Police Chief Brendan Heffner

BPD Embracing Aspects of 'Community Policing'

Jon Norton

WGLT

The advocacy group Black Lives Matter BloNo has been asking the Bloomington Police Department to adopt "Community Policing" rather than what it characterizes as a "Broken Windows" approach to policing. Broken Windows theory argues that focusing on small crimes such as vandalism and toll-jumping helps create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, which leads to less serious crimes being committed.
 

Community policing has a number of core tenants, including assigning officers to specific geographic locations over long periods of time, even decades. It also involves requiring officers to walk or bike their beats as much as possible, and to emphasize problem solving over reactionary policing. Bloomington police chief Brendan Heffner said his department employs all of those tenants, albeit in a limited fashion. For example, he said officers have assigned patrol areas every time they are out.

"We have officers that bid (per their shifts) their patrol areas, so they are actuallyin certain areas for long periods of time, so that helps," said Heffner. "What I think the public doesn't realize is, say, you're an officer on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift, or the day shift and you change shifts, your patrol area might change as well."

So those officers may essentially patrol a neighborhood for up to a year, which proponents of community policing might say is short of the desired "years" or even "decades" where an officer can really get to know an area and its residents. As for foot patrols, Heffner said his offers do get out on both foot and bike, and said he would like to increase the time they spend out of their cars in the coming months. He also said officers on foot increases their response time when dispatched to other crimes.

"We encourage officers to get out of their cars when they can to talk and engage with people" said Heffner. "Sometimes people are a little taken back because they've only seen or heard things and never had an officer say hello. And we have some officers who are a little shy about that because of the atmosphere, they don't know how to be treated."

Heffner says he tells his officers to be consistent, in that consistency, professionalism, and being genuine reflects on the officer, and those overtures comes back to the officer. 

One of the criticisms of community policing nationwide is that it gets embraced at the upper levels of law enforcement agencies, but the concept itself, such as how how to talk with or approach citizens while on foot patrol doesn't get down to the street level officer. A YouTube video from two years ago filmed by a man walking in west Bloomington has made its rounds on social media. It shows the man and and another interacting with Bloomington police officer who had stopped his car after noticing the two walking. The man filming immediately asked if they were being detained or under arrest as the officer walked up to them. They explained in a direct manner that they don't answer questions from police. The officer explained he wanted to talk with them and get to know them under the guise of community policing. The conversation quickly devolved into the pedestrian clearly stating he didn't trust police, and the officer continuing to talk with the pedestrian in a belittling manor.  Heffner said he has been aware of the video for awhile.

"I actually told that officer 'do not stop doing what you were trying to do.' That obviously was not the best contact, but that is not how everyone feels. If you want to know if our officers try to get out there and do that ... they do," said Heffner.

Acknowledging that the conversation was adversarial from both parties, Heffner said his officers have to act in a more professional manor.

"One thing people have to realize is that we are human too. But we try to be above that. Can we do better? Yes we can, and we strive to do that, and we learn from it. And I hope people understand no matter what you think of the video, it was one video. Because we have a LOT of positive contacts with the public," said Heffner.

Click "Listen" below to hear Heffner talk more about how the Bloomington Police Department approached community policing, including his reaction to data released last year showing blacks stopped and frisked more often than whites during the first six months of 2016, despite finding less drugs or illegal weapons on blacks than whites.

BLM Meeting Airs Profiling Grievances

Kevin Barlow

The Pantagraph

Josh Lewis, an 11-year-old Bloomington Junior High School student, says he used to like police officers, participating in “Ice Cream with a Cop” events and talking to officers at school sporting events and activities.

But that all changed a few months back, he told a crowd of about 300 people at a public meeting Thursday at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church with Bloomington Police officials and hosted by Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

“One day, my ride picked me up and was confused when we got pulled over a couple of blocks from my house,” he said. “There was no way we had broken any traffic laws.

"The driver was worried about getting a ticket because he had left his wallet with his license at home," he said. "But the officer didn’t want to talk with him. He wanted to talk with me.

"I was nervous. I had heard about black people getting shot by police.”

Lewis said the officer informed him he was investigating a car theft in the area. The driver, according to Lewis, asked if he was going to get a ticket for driving without his license and was told that he wouldn’t.

“I was confused by this,” Lewis said. “I was relieved when he left.

