The local chapter of Black Lives Matter is proposing a citizen-led review board to monitor and weigh in on the actions of the Bloomington Police Department.
Black Lives Matter representatives said they have met with Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, nearly all City Council members and a variety of community groups, including Not In Our Town, in an effort to gain their support. The group has asked the City Council to discuss the measure at its May 15 meeting.
The review board proposal is a response to growing tensions in Bloomington between police and many members of the minority community.
A report released this week by the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development at Illinois State University reinforced previous studies that showed significant racial disparities in the local criminal justice system.
Community members also complained to Stevenson researchers about “aggressive” police tactics in Bloomington.
“The problem isn’t new, but it does seem to go unnoticed,” Black Lives Matter member Olivia Butts said on GLT’s Sound Ideas.
Butts said civilian police review boards exist in more than 200 cities. Citizen oversight and input into police matters was also included in the recommendations of a 2015 federal task force on 21rst Century Policing.
In other cities, citizens can file complaints against the police with review boards, and the boards also act as an additional sounding board in police-citizen disputes.
Cinnamon Porter, another Black Lives member, said many citizens don’t feel confident making complaints about the police. “Everything is overseen by the police department itself.”
“Right now the police are policing themselves and so I don’t think that makes anyone comfortable when you are trying to think about how am I going to get justice for something that happened to me,” Butts said.
The complaint process is also cumbersome, Butts and Porter said. Citizens must file the complaint in person or on line. “They have to have the complaint notarized, so it’s a very difficult process,” Porter said.
Louis Goseland, another Black Lives Matter member, said the group doesn’t want to usurp the power of the police department to investigate complaints internally, but wants to insure citizens have a “third party” with the authority to give those complaints a second look.
“In the end the police do have the opportunity to investigate. This is a chance people to say I don’t feel what police determined in my case was right and I want a second look. The review board would have an opportunity to say we disagree with this finding and submit it back to the department to consider looking at it again,” Goseland said.
Goseland said only about 20 complaints were filed against the Bloomington police in the past year.
“Some have said that must mean people are satisfied, maybe the police aren’t doing such a bad job. We are not trying to make the case everything police are doing is bad, but we do know the number of people who feel mistreated doesn’t add up to the number of complaints coming in,” he said.
“It’s rare people even file complaints to the Bloomington Police Department because of the level of distrust.”
Black Lives Matter representatives said they are seeking input from a variety of community organizations including Not In Our Town, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the local chapter of the NAACP and the YWCA of McLean County to determine the responsibilities and make up of such a board.
Some of those organizations are still considering the proposal and have not as yet formally endorsed it, Goseland said.
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