Frequently Asked Questions
Here are responses to some questions Dustin frequently gets asked. In today's political climate it is sometimes difficult to look past the "D" or "R" behind someone's name. Hopefully these responses will help you get a better idea of his philosophies.
What does the Sheriff and Sheriff's office do?
The Sheriff is said to be "the highest law enforcement officer in the county" and is elected every four years. Champaign County is the fifth largest county in Illinois by land (approximately 1000 sq mi) and tenth largest in Illinois by population (approximately 230,000). Though the primary function of the patrol division is to provide primary police service to unincorporated areas of Champaign County, the Sheriff and his deputies have jurisdiction throughout the entire county. In addition to law enforcement, the Sheriff's office is responsible for civil paper service, providing security to the Courthouse and court proceedings, and providing safe and secure adult correctional facilities. In Champaign County, the Sheriff is also charged with proving oversight to the county's emergency management agency. Dustin feels an additional role of the Sheriff is to actively participate in the community and facilitate community discussions to solve community problems.
What are some of Dustin's priorities as Sheriff?
Dustin has several priorities as Sheriff. Some of them include:
Creating a diverse and professional workplace where people not only want to work, but also want to stay.
Working toward an equitable and fair criminal justice system that also protects our community.
Working with community groups to assess community needs and develop community solutions.
Reducing community gun violence by collaborating with other police agencies and community organizations.
Ensuring a high level of service in Sheriff's Office operations - operations that treat everyone fairly and without discrimination.
Does political party really matter in a Sheriff?
I guess that depends. If the Sheriff has radical views going either way, it can be difficult to adequately fulfill the duties of Sheriff. Dustin was raised in a Republican household but for the last several years has found that his personal views fall more in line with the Democratic party. Dustin doesn't really consider himself a politician, and admits he wouldn't be a good one because he relies on giving honest opinions rather than saying what he thinks someone wants to hear. Not that all politicians do that, but he's known some that have! Running for Sheriff was the only time he's ran for elected office and he's never been politically involved besides casting his ballot each election.
Dustin thinks the person serving as Sheriff is more important than a particular political party. Dustin sees himself serving everyone in Champaign County, not just one political party or another. The Sheriff has to provide the same services regardless of political party. Some people assume that because Dustin is a Democrat, he has anti-Republican views, which isn't always true. Sure Dustin's views differ from some Republicans on certain topics, but they also differ from some Democrats, too! For example, Dustin believes that we all deserve to live in a safe community, and if incarcerating someone who poses a danger to our community is what needs to be done to keep us safe, then that should be done. However, he also believes that incarceration isn't the best option for everyone and we can be doing more in the community to address that, including diverting those with mental illness from incarceration to appropriate community services.
Is it necessary for the Sheriff to have law enforcement experience?
While not a requirement under Illinois law, Dustin believes it is absolutely necessary to have law enforcement experience to be successful in the role of Sheriff. Dustin also believes his experience as a deputy at the Sheriff's Office gave him knowledge to be successful as Sheriff, too. It took Dustin about two years to feel comfortable in his role as Sheriff - that's with leadership, administrative, and Sheriff's Office experience. Dustin believes it would have likely been much more difficult to be successful in the role without this experience and knowledge of existing operations.
What are Dustin's thoughts on "defunding" police?
The term "defunding" has had a few different meanings recently. Dustin does not support completely defunding the police. Community members rely on police for protection and law enforcement cannot adequately serve them without money. However, Dustin realizes that law enforcement over the years has picked up many responsibilities that could be better served by other means. Dustin does support a transition to community alternatives for things such as mental health. Even now, social service agencies many times will contact police to stand by on potentially violent situations. Dustin believes that as long as this is the case, taking money from police without reducing their obligations will result in substandard service and result in a risk to public safety. Any transition of services has to be strategic and well thought-out.
As Sheriff, how does Dustin feel about the riots and protests we've seen in our county lately?
While some use the terms interchangeably, Dustin believes that there is a difference between riots and protests. Dustin supports the Constitutional rights of all groups to peacefully protest. He realizes that sometimes that is the only way a group can feel like they are being heard. His office has worked with several protest organizers, including for a protest of about 1,500 people at the Courthouse, to make sure protesters were given adequate space to protest but also kept safe from others who might want to counter-protest or cause them harm.
