Bloomington mayor: Proposed 2021 budget will reduce sworn police from 105 to 100

During a panel discussion with other city officials, live streamed Thursday afternoon on Facebook, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton put numbers to an idea he mentioned in a speech two weeks ago.

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The 2021 budget proposal, which the mayor will eventually present to the city council in mid-to-late August, would reduce the number of sworn officer positions with the Bloomington police department (BPD) from 105 to 100.

The budget is scheduled for adoption in October.

The idea is to re-allocate the money for five sworn officers to at least five new non-sworn positions—a mix of social workers and neighborhood resource specialists, Hamilton said.

The move comes in the context of calls nationwide and locally to “defund the police.”

“Will you commit to not hiring any new [sworn] officers?” was a question asked of Hamilton during the Facebook live event, by Black Lives Matter B-town core councilmember Jada Bee.

Hamilton’s response to the question translated to a no—because BPD’s current number of sworn officers is 95, according to Hamilton. Paul Post, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, confirmed to The Square Beacon that 95 is the current staffing level.

The current staffing of 95 is five fewer than the 100 authorized sworn positions to be included in the proposed 2021 budget. “I would expect the police department to continue to recruit, train and hire officers to provide the necessary forces,” Hamilton said.

That’s assuming the city council does not reduce the proposed budget and authorize fewer than 100 sworn positions. “It’s up to the council to approve that,” Hamilton pointed out.

This year’s 105 authorized positions was an increase of two from last year. The increase came amid concerns from some city councilmembers that adding two additional police officers was not enough.

About the positions that will still be open, even if the authorized positions drop from 105 to 100, Post said, “It will still be a struggle to fill spots, for the reasons we laid out previously…”

A lack of retention due to comparatively low pay was an issue Post had identified last year, during the time the union was negotiating a new contract with the city. The union worked most of last year under the evergreen clause of an expired contract, before voting to accept a new contract late last year.

During Thursday’s Facebook live event, councilmember Susan Sandberg asked about the draft of a study that had been commissioned from consultants. Hamilton said he had not yet seen the draft, but looked forward to sharing it the months or possibly weeks ahead—he’s not sure of its status.

Post, the police union president, told The Square Beacon he had not yet seen a copy of the draft report.

A $52,800 contract with The Novak Consulting Group, now a part of Raftelis Financial Consultants (RFC), based in Cincinnati, was signed by the city last November, for an organizational assessment of the police department.

BPD chief Mike Diekhoff, who participated in Thursday’s Facebook live event, commented on the idea of diverting funding from sworn officers to social workers. Diekhoff pointed out that police get calls around the clock to respond to someone who has a mental health issue or who might be experiencing homelessness.

There is not a social worker-type resource in the middle of the night, Diekhoff said. “Right now, it makes a lot of sense to keep to keep those programs in the police department, because we are out there every day.”

Diekhoff said he’d discussed with the mayor the idea of changing how non-sworn neighborhood resource specialists are used, so that they might respond to more minor calls. That would would free up sworn officers to focus on more serious calls, Diekhoff said. He thinks it’s important to coordinate deployment of neighborhood resource specialists, with a social worker program, and with downtown resource officers.

During Thursday’s Facebook live event, Hamilton announced  that he’ll ask the five-member board of public safety to create an advisory committee on public safety review. They should pick people who represent the community’s viewpoints and have expertise, Hamilton said.

Hamilton wants the board of public safety’s committee to think about: What should Bloomington’s public safety efforts look like? What components should Bloomington’s public safety efforts have? What allocations of resources should be made to various components?

Hamilton wants to see some short term results from that committee, within six or nine months, or possibly by next summer.

Thursday’s Facebook live event was billed as a discussion about actions toward racial equity. Participating was vice president of the city council, Jim Sims, who’s a past president of the NAACP of Monroe County.

One of his areas of focus, Sims said, is the culture of many different organizations in the city, including law enforcement. Some of the cultural problems have been historically pervasive across the entire country, Sims said. Some of those issues had been addressed in the city of Bloomington, Sims said.

Sims wrapped up by asking, “Can we do better?” Sims’s answer: “Yes, we can. And yes, we will.”

Bearcat armored vehicle

Black Lives Matter B-town core council has called on Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to sell the Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle, which was purchased by BPD two years ago.  During Thursday’s Facebook live event, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton was asked if he would commit to selling the Bearcat and reinvesting that money in the Black community.

Hamilton said, “I do not plan to sell that or recommend the selling of that vehicle.” Hamilton added, “I believe it has proven to be very important, as we’ve projected it to be, to protect our officers and our community in very dangerous situations.”

Hamilton put the armored vehicle in the context of local gun ownership. “I sometimes remind people there are probably something like 150,000 privately-owned firearms in Monroe County, if we’re anywhere near the national average. Our officers and our public are sometimes subject to very dangerous situations.”

Hamilton also said the Bearcat has been used only under very strict conditions set by the city council. The was an reference an to the city council’s 2018 ordinance that includes a prohibition against using such a vehicle for crowd control or as a platform for mounting water cannons or other weapons.

When the Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle was acquired by Bloomington’s police department in 2018, it generated a lot of controversy ahead of the actual purchase. The Bloomington city council responded to the police department’s purchase with two kinds of legislation—one of them which regulated how the vehicle could be used. Also added to local code is a requirement that would prohibit the kind of fund transfer done to make the Bearcat purchase, unless the city council reviews it.

Based on data provided by BPD on quarterly basis, the last one ending June 30, 2020, the Bearcat has been used five times since it was purchased.

Uses of Bearcat by BPD (additional data fields available through B Clear Portal)

Date Case Number Full Call-Out Suspect Race Nature Negotiations How Received
2019-11-25 B19-49004 Yes African American Warrant Service Yes BPD Investigation
2019-08-20 B19-34655 Yes White Barricade Attempted MCSO Patrol
2018-09-07 B18-36628 Yes Asian/Pacific Islander Barricade Yes/Surrender BPD Patrol
2018-08-07 B18-31649 Yes Unknown Barricade Attempted MCSO Patrol
2018-07-23 B18-29422 Yes W Barricade/Suicidal Attempted MCSO Patrol

Organizational assessment of the police department.

A $52,800 contract with The Novak Consulting Group, now a part of Raftelis Financial Consultants (RFC), based in Cincinnati, was signed by the city last November, for an organizational assessment of the police department.

The city signed a separate contract with RFC for a similar assessment of the fire department. The same firm is providing an organizational assessment of the city’s controller, HR, and legal departments.

From RFC’s proposal: “Our approach is to understand what the community needs, its public safety priorities, and the service delivery constraints, then identify actionable solutions to help achieve those goals.”

In its proposal RFC describes the kind of work it will do: “We will work with staff to obtain CAD/RMS data so we can analyze such issues as time spent on dispatched calls for service, scheduling, and overtime drivers. Based on our analysis, we will develop specific recommendations regarding staffing and deployment, as well as other operational issues for the Police Department.”

Invoices are sent monthly by RFC as work is completed. Through July 8, according to the city’s online financial records, RFC has so far been been paid $42,600 on its $52,800 contract.

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