Community support is mounting for an independent, citizen-led review board to monitor the actions of the Bloomington Police Department.
Four other organizations have joined Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal in seeking an oversight board consisting solely of citizen members. They include the NAACP of Bloomington-Normal, the justice organization Not In Our Town, the YWCA of McLean County and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
In a joint statement, the community groups said many residents, particularly in the minority community, lack confidence in current procedures for filing complaints against individual officers, and in an investigative process conducted entirely by police.
Calls for a civilian board follow a Black Lives Matter community forum last December in which citizens complained about their treatment by Bloomington police and expressed dissatisfaction with the complaint process.
Earlier this week, the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development at Illinois State University issued an extensive report detailing disparities between whites and people of color in the criminal justice system and in a variety of quality of life measures.
The Bloomington department was the source of complaints about “aggressive” police tactics, the report said.
Quincy Cummings, president of the local NAACP, said many residents are afraid to file complaints against officers.
“There are people who feel that the complaint process doesn’t work and there are some that feel they may be retaliated against. What we hope to accomplish with a citizens review board, or even discussing it, is to find a way to break down that perception, and at the same time help the police understand what the community's concerns are,” Cummings said.
The five community groups want to expand the avenues for lodging a complaint by allowing citizens to file complaints directly to the independent review board or to the city Human Resources Department as well as the police department.
Under current procedures, citizens who complain about officers must do it in person at the police department or through an on-line form at www.cityblm.org.
Either way, they must provide a notarized copy of the complaint to the department, a requirement of state law. Free notary services are available at police headquarters, a police spokesman said. Investigations normally take 30 to 60 days.
The community groups said citizens dissatisfied with the disposition of their complaint should be able to request a review by the civilian board.
“While the Bloomington Police Department would be in charge of conducting the main investigation, (citizens) can appeal to a second set of eyes made up of peers,” said Jennifer Carrillo, director of mission impact at the YWCA.
The board, she said, should be able to issue recommendations to the police chief or city manager, who would still make the final decision.
Only 17 people filed complaints against the Bloomington department in 2016, compared to 31 in 2015.
Of the 17 complaints, only two were “sustained,” meaning there was sufficient evidence of officer wrong-doing, the police department said.
Eight complaints were not sustained; one was found to be unfounded, meaning no evidence was found that the incident occurred. In six of the 17 incidents, the officers cited were exonerated.
“There is a huge disconnect in the community where we hear lots of folks saying they aren’t satisfied with the department, but they aren’t coming forward and filing complaints,” Carrillo said.
“We would like to remove some of those barriers that keep people from speaking up when something has happened to them they don’t think is fair,” she added.
The four groups also said they review board also should be able to make recommendations on departmental policies and practice.
“We would like this board to serve in advisory capacity for the police, to help them build more trust in the community,” Carrillo said.
Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner remains opposed to the idea of civilian-led review board, a position he expressed at the December Black Lives Matter forum.
He said his department participates in the Minority and Police Partnership (MAPP), a group that includes local law enforcement leaders and well as minority community members.
A police spokesman said the chief had not been contacted recently by the five organizations seeking to establish the board.
In their statement, the community groups said MAPP serves a purpose but that “the participation of law enforcement agencies in MAPP violates the impartiality required of an effective” citizen review board.
Both Carrillo and Cummings of the NAACP stressed the proposed review board is not meant as an attack on police.
“The purpose isn’t to say police are bad and look at all the bad thing police do, but an effort by folk in the community to say we want to help you make the best out of this department.”.
“This is not a way of sticking it to the police. We want to help the police, but we also want to help the community,” Cummings said.
The City Council may discuss the proposal at Monday’s regularly scheduled Council meeting.
Editor's Note: This post was updated to include new information about the American Civil Liberties Union joining in calls for a civilian police oversight board.
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