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Bloomington council approves $2M tech upgrade for BPD tasers, body cameras and more

The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.

The Bloomington City Council voted Wednesday night to invest nearly $2 million to keep the police department technology updated, including body cameras, tasers, and digital evidence storage.

The unanimous vote for the five-year contract with Arizona-based Axon Enterprise will help the Bloomington Police Department, but also serve the community, said city leaders.

“I see this as an investment in transparency and accountability,” said council member Mollie Ward, who represents Ward 7.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council OK’d a nearly $400,000 upgrade of the city’s technology systems; $157,000 in additional design funding for the Hamilton Road extension project; and a $65,000 settlement for an excessive force case against the BPD.

The council also approved nearly two dozen other items — accounting to about $3 million in total spending — with a single consent-agenda vote.

Council member Julie Emig, of Ward 4, was absent. Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe asked the community to keep Emig in their thoughts and prayers, noting her current medical leave.

In a Friday news release, Emig announced she’d be absent through the end of November. The last meeting she attended was Sept. 19.

City Manager Tim Gleason also was absent Monday.

BPD body cameras, tasers part of tech package

For nearly two decades, Bloomington has used Axon as its vendor for policing tech.

The city had been operating under two separate agreements — one for body cameras and squad car cameras — and another for its tasers, said Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus. The contract for tasers expired in September.

Monday’s vote ends the other contract a year early, and creates a new, combined contract with Axon.

The move allows BPD to get the latest body cameras and other technology now, when it receives the new tasers. The expanded five-year contract is a way of getting ahead of the inflation curve for its broader technology agreement with Axon, said BPD Assistant Chief Kenny Bays.

The city may save an estimated $750,000 overall by acting now instead of waiting another year, when costs are higher, said Bays.

“What I really appreciate is your financial management of what you’re doing here — as far as getting ahead of the game, keeping the costs down,” said Ward 2’s Donna Boelen.

Assistant Bloomington Police Chief Kenny Bays, left, and Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington, right, speak at the Bloomington City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 24.
Michele Steinbacher
Assistant Bloomington Police Chief Kenny Bays, left, and Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington, right, speak at the Bloomington City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 24.

The new contract's annual cost rounds out to $385,000 per year. That's about 60% higher than before, but it also factors in additional equipment, including a move to unlimited digital evidence storage, said Bays.

That cloud-based model will help the department, he said, noting the new contract brings 128 new body cameras, and tasers, as well as eight interview room cameras, and numerous dashboard cameras to the police fleet.

Ward 5's Nick Becker said he was impressed with the BPD's use of technology, saying the department is really on top of it.

Police Chief Jamal Simington said the equipment fits into his department's involvement with the 21st century policing initiative. That includes a focus on reducing crime, boosting technology and innovation, building trust and transparency, and addressing policy and oversight, he said.

Lawsuit settled involving excessive police force

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council approved a settlement in Kelly vs. City of Bloomington.

This spring, Todd Kelly filed an excessive force complaint relating to his arrest two years earlier. Kelly said he suffered injuries when a Bloomington police K-9 dog bit him in the Feb. 7, 2020 incident.

The city is responsible for the first $125,000 under its law enforcement liability insurance coverage.

City gets new technology systems

Also at the meeting, the council approved spending about $370,000 for an upgrade of the Tyler/MUNIS technology system.

Information Technology Director Craig McBeath said the system is core to how Bloomington operates as an organization. “Every department is impacted by the Tyler/MUNIS system,” he said.

The upgrade includes moving to a cloud-based model, creating better efficiency and better disaster recovery back-ups.

Separately, the council OK’d an agreement to begin using OpenGOVas a portal for business with Bloomington.

If Tyler/MUNIS is behind the scenes, this is a front-end portal, said McBeath.

“It’s a platform that becomes a 24/7 door to our Economic and Community Development Department,” he said, adding it allows the city to be more efficient, and also saves time and money for a developer or a contractor.

Tyus said staff expect the permit process to increasingly move online.

Hamilton Road project design costs rise

On a 7-1 vote, the council approved spending about $157,000 for additional engineering and design for the planned extension of Hamilton Road — from Bunn Street to Morrissey Drive.

Hamilton Road project
City of Bloomington

Ward 1’s Grant Walch voted “no.”

Nearly $89,000 of the new funding comes from state motor fuel tax funds. The Hamilton Road extension will serve as a vital east-west connection across the city’s south side, said Tyus.

Bloomington Public Works Director Kevin Koethe said much of this design phase for Hamilton Road is tied to right-of-way issues. He expects the project will go out for bids by next year.

Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill said city staff told him they don’t expect the Hamilton Street project to take away from the city’s other construction projects.

In 2019, the council approved spending $560,000 for the Phase II design of the Hamilton Road extension.

Playground OK'd for east side's Pamela Drive

The council approved plans to create a playground in an underserved east side neighborhood.

The $112,000-contract with North Carolina-based GameTime will add playground equipment at Sweeney Park on Pamela Drive.

Ward 3’s Sheila Montney, who represents the area, noted precinct 51 includes high-density housing. A neighborhood group has been pushing for a playground there for several years, she said.

Mother of Jelani Day asks mayor to step in, criticizes BPD

During Monday's public comments, Carmen Bolden Day criticized the Bloomington Police Department's handling of the case surrounding the death of her son, Jelani Day.

The 25-year-old Illinois State University student went missing in August 2021, and weeks later was found dead in the Illinois River near Peru. He last was seen in Bloomington.

“This whole investigation has been messed up,” said Bolden Day.

She commented, via phone, and said Bloomington police involved in a multi-jurisdictional joint task force haven’t responded to her phone calls since February.

Bolden Day said she has concerns about her son's vehicle, and police procedures involving the car. Peru police referred her to BPD, but they haven't responded, she said.

While Bolden Day has consistently questioned the way Bloomington police have handled the case, on Monday, she directed her comments to Mayor Mwilambwe.

“I’m asking you, if you could please make sure they contact me,” said Bolden Day.

Public commenter Jacari Harris also criticized BPD’s handling of Day’s case, as well as what he described as the city council’s lack of responsibility in the matter.

In other business, the council:

  • Extended a vehicle fuel purchase agreement with Evergreen FS through October 2023. The first six months allows about $702,000; the second half of the year’s amount will be finalized with the FY2024 budget.
  • Added nearly $600,000 to the city’s annual utility maintenance contract with George Gildner, Inc. The amendment allows more utility maintenance projects.
  • Approved spending nearly $400,000 for golf course maintenance equipment, and about $80,000 for public works equipment. 
  • Approved a $191,000 contract with Clesens Holdings for irrigation pump station equipment for the The Den at Fox Creek golf course. 
  • OK’d a one-year contract for school crossing guards with California-based All City Management Services. Cost is estimated at $128,000.
  • Waived technical bids, and approved the purchase of about $200,000 worth of lawn maintenance chemicals from Helena Agri Enterprises for the city’s parks and recreation department, including golf courses. 
  • Approved two site plans: One will be a vehicle repair and service shop at 1501 N. Veterans Parkway. The other, at 101 Woodrig Road, is for a trade and construction services business.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.