"Then I got pissed when I realized what happened. Was the officer thinking I stole the car or knew something about it? I don’t even drive. But this was profiling. The driver was white and (the officer) didn’t say anything to him.”

Lewis was one of several members of the Black Lives Matter group who spoke at the meeting, detailing incidents where they felt they were unjustly treated by police because of their race.

Group member Ky Ajayi moderated the program.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding of who we are and what we stand for, and even though we are only 2 months old, we are already controversial,” he said. “There are folks out there who don’t know us, don’t like us and have decided they can’t work with us because we say ‘Black lives matter.’"

"Saying that shouldn’t be controversial. We should all be saying ‘Black lives matter’ because when we say that, we are lifting up a problem," he said.

"When people say ‘Save the whales,’ they aren’t advocating the destruction of all other sea life. A problem has been identified and a call to action is being sent.”

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner was allowed to make opening remarks for about five minutes. He was not permitted to comment on the stories that were told, but he was allowed to answer only "yes" or "no" to prepared questions asked by Ajayi.

“There are two sides to every story,” Heffner said after the meeting. “Obviously, tonight, I had no chance to respond and this was not a meeting for dialogue. But I heard it and if those things occurred, that’s not good, but I need information.”

Several issues were discussed, including the use of cameras in undisclosed, public areas of largely minority neighborhoods; the use of body cameras on officers; police training and oversight; and policies related to community police and "broken windows policing" (questioning anyone in the area when a crime is suspected).

Also discussed was a proposal to use a vacant but rehabilitated house owned Mid Central Community Action at 828 W. Jefferson St. for a police substation, which has drawn criticism from among west-side residents.

Under the plan up for a City Council vote next month, officers from every patrol shift could stop by the house to fill out reports, eat meals, take breaks and be out and about in the neighborhood.

“Personally, I am anti-police substation in my neighborhood,” said west-side resident Sonny Garcia. “Think about being in an abusive relationship: You get separated and then the abuser want to come back in.

"Until there is more training for police on race issues and a level of trust is established, I don’t think the substation is a good idea,” he said.

NAACP, BPD Maintain 'Open Channels'; NAACP Chief Urges Reporting of Suspected Racial Profiling

To fix the flaws or abuse in the system, citizens must be willing to use the system’s resources to make their voices known in official channels, according to a local leader of the African-American community. Bloomington’s police chief concurs with him on the need for “open channels” between law enforcement and citizens.

At Monday’s vigil commemorating nationwide victims of recent violence and racism, Quincy Cummings, head of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, emphasized the need for those who feel they have experienced police mistreatment or discrimination to come forward. Citizens and local police officials joined in the event, and Cummings noted top cops must be aware a problem exists to adequately address it.

In the end, he held “we have to hold ourselves accountable for being the community we want to see.” He argued that thanks to cooperative efforts, “we have the ear of local law enforcement.”

“The problem is, a lot of times, people don’t complain,” Cummings said. “In order to hold police accountable, you have to go and fill out a formal police complaint. Even if that means calling the NAACP to go with you to do it, whether it means involving the ACLU, whatever, that has to happen.

“Police are looking at data, and if they’re looking at complaints and seeing a low volume of complaints for the year, then they don’t see a problem. It doesn’t matter what people are saying on the street. This is what we have to do.”

NAACP has worked extensively through “open channels” with local law enforcement in part through the Minority and Police Partnership of McLean County. The Bloomington Police Department is a charter member of MAPP, which was developed with NIOTBN support, and in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore and a local NIOTBN/NAACP community/police forum in early 2015, the BPD launched annual public training sessions to demonstrate and gather citizen input on real-world police procedures and ramped up minority officer recruitment.

A sign of the progress the BPD has made in the communities was last night’s standing ovation for local police at the First Christian Church vigil. BPD Chief Brendan Heffner hailed Monday’s event and its commemoration of officers and citizens alike, arguing “any loss of life is tragic.”

“The community realizes this,” Heffner said. “We don’t always know the reasons for certain things, but any time we’re together, we’re communicating, it’s always positive.

“Having that dialogue will also help us if something occurs, cause (the community knows) we’ve done that. We didn’t just get together now – we’ve had ongoing dialogue. We may agree to disagree, but we’ve had a dialogue, and we’ve worked together for what we believe is best for the community.”