From Dustin's perspective, Champaign County has only seen one riot in recent years, and that was when people broke into businesses to steal property in 2020. Unfortunately, this unlawful behavior took away from the message protesters were trying to share and caused damage to our community. Dustin does not support any activity that involves unlawful behavior, regardless of the reason.
What is Dustin doing to help ensure against excessive use-of-force and discrimination from deputies?
Dustin believes the first step is to hire ethical employees and then provide them with adequate training. Dustin has increased de-escalation training, implicit bias training, and scenario-based training within the Sheriff's Office. Unfortunately, when de-escalation efforts fail, law enforcement has to turn to some use-of-force techniques to fulfill their duties. Dustin's requirement for his deputies is that when a use of force is necessary, it is the minimum use of force needed.
There have been several use-of-force cases in 2020 that received national attention - and for good reason. Dustin has tried to make sure our community realizes that these national incidents are not reflective of how the Champaign County Sheriff's Office operates. Even before 2020, Sheriff's Office policy has emphasized de-escalation techniques before use-of-force, a duty for deputies to intervene if they witness unlawful or unethical behavior from fellow officers, and a prohibition on choke-holds and similar restraint tactics except in the most extreme circumstances where deadly force is justified.
Dustin has also invested in updated Tasers for an additional tool when less-than-lethal force is required, has upgraded body cameras and ensured every deputy has one, and increased the number of in-car cameras so every patrol deputy and supervisor has the ability to document what occurs during an encounter with the public from multiple perspectives.
I've heard Dustin doesn't cooperate with ICE. What does that mean?
This is a topic that has a lot of vocal groups on both sides. Dustin believes that we need secure borders to protect our nation from people with bad intents - but Dustin has no say in border protection or policy. What Dustin does have a say in is how people are treated in Champaign County. Those who are afraid of being deported are less likely to report crime when it occurs. When responding to calls for service, Dustin has decided that he and his deputies will treat everyone equally regardless of citizenship status, because that doesn't really matter to the investigation. Dustin's view is that his jail will only hold people when probable cause exists that a criminal offense has occurred or on a Judge's lawful order. His office does not detain people based solely on citizenship status unless a Judge has authorized the detainer.
What are a couple of the biggest "eye-openers" Dustin has gotten since being elected Sheriff?
One of the biggest eye-openers for Dustin since being elected is how rude and impolite people can be for no reason. Not all people, but some. Everybody has an opinion and some think yours should be the same or you are wrong. When in the public eye, Dustin realized there would be criticism - but he expected criticism to be derived from things he has done and decisions he's made, not "just because." After all, not everybody understands the position of Sheriff as much as they think they do. From random social media comments on irrelevant topics to media publications highlighting aspects of his life that have no bearing on his leadership skills or abilities as Sheriff, this has been one of the biggest eye-openers. In today's time, that's the price a public figure has to pay for wanting to serve the community. It is Dustin's hope that most people will do their due diligence in being informed before making a decision based on the "loudest voice" at the time.
Dustin has learned that some people and groups are set in their single-minded viewpoints and have no desire to listen to other viewpoints or have constructive conversations. Of course, he has also learned that others are very open-minded and willing to listen and collaborate, even if not sharing the exact same viewpoints. Dustin puts an emphasis on visiting and speaking to a variety of community groups so they can get a realistic impression of who he is along with his priorities and goals. It is important to Dustin that people see that he truly cares about Champaign County and is working for all of them, not just one group. Dustin has vowed to give an open and honest opinion based on his professional experiences so those who want to make an informed decision can. If he is selected to only serve a four year term as Sheriff, he wants to work as hard as he can to improve the criminal justice system in Champaign County while making this a safe community for everyone.
What are Dustin's thoughts on consolidating the two jails in Champaign County?
Dustin's first priority, as a Champaign County resident and the Sheriff, is to ensure a safe county for everyone who lives, works and visits here, including his own family. The majority of inmates in his facilities are either accused or convicted of violent crimes. There is a small percentage, however, who are not in this category. Dustin wishes he didn't have mentally ill offenders in his custody, but he does. Dustin wishes people didn't commit violent crimes that adversely affect the safety of our county, but they do. Dustin feels it is his obligation to help adequately address all of these issues to the best of his abilities.
