URBANA – Bryant Seraphin’s appointment as Urbana police chief has been renewed for another year by the Urbana City Council. Approval came Wednesday night, on a 5-1 vote, with one abstention. Alderman William Colbrook (R-Ward 6) abstained, citing his position as Parkland College police chief.
The “no” vote came from Alderman Jared Miller. The Ward 7 Democrat said that while he was ready to work with Seraphin, he was not the right person to bring reform to the Urbana Police Department, especially in light of charges of excessive force in the arrest by Urbana officers of Aleyha Lewis in April.
“I feel like Chief Seraphin has not risen to the occasion in this time,” said Miller. “We haven’t heard responses that I feel like have been appropriate to the nature of what’s going on, both in our police department and in the larger world.”
Critics of the Aleyha Lewis arrest have spoken out at recent Urbana City Council meetings. At the June 8 meeting, many called on the council to deny reappointment for Serafin as police chief, or at least delay it while the Lewis arrest is investigated by an outside firm, which Mayor Diane Marlin said she is in the process of hiring. Urbana police and Champaign County prosecutors have already stated that they believe the arrest was handled properly.
Earlier on Wednesday, Chief Seraphin appeared with other local police chiefs at a meeting of the Champaign County Community Coalition. He told the group he shared the outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and pledged to work with the community on police reform.
“Specifically in regard to the Urbana Police Department, we pledge to review policies and strategies and take input from the community while doing so,” said Seraphin. “We have areas that we need to review and reform. We can adjust and change.”
Seraphin did not mention the Aleyha Lewis case. But Alderwoman Shirese Hursey, the only African-American on the Urbana City Council, said his comments bolstered her belief that he could institute reforms.
“I’ve always found it easy to talk to Bryant very plainly, whether we agreed or disagreed,” said Hursey. “And I’ve always found him open to suggestion. And going forward, we need a leadership role to move and help patrol officers buy in, however we will be doing retrainings and reforms. And Bryant seems to be able to do that.”
Ald. Eric Jakobsson noted that Seraphin has received the support of people who have worked with him, such as executives of the Cunningham Children’s Home, who spoke at the June 8 city council meeting. Jakobsson also credited Seraphin with instituting changes to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops by police, and supporting implicit bias training for his officers.
But Miller pointed to what he called an “overwhelming public outcry” against Seraphin in the more than 140 messages the Urbana City Council had received in the past 48 hours. Miller also noted that while Wednesday night’s online city council meeting was in progress, he had received pictures via social media of demonstrators critical of Seraphin and Urbana Police, gathering outside the Urbana City Building.
In most years, the yearly reappointment of Urbana’s police chief would be a routine affair, voted on aslong with other city personnel appointed by the mayor. But Ald. Miller asked that Seraphin’s name be taken separately from the other mayoral appointments. He also noted that even with his reappointment, Seraphin could be subject to dismissal by the mayor at any time, if she deemed it justified.