Citizen Review Board Discussion Begins On Bloomington Council | WGLT

Citizen Review Board Discussion Begins On Bloomington Council

May 15, 2017

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner explained the existing citizen complaint procedure to Alderman who are considering whether to create a citizen review board.
Credit Charlie Schlenker / WGLT

A citizen review board for police will not be a slam dunk in Bloomington, if early council discussion is a guide.

Several Aldermen said they wanted to learn more about the options during a work session on the issue. A couple want to move ahead and have staff draft an ordinance. Alderman David Sage said he sees no case for the panel.

"What's the problem we are trying to solve. Because I have yet to hear, for myself, a compelling reason for a citizen review board," said Sage.

Sage said people can get the existing police complaint form in several places and turn it in in multiple places as well.

But, Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe said the issue is one of perception, not just paperwork residents may be reluctant to file.

"You know that the fear that some people might feel about what exactly is going to happen. Are they going to face some sort of retaliation," said Mwilambwe.

Mwilambwe said he knows Police Chief Brendan Heffner well and what kind of person he is. But, others may now.

Heffner told the council that retaliation by an officer facing a complaint would be stupid. He said in an era of dashboard cameras and witnesses with cell phones, such a measure would be unwise as well as unethical.

Alderman Joni Painter said the planned purchase and use of officer worn body cameras may reduce citizen fear of police and increase public oversight.

City legal staff say police union contract language prevents the city from reinvestigating internal investigations unless there is new information, and the city cannot compel officer testimony to a citizen review panel. That still leaves open at least two of the three common models of review panel.
    
Heffner said there is already a complaint process available and vigorous investigations of complaints.

Bloomington Aldermen may have another talk about a proposed citizen review board for police in about a month

Alderman Jamie Mathy resisted what he sees as a false choice in the public narrative about such review panels.

"There seems to be a position that a lot of people have that it's impossible to have a citizen review board and still support the police. It has to be either or. You know, we can't have a conversation about how our community is run withough not supporting the police," said Mathy.

Mathy said he wants to hear more about a review panel and still wants to make sure police have the equipment and staffing levels they need to keep Bloomington safe.

Five different community groups including the YWCA, the ACLU, and Black Lives Matter are asking for a review panel. At the work session, their representatives largely limited themselves to brief statements of support for a review panel.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.