The Dallas police shootings were “a very stark reminder of what we face,” the chief acknowledged. Today’s officer must possess “the right mindset to be prepared for anything and still do our job in a professional manner,” he stressed.

Illinois’ data collection law established a multi-year statewide study of traffic stops to collect data to identify racial bias. Consistent with and in addition to state-mandated officer data collection, the BPD collected information on passenger race and gender data, specific offense, exact location of the traffic stop, vehicle registration number, parole or probation status of the driver, and expanded racial categories.  

Here are some further insights on profiling and data collection from the BPD: 

Q.  What is racial profiling?

A.  Profiling is defined as the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of any individual on the basis of racial, ethnic, age, gender, or sexual orientation of that individual. 

Q. Why did the Bloomington Police Department collect more data than state law mandates?

A.  As allowed by the law, we collect additional data to enhance anticipated future statisticalanalysis.  More and richer data increases the opportunity for deeper analysis, resulting in more reliable conclusions.   

Q.  What do I do if I think I am a victim of racial profiling by Bloomington Police?

A.  Pick up a copy of the Bloomington PoliceDepartment’s Citizen Complaint Form at the police facility at 305 S. East Street in downtown Bloomington.  The forms are also available from the City Clerk’s office at Bloomington City Hall. 

Q.  What can I do to help identify and prevent racial profiling?

A.  Be patient, cooperate with law enforcement when stopped for a traffic violation, and support statistically reliable data analysis.  Report suspected racial profiling and encourage recruitment of minority police officers.  Most importantly, obey traffic laws and drive safely. 

Q.  Who do I contact if I have questions about data collection or racial profiling?

A.  The Bloomington Police Department, Office of Public Affairs, off the second floor lobby of the police facility at 305 S. East Street. Call (309) 434-2355 or inquire online at police@cityblm.org .

B/N Police Chiefs Stress Community Unity

WMBD

Both Bloomington and Normal's police chiefs say that events like the attack in Dallas will not stop officers from doing their jobs.

"We do what we can to go out there and make positive relationships with the community because that's what's going to carry us through the day, through the high points and the low points,” says Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner adds, "Our sensitivities are high right now. But we have a job to do. We have each other, and we stick together and work hard."

Heffner says there is no justification for the attack in Dallas and that people and police must stand together.

BPD Testing for New Officers; March 3 Deadline

The Bloomington Police Department is testing for new officers in late March, and BPD Chief Brendan Heffner hopes soon to see new and diverse faces serving the community.

Cut-off date to apply is March 3. 

"Please spread the word, as it's time step it up for diversity," stressed Heffner, who stepped up efforts to recruit new officers, including minority patrol officers, roughly a year ago following a local Breaking Barriers police-community dialogue.

People can go to www.cityblm.org to apply online.

Police Force Focus of Nov. 4 Program; Body Cams in Bloomington's Future

Body cameras were discussed at the Bloomington City Council’ mid-October meeting.  But questions remain before they hit the streets, and Illinois State University criminal justice Prof. Jason Ingram is raising a few.

Ingram says the cameras can increase police and public safety, if they're used the right way.

"It's a camera, so it has to be turned on and it only captures what it's pointed at. So if an officer has discretion on when he or she can turn it on, there's potential for non-compliance,” Ingram said. 

Jason Ingram

Jason Ingram

His biggest issue is privacy and determining who can see the video: "Officers do have a reduced expectation of privacy, because they're a public servant, but I don't know how that plays out with citizens on camera.”

Ingram will offer his thoughts on police practices and protections at Police Use of Force: Myths and Policy Considerations, a free, public program by the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Normal Public Library Community Room.

Police departments all over the country are using body cameras. Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, who has researched the issue for the city council, says they are inevitable, and will improve safety for police and the community.

"Privacy issues are a big concern, obviously cost is a big concern,” Heffner nonetheless concedes.

His department will begin a grant-funded trial run in January. After that, it's up to the council to determine if the cameras are worth the cost.

"At the end of the day, if it turns out it's going to be somewhere around $100,000 for us to do this every year and to keep this going, than the council has to figure out is that a top priority," said Mayor Tari Renner.

Even though the cameras do face challenges, Heffner says they're excited to move forward in the process. "I think we will get better feedback from the officers once we get some cameras here to actually test,” he said.

