US military conducts nighttime training exercise at location of future affordable housing site in Bloomington

The thwacka-thwaka thrum of military helicopters on a training exercise drowned out the buzz of cicadas on the south side of Bloomington on Monday night.

According to the Monroe County sheriff’s office, a similar scenario will unfold on Tuesday night in Richland and Bean Blossom townships.

According to the Bloomington mayor’s office, Monday night’s training operation was conducted by the US Army. It’s one of the facts about the commotion that the city of Bloomington was able to confirm.

Based on social media reports, the geographic focus of the military training exercise was 1730 S. Walnut, the former location of the Night Moves strip club, and the adjoining Switchyard Park.

The mayor’s office confirmed to The B Square that those two locations were included in the operation, but could not say if other places in the city were also included. Continue reading “US military conducts nighttime training exercise at location of future affordable housing site in Bloomington”

Opinion: Bloomington is 52% serious about gun crime

In mid-February, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, and chief of police, Mike Diekhoff, among others, appeared at a press conference to present the city’s annual public safety report.

What is obviously missing from this chart?

The event was framed by Hamilton like this: “By sharing public data about the full range of public safety issues, we embrace accountability, …to identify persistent problems in order to address them transparently.”

One statistic reported in February was that 2020 showed a 52-percent increase, compared to 2019, in the number of cases where a gun was used to perpetrate a crime.

That’s a big jump.

Like other news outlets, The Square Beacon included that percentage figure in its report of the press conference.

Not long after The Square Beacon’s article was published, a reader asked: So what were the actual numbers of gun crimes each year? Long story short: Nobody seems to know.

Of course, the reader’s question was a fair one. It’s a question The Square Beacon should have asked without prodding from a reader.

After a phone call with the police records division, two formal records requests under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act, and email correspondence that included the legal department, the mayor, the deputy mayor, the city’s communications director, the president of the city council, and the chief of police, all of which stretched over about three months, the reader’s question remains unanswered.

Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington is 52% serious about gun crime”

Bloomington police respond to records request, release footage of Seminary Park welfare check on man found dead hours later on Christmas Eve

In Seminary Park, on the bench at the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets in downtown Bloomington, a memorial plaque for James “JT” Vanderburg is now set to be installed.

It’s the place where Vanderburg died last year on Christmas Eve, three days after his 51st birthday. At the time, he was without another place to stay.

The plaque was paid for by the public defender’s office and other community members. The epitaph will read: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”

The Bloomington police department’s press release about Vanderburg’s death stated that officers responded to the park around 11:40 a.m. A passerby had been asked to call 911, according to the release, “because a man was lying on the ground in the park and was believed to be deceased.”

According to the press release, “[S]everal people had tried to get the man services the previous evening and had offered for him to stay with them overnight, but the man refused and slept in the park.”

The press release also stated, “Officers from BPD had checked his welfare once during the evening hours of December 23rd and twice on the morning of December 24th, but the man was sleeping and refused any assistance.”

What did those three welfare checks look like? What kind of assistance was offered?

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the city of Bloomington responded to a records request made last year by The Square Beacon, under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Continue reading “Bloomington police respond to records request, release footage of Seminary Park welfare check on man found dead hours later on Christmas Eve”

Bloomington annual safety report: Crime down overall, pandemic impact felt, fire and police chiefs to dig into data on response times, race disparities

On Tuesday morning, Bloomington’s police and fire chiefs, along with the director of community and family resources department, delivered the city’s state of public safety report.

The presentation of such a report has been made an annual event by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton.  It is slotted ahead of the mayor’s state of the city address, which is scheduled this year for Thursday, Feb. 25.

Bloomington’s year in public safety for 2020 showed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bloomington police made just 3,813 traffic stops in 2020 compared to 9,112 in 2019.  The total calls for service to police dropped 15 percent from 54,065 in 2019 to 45,947 in 2020.

Fire department efforts toward fire safety community education suffered due to the pandemic.. Community education contacts, like station tours, dropped in 2020 to a third of their 2019 levels, from 10,634 to 3,436.

Hamilton previewed the three presentations by framing them with some of his top issues: gun crimes, fire rescues, and efforts to divert people away from the criminal justice system. Continue reading “Bloomington annual safety report: Crime down overall, pandemic impact felt, fire and police chiefs to dig into data on response times, race disparities”

Press Release: Bloomington police investigate northside killing

In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the Bloomington police department reported a shooting on the north side of town that detectives are now investigating as a murder.

