A task force today recommended the City of Bloomington hire more police, increase patrols, develop a new jobs program and take other steps aimed at addressing “downtown safety and civility issues.” Mayor John Hamilton’s Safety, Civility and Justice Task Force officially presented their report at City Hall.
Other suggestions include more enforcement of panhandling laws, installation of a public restroom downtown, increased lighting in some areas, and more services for those in poverty. During today’s presentation, Mayor Hamilton discussed why he formed the task force.
“Our public spaces in this community must be and feel safe,” Hamilton said. “We must constantly think about – work on – how do we protect that…issue of safety in our community?”
Some of the recommendations, including additional police, were not a surprise. Hamilton called for more downtown patrols and more enforcement of panhandling laws in August of last year, at the same press conference where he announced the formation of the task force.
Just last week the Bloomington Police Department announced it hired four new officers to patrol downtown. Those officers have focused patrols on Peoples Park in particular. After the presentation today, task force chairperson William Beggs took a question from WFHB News Director Joe Crawford.
Crawford: “Although this presentation is today, some of the recommendations seem to have already begun to be implemented, including additional police patrols downtown. So I’m curious from the task force if…that looks like what you had hoped for?”
Beggs: “In many ways the answer is yes. By yesterday at about 8 o’clock, I had received two phone calls from people who were thrilled with the fact that they are seeing action being taken. At the same time…I have heard as well some dissatisfaction with what folks are seeing. We’ve said it over and over again: ‘This is a tough issue.'”
When a WFHB reporter visited Peoples Park this afternoon there were no patrons present, though there were three Bloomington Police officers patrolling the area. In recent years the park has often been frequented by people experiencing homelessness. Some of the regular park patrons have begun gathering in other areas along Kirkwood Avenue in recent days.
At City Hall today, Beggs also took a question from Crawford about the long-term effects of policing people in poverty.
Crawford: “Many people in poverty face barriers to employment and housing because of their past interactions with police, so is there any concern about the possibility that increasing their interactions with police will only make this whole problem worse?
Beggs: “That topic has come up at several meetings and I think that the overarching point that came out every time was that nobody on this task force thinks that arresting our way out of this situation we’ve got downtown is the answer. That’s not been recommended. That’s not been suggested. And it’s not our goal.”
Other task force members said the increased police presence could help direct people to services for issues such as mental illness or addiction. Those members said they did not study whether more police downtown would increase arrest rates.
But task force member Forrest Gilmore, who is the executive director of the Shalom Community Center, says more arrests are likely.
“Increased policing probably will result in more arrests and that is certainly a concern,” Gilmore said. “I’m not aware of any community that has solved this problem by increasing policing.”
“We do know however that a housing first approach directed at people who are chronically homeless reduces incarceration, reduces arrests on the order of 80 to 90 percent. We also know that the act of helping people move into permanent supportive housing…we know that is actually a more financially efficient means to deal with this issue than to deal with it through policing and through the healthcare issues and challenges that can occur.”
After the presentation, Gilmore noted that the task force’s report was a “compromise document.” Gilmore has voiced concern about the additional police patrols on social media.
A full copy of the report from the Mayor’s task force is available on the city’s website.