The Bloomington police department says they'll test several types of cameras before making a decision, and Renner suggests they might go with several options, to give officers their pick.

For further thoughts on body cams, watch the WMBD-TV video at http://www.centralillinoisproud.com/news/local-news/body-cameras-could-help-policing


Police-Community Simulations Planned April 29; Heffner Urges Students to 'Comply, then Complain'

Police and the community will simulate public interactions to stimulate dialogue and, ideally, improved community relations.

The Minority and Police Partnership (MAP) with the Bloomington Police Department will conduct an event using real equipment to simulate traffic stops and potentially hostile situations, 5 p.m. April 29 at the Illinois Army National Guard armory, 1616 S. Main St., Bloomington.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner told NIOT:B/N the simulations should offer the public "a taste of what we do and why," as well as an opportunity for officers and citizens to share mutual perceptions of police-community encounters.

During a discussion last week between students and BPD and ISU police chiefs at Illinois State University,  Heffner stressed “the C's — comply and then complain,” in situations where individuals believe they have been improperly stopped and/or questioned by police. Some 125 people attended the program, which was sponsored by ISU's chapter of the NAACP and the ISU group My Brotha's Keeper.

Kenneth Porter, an adviser to the ISU NAACP, said the program was an opportunity to break down stereotypes either side might have in a neutral environment and for “police to clarify their side of the story.” Porter acknowledged that nationally, "there's been a lot of tension with in the black community in light of the last 12 months," but held that overall, Bloomington-Normal departments "do a pretty good job, compared to the rest of the country or even the state.”

Most of the questions from participants centered on alcohol violations, traffic stops, loud party complaints, and other student concerns.

More than half the students at the event indicated they had had an encounter with the police. But students also volunteered personal stories about positive police encounters, from being given the benefit of the doubt after they were stopped for speeding to receiving extra patrols after an ex-boyfriend refused to stay away.

One student said police arrived when “I was having a 'social event' at my residence.” He said that once he turned down the music and quieted his guests, the police left and “just said, 'Be smarter next time.'”

 

Chief Seeks More Coffee and Communication with Community

Bloomington Police Department Chief Brendan Heffner has a lot on his mind these days, but Friday morning, he was focused on coffee, some good community conversation, and maybe a little pre-season Chicago baseball rivalry.

Representatives of the BPD, the Normal and Illinois State University police departments, and the McLean County Sheriff’s Department launched “Coffee With a Cop” at Bloomington’s Brock Drive McDonald’s. Heffner hopes to make the open-invitation kaffeeklatsch  a monthly occasion.

He hailed the recent Breaking Barriers police-public dialogue co-sponsored by Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal, arguing the benefits that accrue “any time you can get the community together to discuss things, even when it’s things of a sensitive nature.” While that forum focused on community concerns about public encounters with police in Ferguson and other locales, recently released statements made by a Bloomington police sergeant, and prospects for minority recruitment by local police agencies, the chief saw a more fundamental purpose for Friday’s more casual get-together – to show the public the human face “beyond the badge.”

“I don’t know anybody who wears a uniform who intentionally goes out to do wrong,” Heffner stressed. “Sometimes, you have some bad apples, but the majority of the times, the majority of all of us are out there trying to do the right thing for the community.

“(Coffee With a Cop) is a way for people to get to know us as human beings and regular people, a way for people to understand that we are human, and to build a rapport.”

McDonald’s volunteered the site for the first coffee, but Heffner said further get-togethers will be scheduled at various venues, depending on public “response and turnout.” He invited the public to suggest sites and times for follow-up coffees.

Meanwhile, Heffner welcomes the arrival of warmer weather and the opportunity to talk with community members “out and around,” both to build rapport “and deter some crime.”

The BPD and others already have been participating in bimonthly meetings of Minority And Police Partnership, and Heffner reported police representatives have regularly visited churches, “invited and sometimes not invited,” to keep in touch with community needs and concerns.

In addition, the department plans in April to launch a new educational outreach, with a program designed “to give the public a taste of what we do and why, and maybe help them see some things from a different perspective.”

“We can all make mistakes,” Heffner admitted. “We all try to do our best. It’s unfortunate that sometimes, we make mistakes. Our mistakes are always in the news. But I don’t think some people realize the decisions we have to make under the circumstances, and the short timeframe we have to make a decision, which often can be in a split second.

