CCSO deputies keep our communities safe

URBANA—It’s a lot of driving around observing, listening and checking things out.  The job is never the same from one minute to the next, and all plans tend to go out the window during the course of a shift.  For one evening in mid-July, I drove along with Champaign County Sheriff’s Deputy Deron Brize for the 3 - 11 p.m. shift.   We covered a lot of ground, from one end of the county to the other, helping people stay safe from each other, from wrongdoers, and even themselves. 

This is one job that requires a lot of professionalism and calm.   Officers are always dealing with people in crisis and under stress.  “I just don’t let things bother me,” said Brize, who has been on the force for three years.  He came from the mental health field, but the lack of ability to help people long term brought him to law enforcement, where he derives a great deal of satisfaction from being able to make a difference.  “You see some bad things, but you also affect people’s lives in a positive way,” he explained. “Sometimes I see people I worked with before and I am helping them again.”

Brize drives confidently around the Champaign-Urbana area, which is his assigned territory for this shift.   The county is divided roughly in areas to the north and south, and the east and west.  He masterfully juggles information coming in from his onboard computer, his connection to base, and his cell phone as he monitors requests, his shift assignments, dispatch reports and back up.  There is a constant beeping, chiming and  chatter from the radio. “Let me know if all this noise bothers you,” he said.  At first it was overwhelming. But once it was clear what machine was making what noise, it was easier to process.  He helpfully explained some of the codes that were coming in constantly from the dispatcher.   The status of all officers is constantly monitored, which was a comfort.

Much of a sheriff’s deputy’s job is making sure things are quiet and nothing unusual is happening.  They also serve warrants, orders of protection and eviction notices along with dealing with crimes and disturbances.  There are two deputies at the Sherriff’s Office who do nothing but serve warrants to people, Brize told me, and yet the deputies on patrol also have a stack they need to deliver.

Our initial route wound around the East Urbana area, checking out neighborhoods for unusual activity.  Brize is very familiar with most of the houses on his route.  He knows the neighborhoods and the people who live there.  There are houses that have a lot of police calls and other places that are usually quiet.  “There have been kids around here breaking into houses when people are at work,” Brize said.  I noticed a garage door that was not closed.  “It’s always like that,” he told me.  “It’s not a cause for concern.  Now if I see a screen on the ground, or something like that, I will investigate.”

As we pass cars or sit at a stoplight, Brize is constantly typing in license plate numbers to check for stolen cars, invalid registrations or for people with warrants.   He finds that it pays off sometimes.  “If we had a stolen car, I would call for backup and we would take precautions,” he said.  “If something I feel is dangerous is happening, I will drop you off. I wouldn’t want to put you in harm’s way.”

I was glad to hear it.

He has a plan, he tells me, but the shift has so many twists and turns of events that most of it never comes to fruition.

Our first call of the day comes from a trailer park in East Urbana.  A person has reported his friend, who is intoxicated, has been chasing and threatening him.  We pull up near but not next to the residence of the caller.  I elect to wait in the car.  Another deputy pulls up, as does an ambulance and a fire truck.  All of the concerned parties enter the trailer.  After some amount of time, Brize comes back, the ambulance pulls away and all seems to be resolved.  “I think it should be fine,” he says.  “Once I got the guy to lie down, he was calmer.  He should sober up soon.”

It’s not an hour later we get a call from the same victim, who says his friend is chasing him again and he fears for his life.  This time, we put on lights and siren, and rush to the scene.  Brize calls in medical again.  “He’s running out on the road in traffic somewhere,” Brize says, reading a text report that comes in from METCAD on the computer in the vehicle.   We both crane our heads around in the squad car, looking for the suspect.   Brize spots him crossing a dangerous stretch of highway.  He jumps into action, driving over the median and blocking traffic.    Meahwhile, back up arrives.  The man runs back into the grass verge and Brize is out, ordering him to lie back in the grass.  He does so.  The ambulance is back again.   Now both deputies help him inside the ambulance, but he doesn’t spend a minute inside before he’s hauled out by the deputies.  He continues to be belligerent.  Finally, he’s handcuffed.  I can see him shouting at the deputies as I watch from the car.  He’s sent away in the squad car, off to Carle Hospital for an evaluation.

