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Bloomington leaders: City should recognize police review board handles more than complaints

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WGLT
Ashley Farmer, chairperson of Bloomington's Public Safety and Community Relations Board, addresses the Bloomington City Council on Monday, March 28, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.

Some Bloomington City Council members want to officially expand the role of the city’s police review board.

The head of Bloomington's Public Safety and Community Relations Board, Ashley Farmer, presented its annual report Monday to the council. Farmer said the board’s evolved since its 2017 launch.

“We now — years after the inception of the board — do a lot more than just review complaints,” she said.

Farmer agreed it would benefit the community to know the range of PSCRB activities.

She told the council the PSCRB handled just one complaint in 2021, in which the Bloomington Police Department was cleared of wrongdoing. In that case, an individual wanted to know who made a complaint that led to a car being towed. But Farmer said BPD didn't violate any policies by not releasing the name.

The PSCRB meets monthly, and members of city staff and the BPD regularly attend, she said.

In the past year, besides standing ready to review complaints, the PSCRB has remained active, she said.

Highlights she listed include boosting community engagement, getting reports from BPD staff on the number of complaints against its officers, and discussing ways to improve community policing. The board also hosted public forums on topics such as racial disparities in traffic stops and Flock automatic license plate readers.

Additionally, the police review board partnered with nonprofit Not In Our Town to launch an online survey in March 2021 regarding attitudes about police. Unfortunately, the data proved unreliable and couldn’t be validated, said Farmer, who teaches criminal justice sciences at Illinois State University.

“I would like to expand the responsibilities of the PSCRB,” said Ward 6’s De Urban, saying the council should discuss formalizing the additional tasks. Ward 4’s Julie Emig echoed that call, and said she applauds the way the board already has informally expanded.

Confusion about police review board

“I think people get confused about what the PSCRB does,” even in its official capacity, said Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill. For example, the board does not investigate whether a particular officer did something wrong, he said.

Farmer agreed with the assessment. The PSCRB, rather, functions as a way to challenge the outcome of such a complaint, she added. The question for the 7-member volunteer board is “Did (BPD) follow policy and procedure” in its investigation of the complaint, she said.

Ward 7’s Mollie Ward said the PSCRB’s unseen role — whether formalized or not — meets a need. Members engage with, and advocate for, residents, she said.

“(That is) in terms of providing guidance and counsel to the members of the community, who may not have a complaint that rises to the level of a formal process or who may not even feel comfortable offering such a complaint,” said Ward.

Youth member seats remain empty

Farmer told the council the PSCRB lacks any youth members on the review board. In February 2021, the city council approved adding a pair of seats for young adults.

Crabill suggested the board visit local high schools to recruit those youth. Farmer said the pandemic had limited earlier recruiting efforts. But she hopes in-person visits to high schools could yield better results.

Bloomington residents ages 16-21 interested in applying should contact the board at pscrb@cityblm.org.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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