Some people do not realize that the Sheriff has very little say in who is in the correctional facilities. Dustin doesn’t have a say in who officers from other departments arrest and bring to the correctional facility, in bail amounts assigned, or in who is remanded to his custody by the judiciary. Dustin does, however, have a say in how we meet inmate needs while they are in his custody. That is what this jail consolidation and renovation aims to do – provide for a safe facility that addresses Champaign County's unique population of inmates while trying to provide inmates with the tools they need to not reoffend, giving them the best chance possible to not return after they are released.
Throughout this jail endeavor, Dustin has three major priorities:
Consolidating into a facility that meets the needs of today and the foreseeable needs of the future - including safety and security needs as well as inmate program needs - while also being fiscally responsible,
Continuing to work with the community to seek alternatives to arrest for those who might benefit more from community resources than incarceration (for example, those with mental illness), and
Continuing to work with the judiciary, legislators and the State’s Attorney’s office to seek alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent arrestees who are sitting in jail simply because they cannot afford bail.
I've heard something about reform to pre-trial processes that might drastically reduce the jail population. Is that true?
Dustin welcomes any legislation that keeps those accused of committing a low-level crime, and who do not pose a risk to the community, out of jail until their trial. Currently, there is a process that takes place through the judiciary after a person is arrested to determine not only if it is probable that the arrestee committed the accused crime, but also the amount of bail, which is based on a variety of factors including flight risk, safety risk, criminal history and type of crime allegedly committed.
Dustin has been transparent with information about who is in his custody, along with the crimes they are accused of committing. He has presented this information to community groups, to the County Board, and even created an annual report to help provide a realistic view of who is in the jail. Many inmates in jail are accused of violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, domestic battery and sexual assault. This is public information and he encourages anyone to contact the Sheriff's Office if they would like to see jail statistics. Much of this information is also available on the Sheriff's Office website.
No county is perfect, but Champaign County already has a lot of good initiatives to keep people out of jail while they are awaiting trial. As such, pre-trial reform is unlikely to have as much of an affect on Champaign County as in other Illinois counties. However, in collaboration with the State's Attorney's office, Probation, and the judiciary, an initiative is underway with the Illinois Supreme Court's Commission on Pretrial Practices to evaluate our methods in Champaign County and how we can improve those efforts.
While Dustin welcomes reform, he also has major issues in the jails right now that need to be addressed.
Why do we have to close the downtown jail?
There are a lot of reasons for this. First, the downtown jail was built with a different type of correctional philosophy in mind. There is very little program space for inmates and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for correctional officers to adequately keep a watchful eye on inmates to help ensure they are safe and secure. Dustin and his team are accomplishing this goal, but it will be much more efficient in the renovated space. Why does this matter? Dustin doesn't want inmates or staff to get hurt, or the county to be sued because of a preventable incident in the jail. That could cost the county millions of dollars and good employees.
Second, the county has not maintained the downtown facility as it should have over the years. At one point in 2019 an inmate picked apart a deteriorating wall/grate in his cell that could have been used as a weapon against another inmate or a correctional officer. Luckily this inmate gave this to a correctional officer before it could be used as a weapon.
You might have also heard of the jail doors randomly opening up. Luckily it ended up being a relatively inexpensive fix, but at a point the thought was it could cost Champaign County taxpayers over $200,000 to fix, and it still could at some point. The roof is in disrepair and the mechanicals in the building are outdated, not to mention the infestation of cockroaches that continually has to be addressed.
The point is that we are one crisis away from having to invest a lot of money into a facility that is not conducive to what we want in a correctional facility. If these issues aren’t enough, we are also out of compliance in several areas, including ADA requirements. The Sheriff's office has gotten a “pass” on many of these issues because we have been talking about the consolidation of the facilities, but that conversation will only buy time for so long. At that point we will be forced to make changes, ready or not.
Why can’t we just close the downtown jail and move inmates to the other facility without any changes?
In corrections, we classify inmates based on a variety of factors including type of crime, gang affiliation, mental health status, etc. Not all inmates can be housed together. Those who come in with mental health issues have to be housed separately so we can better address their special needs. Rival gang members cannot be housed together. Females have to be housed separate from males. You get the point. We commonly have so many inmates with different classifications that housing them all together in our existing Satellite facility wouldn’t be safe for the inmates or the correctional officers. We have a legal obligation to keep inmates safe while they are in our custody as well as an obligation to keep correctional officers from getting hurt from something that is preventable.
