Normal Police Department

The Citiesscape Pt. 3: Normal Traffic Stop Data Shows Major Racial 'Inequities'

Data on traffic stops in eight Central Illinois cities show significant “inequities” in police treatment of motorists of different races and ethnic origins, according to Illinois State University’s “A Community Report on Intolerance, Segregation, Accessibility, Inclusion, Progress, and Improvement.”

The new report, requested by Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal, notes blacks are stopped more often and arrested more often than their share of the Bloomington-Normal population would suggest. Vehicles driven by blacks are searched more often, and yet drugs are more often found in vehicles of white drivers.

In their study of race and the local criminal justice system, the ISU team focused on disparities in traffic stops and incarceration in the McLean County Jail.  Normal had 19,637 traffic stops out of 72,836 for all eight cities examined. That was 27 percent of all documented stops in the Twin Cities, Champaign, Decatur, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, and Urbana.

Using 2015 Illinois Traffic Stop Data from the Illinois Department of Transportation, students investigated whether disparities in this portion of the criminal justice system exist, specifically for Bloomington-Normal.  Normal police stop vehicles at a far higher rate than police in Springfield or Peoria – ISU student researchers stated “the pattern is quite stark.” Without taking into account severity of charge, blacks who are arrested spend more time in the jail.

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“We find that vehicles with black drivers are far more likely to be searched, compared to those with white or Hispanic drivers,” researchers concluded. “This is true in Bloomington, Normal, and the six other cities; however, Normal has a much smaller portion of vehicles searched relative to their large number of stops.

“Though searched more often, vehicles driven by blacks are less likely to have drugs or drug paraphernalia. We find that blacks spend more time in the jail than whites or Hispanic individuals. We also find that men spend more time in the jail than women, regardless of whether the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor.”

The second highest number of traffic stops occurred in Springfield at 15,910. Bloomington Police Department recorded the third highest number, with 9,740 stops. The remaining cities in order from most to least stops are Rockford with 7,095, Champaign with 7,029; Decatur with 4,982; Peoria with 4,784; and Urbana, with 3,659. When Bloomington and Normal are combined, they accounted for 40 percent of all stops in the eight cities.

Since 1999, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice) periodically has conducted the Police-Public Contact Survey to determine the nature of this contact and discrepancies in race, gender, citations, use of force, etc.  The Bureau distributes surveys to people aged 16 and older, and asks them to describe their most recent contact with law enforcement within the past 12 months.

The Bureau noted a nationwide decline from 2002-2008 in the total number of persons who had contact with police. However, for those who had contact with law enforcement there were still discrepancies between whites, blacks, and Latinos. The number of Latinos drivers stopped by police between 2002 and 2008 increased 28 percent, although there was no difference for white and black drivers during the same period.

 In 2008, blacks were more likely to have contact with law enforcement than whites, asians, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. The survey also inquires whether those stopped by law enforcement felt the police behaved appropriately: Blacks and Latinos were less likely than whites to feel this was true. Similarly, black drivers were less likely to feel there was a legitimate reason for police stopping them.

Blacks were significantly more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than Latino and white drivers, and police arrested blacks at a higher rate than whites during traffic stops. Although no comparison was made in relation to the percentage of searches that resulted in finding anything illegal, only one out of five people searched felt police had a legitimate reason to do so, across racial lines.

The Bureau also analyzed the use of force during traffic stops. Although in 2002 and 2005, whites were less likely than blacks and Latinos to experience the threat of force, the 2008 study indicated that only blacks were more likely to experience force. In addition to experiencing more frequent traffic stops, blacks also experienced more frisks and searches.

Racial disparity was found to be greater in frisks than in general searches; racial disparity frisks are contingent on a community’s racial composition, and a driver’s race does not correlate with the productivity of searches.

“Racial profiling in law enforcement is a problem due to racial stereotypes, reflecting the ‘legitimizing myths’ that perpetuate social dominance and hierarchies,” the ISU team stated. “. . . Officers were more likely to stop someone depending on location (i.e., if a black was in a predominately white area, or if a white person was in a predominately black area).”

After standardizing stop data for population size, the degree to which Normal ranked highest in traffic stops -- after accounting for population size, Normal’s frequency of stops is more than twice that of the other seven cities.

In Bloomington, Latinos are disproportionately more likely to be stopped, where in Normal, Latinos are disproportionately less likely to be stopped, given their share of the population.

It is uncommon for officers to request searches from motorists in Bloomington or Normal, and the likelihood of such requests does not seem vary by race or ethnicity. Of requests for searches, though, blacks drivers are far more likely to decline the request. In the end, however, black drivers are most likely to have a search conducted.

In Bloomington, white drivers had a 5.6 percent chance of a search being conducted, Latino drivers had a 8.6 percent chance, and black drivers had a 13.0 percent chance of a search. A similar pattern emerged in Normal: White drivers had a 1.0 percent chance of having a search conducted, Latino drivers a 2.2 percent chance, and blacks had a 3.4 percent chance of having a search conducted.

