Bloomington public safety board briefed on 10 sworn officer vacancies, non-arrest approaches to policing

At a special Tuesday night meeting, Bloomington’s five-member board of public safety was briefed on the monthly activity of the city’s fire and police departments.

cropped public safety board Screen Shot 2020-06-23 at 7.32.57 PM
Screenshot of Jun 23, 2020 meeting of Bloomington’s board of public safety.

One highlight was the 10 open jobs for sworn officers reported by Bloomington police department (BPD) captain Ryan Pedigo. The 2020 budget authorizes 105 positions.

Board members got some reaction from BPD chief Mike Diekhoff to calls that have been made across the country and locally to defund police.

Those calls have come in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, along with other recent police killings of Black men and women. Floyd was killed on May 25 by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, when the police officer pinned Floyd down with a knee-on-neck hold.

Diekhoff pointed the board to a statement he’d issued in response to Floyd’s killing, which includes a FAQ on BPD’s use of force policies

Diekhoff described how the new crisis diversion center, to be operated by Centerstone staff out of Monroe County’s Morton Street parking garage, fits into the department’s policing strategy.

Several staffers from Centerstone, the nonprofit health system that provides mental health and substance use disorder treatments, offered public comment at the board’s meeting. They described the positive working relationship they have with BPD.

The special board meeting was convened after last week’s regular meeting ended abruptly when it was “Zoom bombed” by someone who imposed racist talk and pornographic images onto the videoconference event. Tuesday’s meeting was also held on the Zoom video-conference, but with stricter controls set on audio and video of public participants.

The idea of tipping the balance of police department personnel away from sworn officers towards social workers could find support among some city councilmembers. The city’s legislative branch is looking towards late August  hearings on the administration’s 2021 budget proposal.

At the city council’s budget advance meeting in late April, councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said she thinks a good argument can be made for non-sworn officers. The place she sees the need for more police is social outreach to members of the city’s homeless community, Piedmont-Smith said.

At the budget advance meeting, councilmember Jim Sims said he was “very interested” in looking at whether the increased need for public safety could be met with use of non-sworn officers.

By the time the budget hearings take place, the 10 openings for sworn officers will almost certainly still be open. Pedigo described how three new hires would soon be coming on board, two of them on June 29. The third, though, won’t be able to start the police academy class until November. Class sizes have been cut by one-third, he said. So BPD’s recruitment is in a holding pattern, Pedigo said.

A point of pride for two of the three hires, Pedigo reported, is that they have masters degrees in social work—but they have decided they want to enter the field of law enforcement.

BPD already employs one social worker who is not a sworn officer. The summary of her activities for the latest reporting period showed 15 referrals and 139 total contacts. For this report, one example of the kind of work she does was helping to connect someone with a lawyer so the person could get temporary, emergency custody of her grandchildren.

Responding to board member comments about the national landscape, Diekhoff said that if you actually look at some of the discussions around the country about defunding the police they’re talking about the police not having interactions with people who might be experiencing homelessness, or people who might have some kind of mental health issue. What has happened, Diekhoff said, as funding has been cut for everything, those types of calls have defaulted to police departments.

That’s what happened in Bloomington, too, Diekhoff said. So BPD saw the need to create specialty units to respond to those types of calls. Six or seven years ago BPD started its downtown resource officer (DRO) program, because of the increase in calls from those experiencing homelessness and those in mental crisis, Diekhoff said.

That’s why the crisis diversion center was started, Diekhoff said.

It’s not appropriate to arrest people who have committed a minor crime—probably caused by either their addiction or mental health issue, Diekhoff said. But partnering with social services is appropriate, Diekhoff said. BPD was basically already taking that approach, and just needed a physical place to do it. The crisis diversion center will be staffed 24/7 by Centerstone Diekhoff said.

During public comment time at the meeting, Linda Grove-Paul, vice president of adult services at Centerstone and Greg May, Centerstone’s administrative director of adult and family services, described how Centerstone works in collaboration with BPD.

Also during public commentary, Ruth Aydt thanked BPD for its investment in collecting and reporting data. That’s valuable, she said. But racial disparities are revealed in the data, she said.

At a February presentation of the annual public safety report, Diekhoff responded to a question from The Square Beacon about the use of race data in the department’s citation datasets, which are available to the public as a part of the city’s B Clear Data Portal.

At least 12 percent of those cited are Black, while Bloomington’s Black population is about 4 percent. Diekhoff pointed out that Bloomington is a regional destination and draws a lot of visitors outside the community. Visitors to the community don’t always follow the law, he said at the February presentation.

On Tuesday, Aydt challenged the idea that it’s visitors who account for the skew in race data. Aydt said she and Guy Loftman and the NAACP and the Unitarian Universalist Church have looked at Monroe County criminal case data filed between Jan. 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019. There are still disparities for defendants with zip codes in Monroe County, when BPD is involved, Aydt said.

The board of public safety is a five-member citizen oversight board for the police and fire departments. The board exists under Indiana state statute. Its members are appointed by the mayor.

The fire department also briefed the board during Tuesday’s meeting. Chief Jason Moore told the board two firefighters had retired and two had resigned. The two who resigned were not lost to a different department, he said. Both left for family business opportunities, Moore said.

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