Bloomington Steps Closer To Creating Police-Community Relations Board

Jun 16, 2017

File photo of a Bloomington Police vehicle outside the police department headquarters.
Credit Judith Valente / WGLT

Bloomington police, community groups and the City Council have hammered out a draft ordinance for a new citizen-led police oversight board.

The Council will discuss the proposal to establish a Public Safety and Community Relations board at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday evening.

The proposed ordinance follows months of negotiations between the city and groups such as Black Lives Matter, Not In Our Town, the NAACP and the YWCA who have been dissatisfied with the process for making complaints against Bloomington officers.

Tom Cullen of the American Civil Liberties Union of Central Illinois, another of the groups that supports the ordinance, said the oversight panel is not a panacea, but should help restore trust between some members of the minority community and the police.

"One of the reasons why this board is necessary is so that people can have trust in their police force and the integrity of its procedures," Cullen said on GLT's Sound Ideas.

The board would serve in strictly an advisory capacity. It would have no investigatory authority and could not determine disciplinary actions for officers.

Collective bargaining agreements between the city and the Bloomington police prevent civilian-led boards from compelling officers to provide testimony  and from re-investigating a complaint once it has been investigated by the department. 

The board would be "purely advisory to the police and is designed as a mechanism to achieve community input," the draft ordinance says.

Cullen called the proposed ordinance a step in the right direction.

"Through time, patterns will emerge and recommendations will be made by this board. They are allowed to publish recommendations and reports, so this is something we do feel  does have  a check and balance for the police department," Cullen said.

Citizens will be able to deliver their complaints about the police directly to the Community Relations Board, which will consist of seven citizen members. Those nominated to the board must have "reputations for "fairness, integrity, impartiality and a sense of public service," according to the draft of the ordinance.

Members would be appointed by the mayor with the Council's approval. They cannot be current or former employees of a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency.

Cullen said several of the community groups who support the proposal oppose one provision that would prohibit anyone with a criminal felony conviction from serving on the panel.

"That's the one thing we're not happy with in this proposal," Cullen said. "We're hoping for people of diverse backgrounds. If you think about barring people who have felony convictions, that conviction could have happened 30 years ago and now that person is a pillar of the community." Cullen said.

The draft ordinance caps months of negotiations between the city, Police Chief Brendan Heffner, and members of several community groups. Heffner originally opposed to establishing a review board.

The Central Illinois Pride Health Center and the McLean County League of Women Voters are also lending their support to the proposed ordinance.

The Council's  Monday Committee of the Whole meeting begins at 5:15 p.m. in the Osborne Room of the Bloomington Police Department. The meeting is for discussion, no action will be taken.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to include information about the Prairie Pride Health Center and League of Women Voters of McLean County positions on the proposed ordinance.

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