For all eight cities combined, white drivers had a 4.2 percent chance of being searched, Latino drivers a 6.1 percent chance, and black drivers had a 12.4 percent of being searched.

“Although there is a higher chance of being pulled over in Normal, there is greater likelihood of being searched in Bloomington,” ISU researchers reported.

In Bloomington, while white drivers had the lowest chance of their car being searched, they had the highest percent of being found in possession of drugs. In Normal, black drivers had the highest percent of being found in possession of drugs, followed by white drivers. Latino drivers showed the lowest percentage of drug possession in either city.

In both Bloomington and Normal, students found white drivers to have the highest percentage of drug paraphernalia possession, followed by black drivers, again, despite the higher rate of searches on vehicles driven by blacks.

Unit 5 Can Help Race Relations

Normal officials hope McLean County Unit 5 can help improve race relations in the town.

City Manager Mark Peterson told a joint committee of town and school officials Tuesday he hopes the district will help the town push that effort, which it intensified this month with the publication of a study on how to improve Normal Police Department procedures.

"Most African-Americans went to school, for many years, with an African-American teacher who understood them as an individual," said Chemberly Cummings, the first black Normal City Council member and a committee member. "Now, we have teachers who are coming out of suburban or rural areas never ever seeing an African-American until they step foot into the classroom."

She said that dynamic can lead to a culture of mistrust between students and authority figures that follows students after they leave school.

"They're already developed a mindset about police long before they've come to this larger interaction with law enforcement," Cummings said, "It's both our responsibilities to make sure all of our children feel welcome. ... We can develop true diversity and inclusion plans, not just window dressing."

The district is "looking at the idea of how do we integrate diversity training" and working to make its staff and administrators as diverse as its student body, said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel.

He said he's seen the benefits of diversity training up close, through one of his daughters who was a student teacher for Chicago Public Schools.

"They went first to understand the community, then they went into the classrooms. ... She had no fear walking into a classroom or walking around Chicago."

"Because she had that kind of training, she looks through a different lens — I'm treating this (as), I see no color. I just see a student, I see a need, I see I'm there to be an adult who's there to assist.'"

Daniel said officials also need to consider "how are we going to bring people of color to our community."

That was part of a wide-ranging discussion as the committee met for the first time. Cummings, council member R.C. McBride and Peterson represented the town; board members Jim Hayek and Mike Trask joined Daniel for the district, which hosted the meeting.

The next meeting is expected to be in late November or early December at Uptown Station. The town will host.

The council and school board met there last month to discuss resurrecting the committee, which is intended to make both more stable and less susceptible to external obstacles like the state.

Both passed an agreement to hold quarterly meetings with two members of each body and annual meetings with all members.

Second Law Enforcement Summit April 19

Join local law enforcement agencies for the 2nd Annual Law Enforcement Educational Summit, April 19, 2016 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Illinois State University’s Horton Field House, 180 N. Adelaide St., Normal.

The event is open to the public -- those 16 and over will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of training simulations (see map below).

Last year's inaugural summit in Bloomington offered residents the opportunity to learn how officers are trained to interact with civilians in common law enforcement situations, and for local police agencies to gain insight into community perspectives.

The event and others followed on the February 2015 Breaking Barriers police-community dialogue in Bloomington, co-sponsored by Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal.



Local Law Enforcement and Minority Recruitment

According to the Pantagraph, here's a breakdown of the current number of minorities, women, and white officers employed by local law enforcement agencies:

  • Bloomington Police Department's full complement is 128 officers, but seven have not been replaced. The 121 current officers include four (3.2 percent) male Latinos and two (1.6 percent) African-American male officers. There are 112 (93 percent) white male and three (2.4 percent) white female officers.
  • Among Normal Police Department's 80 officers, there are two African-American males (2.5 percent), one Hispanic female (1.25 percent) and one Asian male (1.25 percent). Sixty-eight officers (85 percent) are white males and eight (10 percent) are white females. NPD is in the process of hiring one officer.
  • The  McLean County Sheriff's Department has 53 officer positions, with 50 filled: 48 (96 percent) are white males; there are two (4 percent) white females. That's an increase of one female officer since last February.
  • Illinois State University's Police Department has 27 officers. Three (11 percent) are African-American males, 18 (67 percent) are white males and six (22 percent) are white females. 

Demographically, McLean County is 80.5 percent white, 7.7 percent African-American, 5.2 percent Asian, 4.7 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data. The county is 51.2 percent female.

Education Summit April 29; New Youth Intervention Specialist on Board

As local law enforcement agencies prep next week to show how they interact with the community, efforts to keep youths from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system reportedly have gained momentum with the introduction of a youth intervention specialist for the Bloomington Police Department.

Michael Donnelly, who works as community impact manager with the United Way of McLean County, will work part time with police to identify and mentor at-risk youth.

Mayor Tari Renner said the city is not alone in the challenges posed by youths who get into trouble. Calling youth crime "one of the top social issues" among mayors, Renner said a $25,000 grant from State Farm will allow Donnelly to work with youths and their families to address small matters before they become bigger ones.

A similar program funded by State Farm has been in place at the Normal Police Department since 2008.

