Column: Is Bloomington a ‘relatively safe place’?

The text on the left and the right are identical except for the inclusion of the word "relatively" in the version on the right. Here's the text on the right: Bloomington is a relatively safe place but we are not immune to issues with which our entire nation is dealing. This senseless incident is a reminder that we should all look out for each other, be aware of our surroundings and seek to combat racism and prejudice in all its forms wherever and whenever we encounter it. Both versions have the city of Bloomington logo and a timestamp for the time of publication. The time for the left is 12:43 p.m. The time for the right is 12:48
Left is a screen grab of the final paragraph of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s Jan. 14, 2023 Facebook statement about a Jan. 11 bus stabbing. Right is a screen grab of the final paragraph of the same Facebook statement five minutes later. The only difference is the insertion of the word “relatively” to modify “safe.”

On Saturday, a statement from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton was posted on his official Facebook page denouncing the racist stabbing of an 18-year-old woman, which took place three days earlier.

Between 12:43 p.m. and 12:48 p.m., an edit was made to the statement’s final paragraph. Instead of describing Bloomington as “a safe place,” the revised statement says Bloomington is “a relatively safe place.”

The revision is consistent with the fact that perceptions of safety are not uniform—across people, specific areas within Bloomington, or time of day.

For example, results from the 2021 community survey showed that just 54 percent of women feel very safe or somewhat safe in Bloomington’s downtown area at night.

As Bloomington enters the 2023 municipal election season, it’s a fair bet that public safety will become fodder for local political campaigns.

The revision to the mayor’s official statement denouncing last Wednesday’s racist attack offers one way to phrase a question for candidates in this year’s races: What are your specific ideas for transforming Bloomington from a “relatively safe place’” to a “safe place”?

Still, that’s the kind of question that lets us, as a community, off the hook—because it presupposes that Bloomington is at least a “relatively safe place.”

It’s worth noting that for the 2021 community survey questions on perceptions of safety, the demographic breakdown of  results includes: length of residency; renter or owner; gender; age; and student or non-student.

Not included in the demographic breakdown: Race.

That is probably because the raw numbers of non-white survey respondents were small. The survey includes results from just 14 Black respondents.

If we want to understand perceptions of safety in the non-white parts of our community, then a first step would be to measure those perceptions. We have a chance this year to do that—because Bloomington’s community survey is conducted on an every-odd-year cycle.

For the 2023 survey, I think it would be worth vastly oversampling for non-white respondents so that perceptions of safety in specific non-white communities can be measured.

If the survey shows that a majority of all residents feel safe, then it will always be easy for Bloomington’s mayor, whoever it is, to write that Bloomington is a “relatively safe place” in official statements denouncing racist violence.

But that won’t be quite as easy, if the survey shows that non-white residents don’t perceive Bloomington as a safe place.

9 thoughts on “Column: Is Bloomington a ‘relatively safe place’?

  1. Let’s try a better way for our law enforcement officials to help protect the citizens of our safe and civil community. When ever law enforcement is called their needs to placed on record. The first time they go on to investigate the crime scene. The first time that they go visit the place. That person will be given a no trespassing order and enter into a daily log. The second time the criminal will be required to go into a rehab facility. The prosecutors office will monitor their compliance on a monthly report. The third time the prosecutors office will be sent to the judicial system. These hardened criminals will be asked to leave our safe and civil city. If they return they will be arrested and sent to prison where they belong.

    1. What a great way to continue to encourage police harassment. Not all calls to the police yield a criminal. I understand where you are going with this. I will state tho based on my experience with unruly neighbors who I feel needed a few slaps on their wrists; LE around here (both departments) they throw around that word criminal trespass but never enforce it because here in Bloomington, when they enforce the criminal trespasses they threaten people with it’s never enforced. I feel like a LE said they don’t have room in their jails to house criminal trespassers. Also, imagine all the IU students shoes first warning is criminal trespass.

      I feel like to run criminals out of our town due to harsh criminal policies, they gonna have to choose something else.

      I’d also like to point out that so far from what I’ve witnessed in the 7 years I have lived here; people who are locally from Bloomington or grew up here are some of the ones causing this level of criminality too. It’s easy to blame transients. I listened to the scanner last night and the police activity did a solid hour wasn’t dealing with transients or students; but good old fashioned local residents. 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

  2. I contacted my City Councilman, Ron Smith, about the design of and sampling for this survey. He said he would look into it and dded that he didn’t think it was very scientific esearch.

  3. I don’t think a survey about the perception of safety is a very useful tool, except to learn more about variance of perception among different groups. I think the City and the press should be looking more closely at how Bloomington actually compares with other Indiana cities in terms of crime rates, in the context of overall income levels and particularly the rate of poverty, which tends to indicate the degree to which problems go beyond what policy and law enforcement can address.

    I recently used the non-subscription area of a national site designed to provide information to realtors that assesses features of neighborhoods they are working in (www.neighborhoodscout.com/). The site includes information on violent crime rates, median income, and poverty rates. For crime, it places each city or town in a national percentile. Indiana cities almost uniformly score pertty low on this last criterion (other than Carmel). Within the context of Indiana, Bloomington’s assessment on the measure of violent crime rate is . . . well, let’s say, “Meh”–“relatively safe” is probably about right.

    Here are some figures I found. The categories are Violent Crime Rate (per 1000) / Median Income / Poverty Rate

    Anderson: 4.27 / $37K / 23.0%
    Bloomington: 6.06 / $41K / 33.6%
    Carmel: 0.51 / $115K / 3.1%
    Evansville: 10.10 / $43K / 21.0%
    Ft. Wayne: 4.26 / $51K / 15.5%
    Gary: 5.05 / $31K/ 33.1%
    Indy: 8.76 / $51K / 16.9%
    Martinsville: 7.21 / $50K / 13.2%
    Muncie: 3.05 / $51K / 17.2%
    South Bend: 17.07 / $42K / 21.5%
    Terre Haute: 14.57 / $37K / 25.3%

    Bloomington’s exceptional poverty rate–higher than Gary’s– is nothing new, though it’s a surprise to many people. It is probably inflated, in part, because Bloomington’s a college town, and among the student population support from families is typically excluded in calculations. But when I looked into this a couple of decades ago when I first learned about this issue I found that among college cities nationally, Bloomington ranked last. So there is indeed a high underlying poverty rate, and I’d guess the impact of that on crime rates is probably greater than the rise in homelessness we’ve seen over the past decade.

  4. I wonder how safe Bloomington is when it comes to corporate wage theft, tax evasion, and environmental crimes. I hope no one is dumping PCB’s anymore!

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