DECATUR — Just days after a man was charged with firing a handgun at a Decatur Police Department squad car, the wives of some officers pleaded with the city council Monday to offer greater support for the men and women in blue.
At least a dozen spouses of Decatur cops attended the council meeting, with four addressing Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe and council members during the portion where citizens can address the body.
Their demands included higher staffing levels, harsher sentences for violent offenders and greater public displays of support for their spouses.
They also urged the city to come to agreement on a new contract with the union representing the city's cops, who've been working without a contract since January 2020.
"I am here tonight as a concerned police wife," said Tara Daniels. "My husband and I have three young children, and I fear for his safety, and his fellow officers. In 12 years, I have never been so terrified that my children will become fatherless due to his profession."
The pleas come after a man, identified as Marcus Boykin, fired shots Friday evening at a marked squad car with a Decatur police officer inside.
This set off a car chase that ended between Grand Avenue and Waggoner Street. After about 10 minutes, Boykin was taken into custody. He remains in Macon County Jail on $500,000 bond.
Citing the ongoing investigation, the Decatur Police Department on Monday denied a Herald & Review Freedom of Information Act request for dashcam footage of the chase.
Several of the speakers said this incident was just another example of the dangers officers face today, arguing that criminals feel emboldened by criminal justice reform efforts at the state level while the department faces understaffing.
"Our officers should be able to have backup, or to have someone able to sit with them while they're writing the reports, so that way they're not having to constantly look out their window and wonder if somebody is walking up to them and (has) a gun to their head or shooting inside their vehicle," said Carman Brooks, the wife of a Decatur officer.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this year signed landmark police reform legislation into law which, among other things, ends cash bail, mandates all officers wear body cameras by 2025 and makes significant changes to use-of-force policy.
The legislation was a pillar of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' legislative response to the killing of George Floyd, which gave new relevance to long-simmering issues of racial justice and police misconduct.
The officers' spouses had a sympathetic ear from the Decatur City Council, with each member reiterating their support for the department while decrying rising rates of violent crime and reform efforts they say ties the hands of police.
"The mayor and I are very clear of what Springfield likes to call police reform," said Councilwoman Lisa Gregory. "We more or less refer to it as garbage ... We are letting legislators understand how it empowers certain individuals on the street to act the way they do."
It also significantly shaped the evening's conversation, which was expected to focus on how to spend the city's allotment of $16.9 million in American Rescue Plan stimulus funds.
The council largely accepted city manager Scot Wrighton's recommendation to spend $9 million on three high-priority water and sewer projects; $4 million to replace lost 2020 tax revenue; $2 million for housing under the city's neighborhood revitalization initiative and $1 million on broadband expansion.
Wrighton said that much of the funds towards lost tax revenue could go toward "general governmental functions," which includes public safety.
Moore Wolfe, whose son is a Macon County sheriff's deputy, said that the "lack of respect for authority is a plague in this country," noting how crime is up across the nation.
In Decatur, she pointed to the increase in large, illegal pop-up block parties the past few years as well as a recent incident of fighting forcing the Splash Cove water park to close this past weekend.
"We are doing what we can to get more officers on the street, to get more bad people off the street," Moore Wolfe said. "We are not surrendering this community to the thugs. We're not going to do it."
Despite the public statements of support, Moore Wolfe acknowledged that "we are low on cops." The city has 148 budgeted positions for police officers, but currently only has 140 on the force.
It's not for a lack of trying, city officials say. But recruitment efforts have been a challenge for years, leading to reductions by attrition as officers retiring outpaces incoming recruits.
"The problem has been that we've had trouble, as have cities throughout the United States, with recruiting," Wrighton said. "You spend a year plus demonizing police officers inappropriately and then rationalizing criminal behavior, the result is that people don't want to be police officers."
For much of the night, the discussion on police and stimulus funds was intertwined, with council members recognizing the potential for some of the funds, such as those earmarked for neighborhood revitalization, to have a positive impact on crime rates.
