Clark, Champaign County leaders reflect after latest officer shootings

Law enforcement leaders in Clark and Champaign counties said the support they felt from local community members in recent weeks has overshadowed grim news of shootings in Louisiana and Texas.

Investigators in Louisiana have said Gavin Long, 29, killed three law enforcement officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge on Sunday. Five police officers were killed in Dallas earlier this month.

Local law enforcement leaders said Monday they cannot remember a time when officers have been targeted nationwide as they have in recent weeks. But Urbana Police Division Chief Matt Lingrell said he feels lucky to live in a community that has made a point to support local officers.

“Since these tragedies have been happening, there’s just been an overwhelming response from our community of goodwill and food baskets and food deliveries and thank yous and emails,” Lingrell said. “That kind of trumps the ugliness that we see.”

Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly talked to command officers and the department’s patrol sergeant Sunday evening, reminding them to tell deputies to take precautions, use their equipment and fall back on training. He also sent deputies a statement from President Barack Obama, as well as a statement expressing support from Denise Williams, president of the Springfield Unit of the NAACP.

“All of our deputies must be vigilant and protect each other,” Kelly’s email said. “President Williams of our local NAACP asked that I let every member of the sheriff’s office know we are in their thoughts and prayers. We must show great leadership during this difficult time in our nation’s history. We must stay strong and serve well.”

Kelly pointed out the recent attack targeted black and white officers.

“One of the three (killed in Baton Rogue) was an African-American and it appears he was just going after the uniforms,” Kelly said.

Increasingly law enforcement officers face suspects with assault rifles, the sheriff said, which wasn’t the case in previous decades.

Clark County deputies received an additional bullet-proof vest and a ballistic helmet this year because bullets from assault rifles can pierce the vests deputies used in the past.

“I’m trying to do everything I can do to keep my people safe but it’s very difficult in these times,” Kelly said.

Springfield Police Chief Stephen Moody said he has talked to his officers.

“We continue to talk to the officers and talk to one another to support each other and serve the community with patience and compassion,” Moody said. “We continue to follow our training and follow what we’ve been doing all along. We’re in touch every day with leaders of our community as well.”

In both counties, law enforcement officials and community members are also discussing how local officials can improve relationships between law enforcement and community members.

Ruth Lawson, of the Covenant Freedom School Advisory board, said 25 to 30 students from 7 to 12 years old will participate in a peaceful demonstration focusing on their school. The event is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall Plaza in Springfield. Kelly, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland and John Young, an instructor and associate dean at Wittenberg University, are also expected to attend.

Public discourse between community members and police is important and should continue, Lingrell said. But he said the challenges communities face now are complicated and shouldn’t just be laid at the feet of law enforcement. Other agencies and civic leaders need to be more involved.

“I don’t run from this,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that people depend on us. But we’re now dog catchers, we’re mental health experts, we deal with the homeless. Everyone turns to us to fix all these issues … These are issues that transcend many lines and boundaries and many organizations … The honest truth is the whole nation is struggling in all facets of race relations. It’s important for us to hear each other and take our time with each other.”

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