Brize and I go back to the reporting person’s trailer.  Brize is concerned about the suspect.  Earlier, Brize checked the suspect’s eyes and was suspicious there was more than alcohol involved.   “Is your friend on anything else we should know about? Does he drink a lot?” he asks the friend.  “I am concerned he’s going to come down off something or have withdrawal, so let me know if you know anything.” The reporting person denies they had anything but beer.  “Were you afraid for your life?” Brize asks the suspect.  “Do you want to press charges?”  The reporting person says he does not, as the suspect is a friend.  “I didn’t know what else to do but call you,” he says.  “He was chasing me.  What else could I do?” With no charges being filed, Brize and I get back in the squad car.  There’s a message Brize needs to go to Carle, as the suspect is acting combatively there, as well.  We head to Carle Hospital, where deputies are converging.   I wait again in the squad car for him to sort it out.

After a while, we are on the road again, when a third call from the same area comes in. Neighbors observed that the suspect had hidden something in a power box on the property during the chase with the victim.

Brize  retrieves the items from the neighbors, which turn out to be the reporting person’s wallet and two cell phones.  We return them to the victim, who is surprised to see them.   “I didn’t even know he took those!” he exclaims. Brize asks him, “Do you want to press charges now?  That’s theft at this point.”  The victim hasn’t changed his mind. “No, he’s a friend…where is he now?” “He’s in the county jail,“ Brize says.  “He threatened a deputy.”  The victim has no interest in going to court, he says, so there is nothing else to be done. 

Brize and I head off to serve an order of protection in Champaign.  This is a two-week order of protection, which can be issued quickly with only one person present at the hearing.  The subject of the order, a young man who looks to be in his 20s, is barred from coming into contact with his ex-girlfriend, who lives in Philo.   Brize spent quite a bit of time explaining to the subject of the warrant that he should have no contact with the person in the order, even if she contacts him. After we left, he explained, “the problem is, many times after these are served the person ask for the order of protection contacts the individual they want to be protected from and expect a response,” he said. “Sometimes the victims won’t let them alone and if they get in contact, I have to go arrest them. Social media makes it worse. People need to learn how to behave like responsible adults.”

Off we go again, this time on a long ride on Interstate 74, then through the countryside to check out an accident near Mahomet where a young man had hit a deer.   It was just a glancing blow, and by the time we got there the deer was nowhere to be found.  After taking an accident report, Brize took his flashlight and went to look along the side of the road in case the deer might be injured.  No deer, so we headed back to Urbana.

We talked about how beautiful the countryside in Central Illinois can be, especially at dusk.   Deputies spend a lot of time in their cars alone, and sometimes that means they can appreciate the prairie vistas on their way to another call. Night was coming and we admired the sunset.

On the way, Brize noticed a car with no headlights on leaving a gas station.  He whipped our vehicle around, lights flashing, and stopped the driver.  It was a unusual feeling to be inside the police car while he ran the person’s information on his computer, seeing the traffic stop from the other side of the glass.  I empathized with the person waiting in front of the squad car, perhaps wondering if she might get a ticket.  The driver got a warning, and we were on the road again.

Next up was a cruise through two low-income trailer parks north of Urbana to look for a car belonging to someone who had witnessed a fight.  I felt secure in the sheriff’s vehicle as we drove by dilapidated and run-down trailers in now deep darkness.  No one was out.  The car he was looking for was not there.  

Our final assignment was to back up another deputy who was north near Fisher tracking a car behaving erratically on Route 45.  Concerned it was an intoxicated driver, both deputies tracked the car to Springfield and Mattis in Champaign and pulled it over.  Turns out it was a couple of kids coming back from the Fisher Fair, with no harm done.

It was time to head back to the station to write up reports for Brize and for me to return to civilian life.

The sheriff’s department, although serving county-wide, is really about community policing.  Day after day, patrolling the same areas, the deputies come to know the neighborhoods, towns, roads and people that make up Champaign County.  They assist other law enforcement officers from jurisdictions inside the county, and each other.  Each day brings a different problem – a crime, an accident or a person who needs assistance – but fundamentally their job is to keep the residents of the county safe.  As I rode along for the evening, I realized how many times in just a span of a few hours deputies are asked to solve a problem, find a criminal, or help someone in trouble.  Deputies go out and put themselves in harm’s way, every day, so the majority of the county’s residents can be oblivious to danger, going about their business while the protectors hold the ugliness at bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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