“Just as we learn of people’s viewpoints, maybe about seeing things in another light, I think this would be good for the public, too. We all benefit when we communicate, by talking and learning from each other.”

During the January Breaking Barriers session, Heffner emphasized his hope for greater diversity with his department through increased minority recruiting. BPD new officer testing is being conducted this month, and while he admits he has no specific “benchmarks” for recruitment, he reported the BPD has received some minority applications. He nonetheless stressed the department fundamentally “will still be enforcing the law the same way,” albeit amid continued efforts to fine-tune local police practices and procedures.

That includes both basic and individualized special training in dealing with and judging when to use force with mentally ill suspects and under other unusual or sensitive circumstances.  Familiarity with the community and individuals with special needs can help officers better “defuse” a risky situation, Heffner said. But “we still have to be concerned about preservation of life” when a suspect poses an imminent threat to others or even themselves, he said.

In the wake of the recent incident involving release of racially related statements made by a BPD sergeant and recorded by a Bloomington police in-car camera, the chief has urged his men to exercise professional sensitivity in all communications, whether they are “recorded or not recorded.” In Sgt. Ed Shumaker’s written reprimand, the BPD stated he “should be very aware of his surroundings and situational awareness while not allowing the stressor of an event to cause a comment that would be considered inappropriate."

“You want to talk about us being transparent?” Heffner posed. “We’re the ones who found (the statement), and we’re the ones who took action. People may not like the action that we took, but we did. We’ve been accountable for it. This was something to learn from – I’ve been talking about professionalism since I came here, and I’ve said this is an example of what can happen. We take the heat, but we learn from it.”

“I don’t know anybody who wears a uniform who intentionally goes out to do wrong,” Heffner stressed. “Sometimes, you have some bad apples, but the majority of the times, the majority of all of us are out there trying to do the right thing for the community.

“(Coffee With a Cop) is a way for people to get to know us as human beings and regular people, a way for people to understand that we are human, and to build a rapport.”

McDonald’s volunteered the site for the first coffee, but Heffner said further get-togethers will be scheduled at various venues, depending on public “response and turnout.” He invited the public to suggest sites and times for follow-up coffees.

Meanwhile, Heffner welcomes the arrival of warmer weather and the opportunity to talk with community members “out and around,” both to build rapport “and deter some crime.”

The BPD and others already have been participating in bimonthly meetings of Minority And Police Partnership, and Heffner reported police representatives have regularly visited churches, “invited and sometimes not invited,” to keep in touch with community needs and concerns.

In addition, the department plans in April to launch a new educational outreach, with a program designed “to give the public a taste of what we do and why, and maybe help them see some things from a different perspective.”

“(Coffee With a Cop) is a way for people to get to know us as human beings and regular people, a way for people to understand that we are human, and to build a rapport.”

McDonald’s volunteered the site for the first coffee, but Heffner said further get-togethers will be scheduled at various venues, depending on public “response and turnout.” He invited the public to suggest sites and times for follow-up coffees.

Meanwhile, Heffner welcomes the arrival of warmer weather and the opportunity to talk with community members “out and around,” both to build rapport “and deter some crime.”

The BPD and others already have been participating in bimonthly meetings of Minority And Police Partnership, and Heffner reported police representatives have regularly visited churches, “invited and sometimes not invited,” to keep in touch with community needs and concerns.

In addition, the department plans in April to launch a new educational outreach, with a program designed “to give the public a taste of what we do and why, and maybe help them see some things from a different perspective.”

“We can all make mistakes,” Heffner admitted. “We all try to do our best. It’s unfortunate that sometimes, we make mistakes. Our mistakes are always in the news. But I don’t think some people realize the decisions we have to make under the circumstances, and the short timeframe we have to make a decision, which often can be in a split second.

“Just as we learn of people’s viewpoints, maybe about seeing things in another light, I think this would be good for the public, too. We all benefit when we communicate, by talking and learning from each other.”

During the January Breaking Barriers session, Heffner emphasized his hope for greater diversity with his department through increased minority recruiting. BPD new officer testing is being conducted this month, and while he admits he has no specific “benchmarks” for recruitment, he reported the BPD has received some minority applications. He nonetheless stressed the department fundamentally “will still be enforcing the law the same way,” albeit amid continued efforts to fine-tune local police practices and procedures.

