As University of Illinois Police Chief Alice Cary reaches her one-year anniversary with UIPD this week, she is reflecting on a busy 12 months filled with both significant accomplishments and new challenges.
In just one year, Cary introduced new campus resources like the Community Outreach and Support Team (C.O.A.S.T.), which is tasked with building new relationships with campus community members and supporting the complete wellness and well-being of students, faculty and staff. One of the ways C.O.A.S.T. pursues this goal is with the REACH initiative, which was also part of Cary’s vision. REACH pairs social workers with police in a co-responder model to provide better assessment, evaluation and response during mental health-related emergencies.
Maybe the most popular new program is UIPD’s four new therapy K9s – Archie, Lollipop, Rosie, and Winston. The new UIPD dogs are available to comfort community members in times of crisis or just act as an icebreaker during outreach events.
She took a moment to answer a few questions about the last 12 months and what the future holds as students prepare to return to campus for the first time since March 2020.
The last 12 months have been busy – what would you say are some of the most significant events that have occurred during your first year at UIPD?
It’s been crazy. It’s been a whirlwind, so to speak. I moved during the pandemic and hit the ground running when I got here. The pandemic has been a huge challenge. It’s been a huge challenge to protect not only the community, but also our employees at Public Safety.
In addition, I would say that everything we’re doing is based on the feedback from the community. We want to listen to the community and effect those changes as needed. And we’ve done that in the last 12 months, especially with COAST and REACH, those have been huge highlights.
And finally, gun violence has been a huge challenge not only in Champaign-Urbana, but it’s been a significant theme across the nation. It’s fortunate that we haven’t experienced anything on campus yet, but that doesn’t make us immune to what’s going on across the country. So we’re very proactive in how we keep that issue away from campus, and we’ve done a good job so far.
You started at UIPD in July 2020, which was only about two months after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted a lot of national conversations about policing. How has that affected your perspective of what UIPD is doing now?
That made law enforcement agencies across the country stop and reexamine what we do and how we do it. The creation of REACH is one of the answers in terms of how police respond – or really, minimizing the way we respond – to crisis in and around our community. Police are the first responders to mental health issues. Listening to feedback about how we address use of force and how we address those issues that we are responding to, even though they are non-law enforcement related, that’s something we take into consideration when we are trying to effect positive reform in law enforcement.
REACH specifically is going to address getting individuals in the profession of social work and de-escalating and counseling, getting them in the field so law enforcement can take a step back and professionals in mental health can step forward. In the long-term, we’d like to get law enforcement out of that realm entirely. What concerns me, though, is the safety of those individuals doing on-scene assessments. We need to make sure those social work professionals are staying safe, but our primary role will hopefully be turned over to those professionals in mental health.
You mentioned the gun violence – that topic maybe has been the foremost concern in terms of public safety since you arrived on campus. What is UIPD doing to help combat gun violence, both on campus and off?
I want to start by saying that our campus is a very safe place to be, but of course no community – whether it’s a college campus or rural area or big urban center – is completely crime free. It’s my job to work closely with our neighboring jurisdictions and provide extra patrols and keep our department involved in the Street Crimes Task Force, which investigates and identifies people who are associated with gun violence in our community. We do these things to ensure our campus community remains safe.
But in addition to what we do proactively, we need our community’s cooperation. If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activity, either directly to us or you can do this anonymously through Crime Stoppers.
Students will be returning to campus this fall for the first time since March 2020 – what are some new things they might expect to see?
Obviously, a lot of pandemic-related mitigations are still in place. As a public safety entity, we’ll be playing a part in helping to keep our campus safe in regard to the pandemic. The REACH program is a new resource for our students who are struggling with their mental health. In addition to our licensed clinical social worker, Megan Cambron, who helped get REACH off the ground, we will be adding two new social workers who will start and co-respond with our officers. They will provide additional resources out in the field.
One of my favorite new resources is our therapy K9s. These are new since 2020, and we have four of those. Overall, our new outreach activities, you should expect to see us engaging in different ways. Most recently we had Yoga on the Quad. You’ll see Pizza with the Chief. And you’ll see our officers out taking 30 minutes or more per day out of their patrol duties to engage with our community on a daily basis, 24/7.
Across the country over the past year, we’ve seen demonstrations, policy changes and other efforts from communities who have not been happy with how police have historically operated. Given this context, what should we expect to see from UIPD going forward?
The calls for change have been very clear, and they’ve been heard very loudly. We are enthusiastic about working with our community members to move forward in a way that works for everybody. But that takes time.
UIPD has a very good foundation. Typically, university police departments tend to be more progressive in their policies, training and practices. A lot of the calls for action we’ve been hearing across the country in terms of policy changes, and looking at the new state law on police reform – UIPD is in a very good place because what we were doing was already consistent with a lot of those things that are being asked of police departments across the country.
That being said, we can always improve. We’re constantly reviewing our policies and practices to see where we can improve, and we’re going to be a lot more active in the coming semesters speaking with students and others about what they want to see. We ultimately serve them. The key to hearing is listening, and we’re going to be doing a lot of active listening.
Anything else you want to add?
As I’ve said earlier, it’s been a whirlwind. Internally, our police department has advanced in terms of getting the right people in the right positions. We’ve added a couple of civilian employees to help bolster what we do and how we do it. We’ve added Dementro Powell as the Director of Community Development and Engagement. We’ve also added Rod Wyatt as the Director of Diversity and Engagement. What we’re doing with those two individuals is doing a better job with outreach and also doing a better job internally with what we do with diversity, equity and inclusion and how we interact with our campus community. I think that’s something new and it’s very exciting for UIPD.
Expect to see Archie and I walking around campus. Feel free to come up and say hi, and if you’d like Archie or any one of the therapy dogs to come to an event you’re having or just want to see us personally, give us a holler. You can find the therapy K9 request form on our website.