Now) we have 30. So we have to try to get the best candidates, wherever they might be from.”
Many Champaign and Urbana police personnel live in Mahomet. In fact, more police personnel live in Mahomet than in Champaign and Urbana combined.
A total of 29 Champaign police reside in Mahomet while only 25 live in Champaign. Twelve Urbana police live in Mahomet compared with seven living in Urbana.
In another comparison, almost twice as many Urbana police officers live in Champaign than in Urbana. Thirteen Urbana police officers live in Champaign while only 7 Urbana police officers reside in the city limits of the city they work in.
Urbana’s police department currently does not offer any residency bonuses for police personnel. Urbana Human Resources Manager Elizabeth Borman said the city isn’t planning to offer a residency bonus at this time.
Tracy Parsons, community relations manager for Champaign, doesn’t think residency is the most important issue in policing, but said police officers need to know the community better.
“I guess, my position… really is whether they live in the community or not, they’ve got to learn, and we’ve got to do a better job of policing in the communities,” Parsons said.
Residency programs in Illinois have seen some success in improving community relations with police departments. In Rockford, Illinois, the resident officer community keeper program, or ROCK, embeds select officers in the communities they patrol. Officials there said that builds trust and gives officers a personal stake in the neighborhood.
As concerns over police reform continue to be debated nationally, residency is only one part of the puzzle. ROCK Officer Patrice Turner said in a 2020 interview that “mending community relationships won’t come until the fractures of the past are dealt with,” and people will see you as just a police officer without forming stronger bonds on duty.
Nationally, residency is still being researched alongside other data-driven efforts to reexamine community policing.
Last year, Communities United Against Police Brutality, a volunteer organization based in Minneapolis, told USA Today they haven’t encountered any evidence of residency requirements having positive effects on the quality of policing. One member even said residency requirements would be a “distraction from real reform,” such as ending no-knock warrants and other scrutinized practices, according to the article.