If we were ever forced to close the downtown jail because of one of our deficiencies, before making the appropriate renovations to the Satellite jail, we would be faced with paying an average of $100/day/inmate to house inmates in other counties - if we could find enough other counties willing to accept our inmates. We would still be responsible for transporting the inmates to court hearings across the state and they wouldn't be as close to their families for visitation purposes.
Why can’t we work on alternatives to incarceration instead of spending money on a consolidated facility?
There is no doubt that some inmates come to jail because there is nowhere else for them to go. This is unfortunate but a reality that currently has to be addressed. Dustin is working on this, actively engaged with community groups, mental health professionals and other county criminal justice professionals to find alternatives to incarceration. Until there is a solid community alternative, however, we will continue to experience special management inmates, for example those with mental health issues, in our facility. We have done a lot in the last few years to get low-level offenders out of jail when the only reason they were still in there is because they couldn’t post bond. In the jails right now, though, there are quite a few inmates either accused or convicted of very serious, violent crimes.
Dustin views it as his obligation to the community to provide a safe and secure environment for those remanded to his custody by the court. Dustin feels that jail shouldn't be a place where people want to be, but also feels that providing humane facilities that adequately address mental health and medical needs is imperative. While Dustin doesn't have much say over who is in his facilities and is an active part of the conversation of looking for alternatives to incarceration and a “better way” of doing things, Dustin also has to focus on our county’s current needs until that “better way” is found and proven successful.
Does a larger corrections facility mean you’ll be encouraged to fill it with more inmates?
Actually, with the current proposed design for a consolidated facility we will have fewer beds than we currently have. It will be a larger facility square foot wise because we are consolidating inmates from the downtown location, but we’ve already mentioned why they cannot just be added to the general population without any renovations.
The proposed consolidation and renovation will allow us to better manage our unique population of inmates, leading to a lessened liability for the county and a safer environment for both our inmates and our employees. We will finally have the space to better address the medical and mental health needs of inmates, have more efficient processes, and provide additional programs for inmates who are looking to better themselves while in our custody. The consolidated facility will also allow us to better prepare for an unknown future, as many things can affect our inmate population from legislative changes to sentencing philosophies by judges, by creating a space that can be transformed for the unique situations we are facing at any given time. COVID-19 has helped to reinforce the need for renovation of current jail facilities to better meet our foreseen, and unforeseen, needs.
Will this consolidated and renovated facility provide for more inmate programs?
Yes! It will also allow for better recreation space for inmates to work off the excess energy they sometimes get. This, in turn, provides for a safer environment for everyone. We currently offer 28 programs in the jails for inmates who are wanting to better themselves. This is more programming than before Dustin was elected. Not only do programs offer the potential for growth, but they also keep inmates busy with less time to be mischievous. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of space for programs or community groups that come into the facilities wanting to affect positive change. In my opinion, the criminal justice system is largely set up to let people fail – and once you get in that cycle it is difficult to get out. Dustin's view is that the more inmates who take advantage of programs while they are in our facility, and get something meaningful out of them, the less likely they will be to return. This saves taxpayers money. The renovations at the Satellite jail will provide us with more usable program space to help accomplish these goals.
Do we have to do the entire jail consolidation/renovation all at once?
The proposed facility identifies and addresses issues that the sheriff’s office and jail facilities are currently facing and that will need to be eventually addressed. People would rather invest in schools and roads, not a jail, but it is an "unseen" necessity that helps to keep our county safe from violent people. Every year we put it off, it seems to get more expensive and we never know when we might need to invest large amounts of money in the existing facilities simply to keep them running. However, in our plan, we have addressed this project in a way that can be done in phases, if necessary.
There will always be a "what if" scenario for the future. Dustin doesn't know what the future will bring any better than anyone else does. The fact is, though, that right now we could be doing a better job at addressing the needs of inmates we are mandated to have in our facilities, be better addressing the needs of employees, and be better serving the residents of Champaign County by having a more effective and efficient sheriff's office and correctional center. That's what this consolidation and renovation aims to do.