Bloomington public safety report: 2019 was “tough year” with a few bright spots

crppped 2020-02-03 public safety update hamilton IMG_6730
Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, introduces the public safety report for 2020 on Tuesday morning at Bloomington Police Department headquarters on 3rd Street. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

On Tuesday morning, Bloomington officials presented the city’s 2020 public safety report, a summary of activity and outcomes for the 2019 calendar year.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, introduced the three presenters: police chief Mike Diekhoff; community and family resources director Beverly Calender-Anderson; and fire chief Jason Moore.

Hamilton called 2019 a “tough year” because of rises in gun violence and violent crime. Against that, mayor pointed to increased funding for programs that are meant to de-escalate situations before they become violent, the new social worker who works in the police department, the new crisis diversion center, and a new substation in Switchyard Park.

Despite the increase in violent crime, the overall crime rate for the city of Bloomington decreased by 4.7 percent in 2019, it was reported on Tuesday morning.

Overtime in the police department, a chafing point with the police union during contract negotiations last year, was reported at $1,007,941 for 2019, compared with $788,488 for 2018. That’s a 28-percent increase.

Increased security was assigned to the farmers with an eye towards making customers feel safer in a market, according to Diekhoff. The safety issue was related to a vendor who was identified earlier this year as a white supremacist. The $102,165 in overtime for the farmers market detail in 2019 was about 20 times the $5,230 spent in 2018.

One highlight of safe, civility and justice initiative overseen by Calender-Anderson was the hire in 2019 of a nighttime ambassador to connect residents with resources like addiction treatment.

For the fire department, Moore reported no deaths from fires for the third year in a row. The department is still falling somewhat short of its response time goals.

Violent Crime
2020 Public Safety UpdateBarchart of Bloomington Violent Crime Data-2019

The upward trend in violent crime is something Diekhoff said the department is concerned about. The increase in the number of rapes from 47 to 73, a 55 percent increase, could reflect an increase in the reporting, not necessarily an increase in the number of rapes. Better reporting is what the department wants, he said, but the number of rapes is high and that’s not what the department wants, he said.

The majority of violent crime takes place between people who know each other, Diekhoff said—it’s not random. So the department is looking to partner with Middle Way House on its educational efforts.

Another point of concern highlighted by Diekhoff was the sharp rise last in the number of calls involving a firearm—172 total. There was a 41.4-percent increase in the number of crimes committed with a firearm, Diekhoff said. And more juveniles were found with firearms, he said.

Fire Response Times
Resoponse times for BFD 2019

Fire chief Jason Moore reported that the department is still falling short of the goal of arriving at fire scenes within four minutes 90 percent of the time. The department hits that goal 83 percent of the time. The department does meet the goal of reaching 98 percent of fire scenes inside of eight minutes.

Barriers cited by chief Moore to hitting response time goals included: major construction activities; simultaneous calls for service; and calls farther than 1.5 miles of the nearest station.

Racial Disparity?

At the Tuesday morning event, Diekhoff responded to a question from The Square Beacon about the use of race data in the department’s citation datasets, which are available to the public as a part of the city’s B Clear Data Portal.

At least 12 percent of those cited are Black, while Bloomington’s Black population is about 4 percent. Diekhoff pointed out that Bloomington is a regional destination and draws a lot of visitors outside the community. Visitors to the community don’t always follow the law, he said.

Consistent with Diekhoff’s observation, researchers who study the topic see as problematic the use of census population data alone to try to identify disparities in police enforcement. A 2004 study published in “Police Quarterly” tries account for bias associated with residential population data when it’s used to estimate the racial composition of the drivers in local areas.

Another barrier to drawing conclusions from the race data in the citations dataset is that it includes just those situations where a citation was given, not incidents where none was given. Is there a possibility that a new public dataset could be added to the website that includes, say, all traffic stops with each stop coded for race of the officer and race of the driver?

That’s not likely Diekhoff told The Square Beacon. The data would not be accurate because of a variety of variables, he said. He gave the example of a traffic stop that results in just a verbal warning. Asking the race of the driver could escalate the encounter, Diekhoff said.

How does the department use the race data in the citations data set?

Diekhoff said the department reviews interactions between officers and citizens to make sure officers are not targeting one race. That’s done in a variety of ways, he said. Supervisors review work activity of officers. Random checks of body cam video are done. And checks of activity levels of each officer are done and compared with their colleagues, Diekhoff said.

Mayor Hamilton added that the first step towards ensuring that the law isn’t being enforced disparately is making sure the city is transparent, and shares the information. “We can’t pretend we’ve got it all figured out,” he said, “We’ve got to keep the doors wide open.”