No arrests have been made, according to the release. Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call detective Chris Scott at (812) 349-3382.

The shooting took place the night before, inside a residence on the 1600 block of N. Willis in the north part of town, according to the news release. Continue reading “Press Release: Bloomington police investigate northside killing”

Committee gets more perspective on police as Bloomington city council weighs 2021 budget proposal to swap out sworn officers

A Wednesday night meeting of the Bloomington city council’s standing committee on public safety put some new information about Bloomington’s police department in front of the four-member group.

Committee member Isabel Piedmont-Smith told Bloomington police chief Mike Diekhoff, who was on hand to answer questions, “I was shocked. I was shocked that BPD sometimes uses no-knock warrants.”

Wednesday’s committee meeting, chaired by council vice president Jim Sims, came in the context of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s 2021 budget proposal. The 2021 budget proposes to swap five authorized sworn officer positions for two social workers, two neighborhood resource officers, and a data analyst. The final version of the budget gets presented on Sept. 30.

Piedmont-Smith’s shock was a reaction to the police department’s written answers to questions from committee members. The department’s answers had been given to the committee earlier in the day.

The committee questions included this one: “Does BPD ever serve warrants or for any reason enter homes without knocking?” The written response led off with a simple acknowledgment: “Yes, but they are rare.”

The written response also includes a description of the constraints on no-knock warrants: They’re subject to judicial review, and must get an approval that’s separate from the application for a warrant. They’re supposed to be used only in situations where waiting for someone to answer the knock would be futile or dangerous to the officers serving the warrant.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Piedmont-Smith asked Diekhoff: “Can you guarantee me that a situation like Breonna Taylor cannot happen in Bloomington?”

Continue reading “Committee gets more perspective on police as Bloomington city council weighs 2021 budget proposal to swap out sworn officers”

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.” Continue reading “Bloomington mayor: Proposed 2021 budget will reduce sworn police from 105 to 100”

Press release: BPD investigates Wednesday night shooting as homicide

City of Bloomington police detectives are trying to locate possible witnesses to a late Wednesday night shooting that left a 28-year-old man lying in a pool of blood in the parking lot of an apartment complex on the south side of town, according to a press release.

According to the BPD press release, at about 11:25 p.m. on Wednesday (July 22), officers responded to an apartment complex in the 3200 block of S. Walnut Springs Drive. They had received a call about a man shot in a parking lot. Continue reading “Press release: BPD investigates Wednesday night shooting as homicide”

Two injured after demonstration wraps up, one by driver of car witnesses say drove into group

On Monday night, a demonstration prompted by recent racist events in the Bloomington area appeared to wrap up safely a little after 9 p.m. on the Monroe County courthouse square in downtown Bloomington.

But as the crowd was dispersing from the streets they had occupied for the final 90 minutes or so of the event, two demonstrators were injured in what were apparently separate incidents.

When a driver, described by witnesses as a woman older than 50, piloted her car into the group, one demonstrator was left lying face down in the crosswalk across 6th Street, on the east side of Walnut. The victim appeared to be conscious when an ambulance transported her from the scene.

[Updated at 9:48 a.m. on July 7, 2020. Bloomington Police Department issued a statement describing the current state of the investigation: “Several individuals present at the time the altercation began provided investigators with cellphone footage of the incident. At this time, the vehicle involved has not been located and investigators are working to determine the identity of the man and woman inside the passenger car and their whereabouts.” ]

[Updated at 3:36 p.m. on July 7, 2020. The city of Bloomington issued a statement at 3:21 p.m. saying The BPD is proceeding as swiftly as possible to ensure that a thorough investigation is completed and presented to the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office so a determination can be made regarding the appropriate criminal charges to be filed. … The City of Bloomington urges anyone with relevant information about the incident to share it with the BPD.]

Another victim, about whom details aren’t known to The Square Beacon, was lying in the intersection of the two alleyways that split the block just east of the square. Based on witness statements, the second victim was not involved in a car crash, but may have been caught up in a scramble of people trying to escape the car or trying to chase after it to get a glimpse of the license plate. Continue reading “Two injured after demonstration wraps up, one by driver of car witnesses say drove into group”

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.

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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. Continue reading “Bloomington public safety board briefed on 10 sworn officer vacancies, non-arrest approaches to policing”