BPD Chief Brendan Heffner said Donnelly will work with the agency's four school resource officers and McLean County juvenile probation staff to help students who need guidance.

"We know we won't save every young person we come in contact with," said Donnelly, but building a bridge that serves police, families and social services is a positive first step.

Donnelly's prior experience working with youth through several community programs makes him a good fit, said Heffner.

Retired 11th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb attended the announcement at BPD and said Donnelly "knows the families and the system," agreeing having a person who knows how to talk to youths about the consequences of their mistakes will provide the community with a much-needed resource.

McLean County State's Attorney Jason Chambers also applauded the city for obtaining the grant and for hiring Donnelly.

"Its not unusual for adults in the criminal justice system to have a history of police contact as a juvenile. A lot of what law enforcement does is reactive. It's great to see someone working on prevention," said Chambers.

City officials did not have an estimate for the number of youths Donnelly could see during the year he will work under the grant.  With the onset of warm weather when youths are typically more active, he could be busy, Heffner admitted.

The city plans to seek a renewal of the grant after its reviews statistics on the impact Donnelly's work has on police interaction with at-risk youth.

Not Loving It? Have "Coffee With a Cop"

In an ongoing effort to build a constructive dialogue with the community, McLean County police departments will share java and jawbone with residents March 13.

Representatives from Bloomington, Normal, and Illinois State University police departments and the McLean County Sheriff's Department will participate in Coffee with a Cop -- an extension of a national program -- from 7 to 10 a.m. that Friday at McDonald's, 525 Brock Drive, Bloomington.

McDonald's will provide free coffee to all who attend.

Coffee with a Cop was started by a California police department in 2011 as part of its community policing effort, and today, some 175 communities in 36 states offer Coffee with a Cop programs. Sara Mayer, public affairs officer with the Bloomington police, maintains the relaxed sitdown can improve community relations.

"You don't call 911 when everything is going well," Mayer notes. "This allows a one-on-one, builds partnerships and trust."

ISU police have met with students in a similar fashion for a couple of years, a few times each semester. "It's a good opportunity to see us in more of an approachable venue ... in this case, a relaxed environment," Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said.

Police and the Percentages

Nationally, African-Americans make up 11 percent, and Latinos make up 9 percent of police agencies in communities with more than 250,000 residents. How do the Twin Cities and McLean County fare?

The Bloomington Police Department is ramping up efforts to add diversity in new officers. Here's a breakdown of the number of minorities, women, and white officers employed with local law enforcement agencies, compiled by The Pantagraph:

• Among Normal Police Department's 83 officers, there are two African-American officers, one Hispanic female and one Asian male. Seventy officers (84 percent) are white males and nine (11 percent) are white females. (The NPD currently is over its full complement of 81 officers because several are about to retire).

• Bloomington Police's full complement is 128 officers, but four have not been replaced. The 124 officers include four (3.2 percent) male Latinos and two (1.6 percent) African-American male officers, including Chief Brendan Heffner. A third African-American officer recently retired after 30 years. There are 115 (92.7 percent) white male and three (2.4 percent) white female officers.

• None of McLean County sheriff's patrol deputies are minorities. The department has 53 officer positions, but only 44 are filled: 43 are white males; there is one white female.

• Illinois State University's Police Department has 27 officers. Three (11 percent) are African-American males, 18 (67 percent) are white males and six (22 percent) are white females. 

Demographically, McLean County is 80.5 percent white; 7.7 percent African-American, 5.2 percent Asian, 4.7 percent Hispanic or Latino and 51.2 percent female, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Other area police departments have a similar shortage of minority officers.

Of the Champaign Police Department's 123 officers, 99 (80.5 percent) are white males, 10 (8 percent) are white females, three (2.4 percent) are Hispanic males, one is an Hispanic female, two (or 1.6 percent) are Asian males and eight (6.5 percent), including Chief Anthony Cobb, are African-American males.

Of the 241 Springfield police officers, 195 (81 percent are white males; 11 (4.6 percent) are African-American males; five (2 percent) are Hispanic males; and two are Asian males. Springfield also has 28 (11.6 percent) white female officers.

To explore opportunities in local law enforcement, visit the Bloomington Police recruitment page at

BPD Chief Heffner Extends Invitation to the Force

Young Bloomington men and women -- Chief Brendan Heffner wants you.

The African-American head of the Bloomington Police Department emphasizes that "we ARE recruiting," and he's hoping March police officer testing will contribute to a more diversified force for community good.

As of mid-January, the BPD included 124 of a total allotted 128 officers -- 118 white, four Latino, and two African-American (including Heffner). Three of those officers are female.

Though Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner admits "we are not as diverse as we'd like to be," he argues his department is "better now than we've ever been," with 79 white, two African-American, one Latino, and one Asian officer. The NPD includes 10 women.

Heffner reports "minorities who are looking for a job" can earn a starting salary of $56,000, three weeks' annual vacation, and "good benefits." He urges the community to help identify and encourage potential candidates.

"This isn't for everybody, so we need everybody's help," Heffner said.