Private unarmed security patrols will now be checking a total of eight parks in Bloomington, a collection that extends a bit farther, north-to-south, than the extent of the B-Line Trail.
That brings the total amount of the contract with Marshall to $113,000. The money is being drawn from CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funds.
At their June meeting, park commissioners approved the initial $60,588 contract, which included just Switchyard Park, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day of the week. The reason given for the Switchyard Park security was an increase in after-hours vandalism and substance use, and overnight camping.
For the additional parks and the trail, the additional private security is needed because of “a number of incidents that have occurred lately on both the B-Line trail and in several other…core corridor parks around the downtown area,” according to Tim Street, who’s operations and development division director for Bloomington parks and recreation.
The list of parks to be patrolled by Marshall is now: Switchyard Park, RCA Park, Seminary Park, B-Line Trail, Building Trades Park, Rev Ernest D. Butler Park, Crestmont Park, Miller-Showers Park, and Waldron Hill Buskirk Park.
The added geography for the contract addendum will be patrolled at a time period that’s different from the initial contract’s overnight hours. The addendum approved on Tuesday covers daytime hours: 7 a.m to 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The kind of incidents prompting Tuesday’s contract addendum were described in general terms by Bloomington’s director of parks and recreation, Paula McDevitt. She said parks employees over the last several months “have found themselves in situations where they’re having to manage behavior issues, or clean up vandalism, and in some cases, see the vandalism happening in front of them.”
The memo in the meeting information packet describes incidents like “physical
altercations, unconscious persons, assault, and destruction of public property.”
Based on the citywide dataset for calls for service to Bloomington’s police department, there’s been a substantial increase in calls related to vandalism for May, June and July this year, compared to the same three-month period in the past 5 years.
For 2021, the average—with July not yet over—is 92 calls per month. That stacks up against the following monthly averages for the same three-month period for the last five years: 64 (2020), 52 (2019), 62 (2018), 67 (2017) and 64 (2016).
McDevitt told commissioners that the contract addendum would support parks staff—both maintenance staff and facility staff—who in the past several months have been pulled off their routine daily tasks to deal with security issues.
Street described how the security officers would start the day by shadowing the city’s parks custodial staff at Switchyard Park and Seminary Park. Those are typically the first two places the custodial staff go in the mornings, Street said.
Parks staff and Marshall security officers will call 911 if there’s an emergency, Street said.
Neither park commissioners nor parks staff mentioned as a part of their Tuesday deliberations the camp that members of Bloomington’s houseless community have set up under the B-Line Trail bridge at Grimes Lane. The encampment has been home to several people for at least four months—after the city cleared out an encampment at Seminary Park early in the year.
The city’s uReport system includes some complaints about the B-Line bridge encampment. Indiana Public Media reported a week ago that the city administration is not sure who owns the property under the bridge.
Commissioners did mention the fact the construction of Switchyard Park included a new police substation on the park grounds.
The substation is just across Grimes Lane, about 50 meters away from the area under the B-Line bridge.
A consensus among commissioners emerged that their preference is for the police substation to be staffed in a way that allows for Bloomington’s police officers to patrol the parks. Jim Whitlach said, “I think we as a parks board need to continue to work with the city and the police to encourage them to be patrolling our parks.”
In late June, Bloomington police chief Mike Diekhoff wrote in response to an emailed question from The B Square: “Our Switchyard office has sworn people who work out of there, but is not open to the public and has no public staffed hours.”
About the new substation building, Whitlach said, “I think we need to encourage it to be used by the police.”
Street confirmed Bloomington’s police department role in providing security for the city’s parks. “BPD certainly still has primary jurisdiction in our parks, and will be present in our parks to the extent that they’re able,” Street said.
Park commissioner Kathleen Mills said it was an extraordinary step for the parks department to hire private security. She added, “But there are things that keep coming, reports that keep coming in, that just simply have to be dealt with.”
Mills also pointed to adequate staffing of the police substation in Switchyard Park as part of the solution. About hiring private security Mills said, “This is not saying this is the solution forever.”
Park commissioners Ellen Rodkey agreed that private security is “not a sustainable solution.” Rodkey added, “I think it probably pains us all a little bit to think that we had to take a measure like this in our parks.”
Rodkey thanked Street and McDevitt for “coming up with a solution that does help protect our staff.”