That includes both basic and individualized special training in dealing with and judging when to use force with mentally ill suspects and under other unusual or sensitive circumstances.  Familiarity with the community and individuals with special needs can help officers better “defuse” a risky situation, Heffner said. But “we still have to be concerned about preservation of life” when a suspect poses an imminent threat to others or even themselves, he said.

In the wake of the recent incident involving release of racially related statements made by a BPD sergeant and recorded by a Bloomington police in-car camera, the chief has urged his men to exercise professional sensitivity in all communications, whether they are “recorded or not recorded.” In Sgt. Ed Shumaker’s written reprimand, the BPD stated he “should be very aware of his surroundings and situational awareness while not allowing the stressor of an event to cause a comment that would be considered inappropriate."

“You want to talk about us being transparent?” Heffner posed. “We’re the ones who found (the statement), and we’re the ones who took action. People may not like the action that we took, but we did. We’ve been accountable for it. This was something to learn from – I’ve been talking about professionalism since I came here, and I’ve said this is an example of what can happen. We take the heat, but we learn from it.”

“I don’t know anybody who wears a uniform who intentionally goes out to do wrong,” Heffner stressed. “Sometimes, you have some bad apples, but the majority of the times, the majority of all of us are out there trying to do the right thing for the community.

“(Coffee With a Cop) is a way for people to get to know us as human beings and regular people, a way for people to understand that we are human, and to build a rapport.”

McDonald’s volunteered the site for the first coffee, but Heffner said further get-togethers will be scheduled at various venues, depending on public “response and turnout.” He invited the public to suggest sites and times for follow-up coffees.

Meanwhile, Heffner welcomes the arrival of warmer weather and the opportunity to talk with community members “out and around,” both to build rapport “and deter some crime.”

The BPD and others already have been participating in bimonthly meetings of Minority And Police Partnership, and Heffner reported police representatives have regularly visited churches, “invited and sometimes not invited,” to keep in touch with community needs and concerns.

In addition, the department plans in April to launch a new educational outreach, with a program designed “to give the public a taste of what we do and why, and maybe help them see some things from a different perspective.”

We all benefit when we communicate, by talking and learning from each other...
— Chief Brendan Heffner

“We can all make mistakes,” Heffner admitted. “We all try to do our best. It’s unfortunate that sometimes, we make mistakes. Our mistakes are always in the news. But I don’t think some people realize the decisions we have to make under the circumstances, and the short timeframe we have to make a decision, which often can be in a split second.

“Just as we learn of people’s viewpoints, maybe about seeing things in another light, I think this would be good for the public, too. We all benefit when we communicate, by talking and learning from each other.”

During the January Breaking Barriers session, Heffner emphasized his hope for greater diversity with his department through increased minority recruiting. BPD new officer testing is being conducted this month, and while he admits he has no specific “benchmarks” for recruitment, he reported the BPD has received some minority applications. He nonetheless stressed the department fundamentally “will still be enforcing the law the same way,” albeit amid continued efforts to fine-tune local police practices and procedures.

That includes both basic and individualized special training in dealing with and judging when to use force with mentally ill suspects and under other unusual or sensitive circumstances.  Familiarity with the community and individuals with special needs can help officers better “defuse” a risky situation, Heffner said. But “we still have to be concerned about preservation of life” when a suspect poses an imminent threat to others or even themselves, he said.

In the wake of the recent incident involving release of racially related statements made by a BPD sergeant and recorded by a Bloomington police in-car camera, the chief has urged his men to exercise professional sensitivity in all communications, whether they are “recorded or not recorded.” In Sgt. Ed Shumaker’s written reprimand, the BPD stated he “should be very aware of his surroundings and situational awareness while not allowing the stressor of an event to cause a comment that would be considered inappropriate."

“You want to talk about us being transparent?” Heffner posed. “We’re the ones who found (the statement), and we’re the ones who took action. People may not like the action that we took, but we did. We’ve been accountable for it. This was something to learn from – I’ve been talking about professionalism since I came here, and I’ve said this is an example of what can happen. We take the heat, but we learn from it.”

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.


Breaking Barriers: Police, Residents Come Together to Eye Future Needs

McLean County law enforcement agencies and citizens came together Thursday for a dialogue on police and their relationship and rapport with the community.

