Bloomington PD Chief Finalists Discuss Trust, Collaboration, Leadership
Bloomington’s two finalists for police chief discussed public trust, legal immunity for officers and including social workers on police calls as they got their first introduction to the public and the media on Monday at the Government Center.
Illinois State Police Col. Jamal Simington and Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow are vying to replace Greg Scott, the interim chief who is retiring in September. Scott did not apply for the position after he had initially planned to.
Simington, a Bloomington resident, has been in law enforcement for 30 years. Winslow has a 27-year-career with the Springfield Police Department, the last eight years as chief. Either candidate would be new to BPD after a series of internal hires for the chief post.
Both spoke highly of the department, while stressing the need for community engagement and collaboration with partner agencies in the community.
Simington said the department will need to be visible and transparent.
“Some of the concerns are trust and trust in the police department. It is important that we have that on the table, that we are engaged in the community groups,” he said.
Winslow said he wants to maintain the community policing model he incorporated in Springfield.
“When people talk about communication, they often talk about the community engagement site, but that’s just one portion of it. The other part of it is true problem-solving and partnerships,” Winslow said.
Winslow said that community policing model caused some friction with rank-and-file officers in Springfield. In 2017, a vast majority of the department’s officers said they had “no confidence” in Winslow’s leadership. A police union official accused Winslow of violating officer scheduling and overtime rules in the union’s collective bargaining agreement “multiple times,” according to the Springfield State-Journal Register. Winslow said that came during a period of contentious labor negotiations.
“Ultimately, when you are the leader of the organization, you are going to make unpopular decisions especially when you talk about change and pushing through new philosophies and new ways of doing things,” Winslow said. “Are there things I could have done better? Absolutely.”
Winslow said in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and fatal shootings at the hands of police, officers now see the value of community policing.
Simington said he would meet monthly with police union leadership to help ensure the officers feel valued.
“Police officers deserve to be a part of the process from a procedural justice standpoint, they have a voice,” Simington said.
Bloomington City Council member Jamie Mathy has proposed sending a social worker with a police officer on certain types of calls.
Winslow said Springfield P.D. has started a co-responder program. He said he welcomes the idea of having mental health workers take the lead on wellness checks to help take some of the burden off police officers.
“Sometimes we ask them to do too much. We ask them to be too many things,” Winslow said. “If we could take that off (of officers) and let the professionals — the ones who are appropriately trained to do it, absolutely we have to embrace that.”
Winslow said a police uniform can be a “trigger” for some people, but he’s not comfortable having social workers going out on calls alone.
Simington agreed, saying seemingly mundane police calls can escalate into something dangerous within minutes.
“Are their ways to engage and allow a service to support those efforts? Yes, we should have those conversations,” Simington said. “Yes, we should identify what responsibilities fall where. But the police department can’t just abandon responding to calls for service.”
Both Simington and Winslow defended qualified immunity, which protects officers from being held personally liable unless they violate clearly established law.
“These officers are not out there acting as themselves with only authority that resonates with them, no,” Simington said. “They are carrying out a mission for a police organization, so it’s imperative when they do their best, when they follow the law that the government provides that protection.”
Last spring, Democrats in the Illinois House failed to advance a measure that would have lifted qualified immunity.
Winslow said he believes in holding officers accountable and said law enforcement should be open to “tweaks” to the qualified immunity law, but he said officers need legal protection for responding to situations that are often “out of control.”
“We place officers in rapidly evolving, dynamic situations and in those situations sometimes even your best intentions, your best efforts go sideways,” Winslow said. “You have to look at that. The officers deserve that protection for those exact things.”
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason has said he wants a five-year commitment from the city's new chief. Whomever Gleason names to the top cop job will be the department’s fifth leader since 2018 following a string of retirements.
The head of the city board that reviews unresolved complaints against police officers met with both finalists during the public meet-and-greet session on Monday. Ashley Farmer, chair of the Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB), said Simington and Winslow both appeared to be great candidates for their willingness to collaborate — not just on police matters but on socio-economic concerns and others, too.
“Involving the community and collaborating with the community is most important,” Farmer said.
Farmer said the PSCRB also is working with the Bloomington Police Department to gain access to all public complaints filed against the officers, not just the ones that are appealed to the commission.
Farmer said more than 20 complaints have been filed against BPD this year, but only one complaint has been appealed to the commission since March.