BY CLARE HOWARD
Hate rallies and hate crime are on the rise nationwide. Southern Poverty Law Center outreach director Lecia Brooks gave police training
materials to local law enforcement officers during her recent visit to Peoria.
She said hate groups have constitutionally protected free speech, as odious and vile as it may be. The best way to push back is through
nonviolent actions and education, she said.
Brian Fengel, Bartonville Police Chief and candidate for Peoria County Sheriff, said the more training he and his officers can access, the better they can deal with evolving crime and public safety.
Fengel recently completed the police training program on hate developed by Southern Poverty Law Center.
Fengel, 53, said that although there has not been a problem with white supremacist rallies in the Peoria area, it’s important to know how
to distinguish between hate incidents and hate crime. Whether hate is based on race, religion, disability or gender orientation, it now falls
“Hate groups are out there and they are using social media as their platform,” he said.
Police have to respect the rights of all people and even during arrests police have to understand people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, he said, noting police also have to protect themselves.
The Bartonville police department has been satisfied with its patrol car cameras and body cameras that insure full transparency. SPLC advocates peaceful resistance to hate. It does not recommend protesters engage with white supremacists.
Fengel said ideally he would meet with both camps and work out mutual ground rules.
“We understand groups have a right to peaceful protest, but we will have mutual rules,” he said.
Fengel plans to share the SPLC DVD with his officers.
Another critical issue facing law enforcement, he said, is the high percent of mentally ill people ending up in the Peoria County jail. He and his officers have undergone training to defuse incidents with mentally unstable people. He recently completed a 40-hour training on intervention with mentally ill.
“I had a good understanding before, but absolutely, yes, more training helps,” he said.
Fengel has been a member of the Police Benevolent & Protective Association for 27 years and expects to continue his membership.
“I’ll continue my membership, 100 percent sure even as sheriff,” he said. “You don’t forget where you come from.”
He is also a member of Laborers Local 165. He has been a member of the Illinois Police Chiefs Association since 1998.
He’s currently vice president of the statewide group and will become president in 2018.
“We have never had anyone from our area hold that position,” he said.