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Urbana Council Backs Panel Studying Traffic Stops

Urbana City Council members have signed off on a plan to put together a task force to look at possible racial disparities in traffic stop data.

The resolution passed unanimously Monday, but only after lot of discussion on the makeup of the 11-member panel.

That included suggestions from the public, including community activist Martel Miller, who suggested Mayor Laurel Prussing consider input from groups like CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, who raised the issue in the first place.

Activist Aaron Ammons said he’s heard complaints about African American men being pulled over and given tickets more than other racial group.  In an interview earlier Tuesday, Ammons said minorities being targeted for traffic stops is an issue that goes beyond Urbana.

“The approach to address the war on drugs has left police departments pushed by mandatory minimums and various different forms of law," he said.  "The dominant narrative is African American males and Latino males are the primary culprit.”

James Kilgore of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice said it's also important the group doesn't try to disprove evidence.

“I think it’s very important that people who are put on this don’t come with an agenda of tyring to disprove the fact that there’s racial disparity in traffic stops in Urbana," he said.  "There’s plenty of data to show that there is.”

Alderman Eric Jakobsson was the only member of the council to oppose an amendment that one of the 11 panel members come from the Urbana Police Department. 

As a matter of principle, Jakobsson said it is best for the body that approves the composition not to tie its own hands in advance, after Prussing recommends members for the group.

“I would be astonished if the council, with respect to this particular set of nominations, behaved anything like a ‘rubber stamp’ to the mayor," he said. "Because this is issue is so important, it’s both important, and it requires really a lot of thought, really, at that stage.”

The resolution currently states that the panel have two members with education in statistics, one city council member, and that the task force represent the ethnic mix of Urbana.  Members are not required to live in the city.

The 11-member group has until April 2015 to review that data, and present its findings.

An Illinois Department of Transportation report from 2007 through 2009 of traffic stops in Urbana shows a third of all cases involved black drivers. That’s compared to the total population of African Americans in Champaign County, which is about 13 percent.

Whites made up more than half of all traffic stops. According to Census data, whites in Champaign County make up 70 percent of the overall population.