"Just a couple of days ago, there was an individual that attempted to murder a police officer while doing paperwork. That's unacceptable," said Councilman David Horn. "This increase in violent crime is a pandemic of its own and we need to respond to it. And there are dollars listed here that can be used to do that."
In the short term, Horn argued for funds to go toward enhanced community violence prevention programs. Long term, he suggested spending more funds on neighborhood revitalization and less on items like water and sewer projects, which could come from other sources.
"We need to increase our public safety," Horn said. "But at the end of the day, it's going to be investment in our neighborhoods and the people who live in those neighborhoods that will be what turn around the long-standing challenges that we have."
Though there was broad agreement on the need for more funding to neighborhood revitalization, members said there was a need for balance.
"We can tear down as many houses as we want, we can make the lots look as beautiful as they want, but until we find a way to encourage, entice, support entities and individuals in the area of human capital development, we will continue to have ratty houses, we will continue to have parties in the street, we will continue to have individuals shooting each other because they can," Gregory said. "And worse, we will have them shooting at our officers."
The council ended the discussion with everyone besides Horn in agreement on how to allocated the city's ARP funds.
Of the $9 million for water and sewer projects, most would go toward three priority projects: the replacement of a water clarifier at the South Water Treatment Plant, the separation of the combined sanitary and storm sewer system around Oakland and Grand avenues and the reduction of inflow and infiltration in the area around Division Street and Ellen Avenue.
Moore Wolfe also indicated her support for offering a lifeline to the Children's Museum of Illinois, saying they need "a significant influx of money" after being closed for more than a year.
The museum could need as much as $200,000 from the city, Moore Wolfe said.
"It is something that attracts visitors from all over Central Illinois, it's educational, we have people from all over the country that come to this children's museum," she said. "And if it shuts down, it will be gone, it will be gone for good. And they need help."
With Wrighton getting the feedback he wanted from the council, an amendment to the city's fiscal year 2021 budget will likely come in a matter of weeks.
A second $16.9 million installment will be forthcoming next year.
FULL COVERAGE: Central Illinois mourns fallen police officer Chris Oberheim
Champaign Police Officer Chris Oberheim, a Decatur native, was shot to death May 19 while responding to a domestic disturbance call. See full coverage of tributes to Oberheim's life and service.
Rows of police officers stood at parade rest waiting for the casket containing the earthly remains of Officer Chris Oberheim on Wednesday, patient and so silent that you could hear birds chirping in the trees surrounding Maranatha Assembly of God.
The funeral procession for Officer Chris Oberheim leaves Maranatha Assembly of God headed for burial in Monticello Township Cemetery. More cov…
The funeral procession for fallen Champaign police Officer Chris Oberheim included many police vehicles as it passed through Decatur on Wednesday.
The funeral procession for Champaign police Officer Chris Oberheim is held Wednesday. Oberheim, a Decatur native, was killed in a shootout las…
Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim, a Decatur native, was laid to rest Wednesday. Oberheim was killed May 19 in a shootout with suspect a…
Preparations are continuing for the funeral of Decatur native and Champaign police Officer Chris Oberheim, who was killed last week. READ MORE HERE.
See photos of the Monticello community placing flags in honor of Officer Chris Oberheim.
Videos from coverage about the death of Officer Chris Oberheim, killed Wednesday in Champaign.
See photos of those gathered on Oakland Avenue in Decatur
Elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders reacted with sadness Wednesday to the death of Champaign police Officer Chris Oberhei…
Central Illinois law enforcement funeral procession scheduled for Officer Chris Oberheim on Wednesday
From the Herald & Review editorial board: "With each succeeding detail, the story of Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim's death became more tragic."
"Take the time to slow down, hug your loved ones, hold them tight and enjoy every moment you’re blessed with together," fallen Champaign police Officer Chris Oberheim's family said in a statement.
A procession led by a hearse bearing the remains of slain police officer moved across central Illinois on Thursday, giving hundreds a chance to pay their respects.
Champaign police Officer Chris Oberheim, killed while responding to a domestic disturbance early Wednesday, was a father of four daughters, three currently attending Monticello schools.
Chris Oberheim impressed those who knew him with his sense of service, and just the way he lived his life.