More than fifty people crowded into a room at Nick’s English Hut today to discuss what some downtown businesspeople have referred to as “bums”. The meeting drew attention on social media yesterday after Nick’s co-owner Susan Bright sent other business owners a letter titled, “Bum Commerce on Kirkwood.” Bright’s letter went on to address panhandling, petty theft and drug dealing downtown. This afternoon, she began the meeting by addressing criticism of her language in that letter.
“I want to apologize first off by my letter that was titled ‘Bum Commerce’. My real intention is for criminal commerce on Kirkwood.” Bright explains.
Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff took questions at the meeting from downtown businesspeople as well as advocates for the poor and homeless. An employee at Nick’s told Diekhoff about recent incidents in which people harassed customers and employees. The employee said there are also issuess with drug use and sales behind the restaurant.
“The law that is in place now requires us to witness a crime”, the Police Chief explains.
Many attendees at the meeting were critical of how businesspeople complained about crime downtown. Erin Marshall says negative attention is unfairly directed at people in poverty.
“There is a lot of criminal activity in Bloomington and a lot of it is by the University and by the businesses that operate here” Marshall exclaims. “If you are afraid to walk down Kirkwood because of a homeless person asking you for money, then maybe people should question where that fear comes from.”
Police Chief Diekhoff said he thinks part of the problem stems from a misunderstanding about who commits crimes.
“There are thugs that hangout in Peoples Park” Diekoff explains. “they’re not homeless, they’re not panhandlers, they’re just troublemakers.
Diekhoff went on to say that city police officers do routine foot patrols downtown. He also said the city police department is “short staffed”, which he said makes it more difficult to do those patrols.