Bloomington's City of Refuge Church hosted and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal co-sponsored Breaking Barriers, a discussion between locals and the police organized to address concerns in the wake of Ferguson and other nationwide incidents between the public and law officers. The meeting gave residents the chance to question the Bloomington and Normal Police Departments, as well as the Mclean County Sheriff and State's Attorney and the head of Illinois State University's police department.

Organizers hope the program opens the lines of communication between residents and local leaders.

"Education is key. If you know why they do things or if you disagree with why they do some things, you can head off some problems ahead of time," said John Elliott, Bloomington NAACP president and NIOT:BN steering committee member.

Elliott hopes people will continue to speak up and get more comfortable with polices and procedures that local police officers have to follow.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner told WMBD-TV "some things will come up yes, but it's how you handle them. And when you have lines of communication open with your civic leaders, we can work things out and they have the faith in us that we will handle it."

Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and Bloomington Chief Brendan Heffner with a young participant in Thursday's Breaking Barriers forum.  

Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and Bloomington Chief Brendan Heffner with a young participant in Thursday's Breaking Barriers forum.
 

The chief echoed Mayor Tari Renner's recent assurance that Sgt. Ed Shumaker's 2013 statement that an African-American stabbing victim should "bleed to death" following an altercation at a local restaurant is "not what we're about." While the new chief said Shumaker's reprimand -- deemed by some in the community as inadequate -- reflected the remark being a "one-time incident" for the officer that Heffner deemed "out of character," he noted "we brought it out and we did address it."

"His comments were terrible," Heffner told residents at the forum. He said he could not address whether Shumaker himself would proffer a public apology for the remark.

Meanwhile, residents among other things inquired about the racial makeup of local police departments and the psychological screening procedures for prospective and new officers.

Heffner, who extended an invitation for new community recruits for his department ("We're going to recruit"), said three more Breaking Barriers-style meetings are planned for the near future. Twin Cities Stories will provide a more in-depth analysis of Thursday's discussion and conclusions later this week.

 

 

 

Here's a video snapshot of moments from the forum, from NIOT:BN's Darlene Miller. Twin Cities Stories will provide more in-depth analysis of forum discussions and conclusions this week.

NIOT Reps Air Police-Citizen Concerns on WTVP

In the aftermath of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal's Mike Matejka and John Elliott (Bloomington NAACP president and Minority and Police Partnership) suggest a dialogue should occur between leaders of law enforcement and the minority community. The pair, along with Peoria's Jamila Wilson, discussed police/community concerns on Thursday's installment of WTVP-PBS' At Issue.

The Minority and Police Partnership is attempting to create a more open dialogue between the police departments and citizens, while the Peoria Police Community Relations Advisory Committee was recently created to foster positive relations and mutual respect between police and the community. Meanwhile, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner in December announced a new city review of police procedures and community relations, and NIOT:BN this week applauded Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner for publicly condemning one of his officer's racial remark about an African-American stabbing victim (see post below).

McLean County law enforcement agencies are joining with MAPP, NIOT, the NAACP, and others to sponsor a Jan. 2 Breaking Barriers community/police dialogue from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bloomington's City of Refuge Church, 401 E Jefferson. Anonymous questions for police can be sent in advance by visiting http://Bit.ly/1wMTMAa.

Elliott in the WTVP interview maintained many minority citizens may feel reluctant to publicly "speak up" or file a complaint after they have experienced or suspect police abuse or mistreatment, for fear of official retribution. He feels that younger African-Americans "don't feel like they're being understood."

John Elliott, left, converses with citizens and police at NIOT:BN's December relaunch.

John Elliott, left, converses with citizens and police at NIOT:BN's December relaunch.

Elliott also emphasized the importance of improving diversity within police agencies, suggesting some citizens may feel more comfortable dealing with members of their own community.

"How do we build an atmosphere where that young person says, 'I want to be a police officer -- this is attractive to me, and something where I feel I can proud of that and that this is a service not only to the larger community but also to my particular ethnic (community),'" Matejka stated. 

Peoria's Wilson sees increased interest among individuals who "want to come out and talk about their levels of interactions with police, be they positive or negative."

"I think that's a first step -- the fact that we're having conversations," she said.

For more information or to watch additional episodes of At Issue, visit http://www.wtvp.org.