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Mental-health challenges, substance abuse on rise at Champaign County jail

News-Gazette - 6/14/2024

Jun. 13—CHAMPAIGN — Warmer weather means an increase in population at the county jail, Sheriff Dustin Heuerman told the Champaign County Community Coalition.

That isn't a surprise to Heuerman.

"But we are seeing an even bigger increase in mental health and substance abuse issues among inmates who come in," he said.

The theme of all three law enforcement reports at Wednesday's meeting was community collaboration.

Heuerman said his staff is working toward steps to address mental health and substance abuse, as well as strengthening relationships with local organizations which already work on those causes.

Joe Lamberson, assistant to the police chief for community services at the Champaign Police Department, spoke on behalf of Chief Timothy Tyler to promote Coffee with a Cop and police engagement at summer events downtown.

Urbana Chief Larry Boone said that he wants to share data between police departments and local organizations to tackle problems and identify "blind spots."

He presented a map of recent shootings in Urbana.

"What I'm trying to demonstrate is crime is connected to poverty. Crime is connected to individuals without hope and when you lose hope, you resort to violence," Boone said.

UPD has created placards featuring a QR code and phone numbers to get in touch with police which can be hung on door handles.

Boone said the plan is to hang placards during active investigations to encourage people to provide relevant information, as well as in areas with notable crime rates to encourage people to report anything they see.

UPD had seven shootings to report since the Coalition's May meeting, CPD had one and the sheriff's department had none.

Other topics at the Coalition meeting included:

— Registration for the Champaign Fire Department's Adult Explorer Program is due June 14.

The program helps prepare and educate people who are interested in becoming firefighters with ride-along experience and basic training.

"A lot of these participants, they fall in love with the fire service and really enjoy it. Conversely, they might do some time with us and say, 'Hey, this is not for me,' and that's fine too," said Deputy Chief Jason Rector.

Rector said AEP helps level the playing field for applicants to the department who don't have volunteering experience and earns "preference points" on the job application.

However, participation is not required to apply to work at the department.

— Four local students are preparing to go to the national NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics conference in Las Vegas last month.

They brought home the high scores from local competitions to earn their places at the conference, but ACT-SO leaders are in the process of raising funds to make sure the group can stay in Vegas on July 11-14.

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