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Bloomington-McLean County tactical squad agreement could expand emergency capacity

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, near Dallas, in 2022.
Andy Jacobsohn
AFP via Getty Images
SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, near Dallas in 2022.

A draft intergovernmental agreement calls for adding some McLean County Sheriff's deputies to the Bloomington Police tactical squad, resulting in incremental changes to the city's existing SWAT team.

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason said the city has had a tactical unit for years, and including some sheriff's deputies under Bloomington command in the so-called EAGLE Unit, or Emergency Assistance Group for Law Enforcement, would not alter things much.

"It's not uncommon for jurisdictions to have multi-jurisdictional tactical teams. The capacity becomes larger with the team members," said Gleason.

The Town of Normal also has a tactical squad. The sheriff’s department has not had that capacity.

"When there has been a need in the county, they will call out the state police tactical unit," said Gleason.

Under the agreement, the county may have a quicker response than it does when it needs the squad. Gleason said Bloomington also would benefit from the partnership with greater operational flexibility and bandwidth.

“Let's say there's a call out in the city of Bloomington. If you've got a sustained incident, you're able to rotate officers and they're fresh,” said Gleason.

Doctrines and training may differ among police agencies. Gleason said it's up to the unit commander or scene commander to make sure those are cohesive during an incident that can involve agencies that are not part of the unit. He said training should take care of how squad members interact on a scene.

“On the front end, there's a multi-jurisdictional memorandum of understanding about how this is going to operate. That's ground that can be covered by that agreement when the entities join or partner in this tactical unit,” he said.

Some community members have questioned whether the county needs such a unit and voiced concerns about increasing militarization of police in America. Gleason addressed that concern from his quarter century of police experience before transiting to city administration.

“We're responding because somebody has called in and there is a problem somewhere," he said. "Rarely is it a positive thing. It's a delicate balance. You want to be approachable to those that you serve in the community. At the same time, safety is of the utmost priority — for the suspect, for the victims, and obviously in the officers so that they can go home at the end of the shift to their families.”

Gleason said the county would pay to equip and train its unit members. Gleason estimated the equipment and some training cost at $5,000 per officer. The agreement has yet to be ratified. It was pulled from the McLean County Board's justice committee agenda in June, and Gleason said it is in the county’s hands now.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.