$279K for private security patrols in public parks OK’d by Bloomington

In 2022, unarmed officers employed by Marshall Security will continue to patrol Switchyard Park overnight, as well as through the day in a half dozen more parks in Bloomington.

The $278,821 contract with Marshall, which runs through the end of 2022, was approved by the four-member board of park commissioners at its regular meeting on Tuesday night.

In June last year, the board had approved overnight patrols for Switchyard, as a response to increased incidents of vandalism.  In July, daytime patrols for the other parks  were approved. A contract to bridge from the end of 2021 through the end of January was approved by the board in mid-December.

Based on the number of reports filed by Marshall officers, the number of incidents in the areas patrolled decreased significantly, starting in July: July (126); August (99); September (38); October (28); and November (5).

Other parks covered in the contract besides Switchyard include: 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.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members had questions about the source of funds and expressed concerns about the amount.

At Tuesday’s meeting, park commissioner Jim Whitlatch expressed concern about the amount of money involved for the patrols. “At some point, it becomes cost prohibitive. And we may need to have our own program,” Whitlatch said.

Whitlatch added that he’s not advocating for the parks to maintain such a program of patrols with its own staff. He called the contract with Marshall a “great interim step” to get to a point where there are adequate resources in the police department to provide that level of service.

Park commissioner Kathleen Mills said, “It’s a little disappointing that [the parks and recreation department] has to pay for this. I understand the police are stretched very thin.” Mills added, “It wasn’t really a solution to do nothing.”

Whitlatch drew out the fact that the source of funds for the private security patrols in 2022 is the American Rescue Plan Act. Last year the parks department drew on money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to fund the private security patrols.

Mills noted that the patrols included Crestmont Park which is near an area where there have been some shootings. She wanted to know how the unarmed security officers from Marshall coordinate with Bloomington police officers.

Responding to Mills was Tim Street, who is operations director for Bloomington parks and recreation. Marshall’s employees will engage with people only up to a point, Street said. If they don’t think it’s appropriate or safe, Marshall officers will notify the police department, Street said.

About the decrease in incident reports from the summer through the end of the year, Street told the board there were a variety of factors that likely contributed. One was simply the learning curve for Marshall employees—at the start they tended to report every little thing. Another factor was the reduced usage of parks towards the end of the season.

Switchyard Park general manager Hsiung Marler told the board that it took several attempts over time by Marshall employees to make clear to unhoused people that they weren’t supposed to be in the park after hours. “The longer we had the security presence, the more they understood,” Marler said.

Park commissioner Israel Herrera wanted to know what the diversity profile for Marshall employees had been so far. He asked if any of the officers had skills in Spanish or other languages.

Street told Herrera that a vendor like Marshall Security, which submits a bid for a contract with Bloomington, has to submit an affirmative action plan with the city. Over the last six months, Street said he’d seen “a diversity of different officers in the position.” Street said he did not know if any of them could speak additional languages.