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Council Punts Police Substation To Jan., Cops and BLM To Talk

Charlie Schlenker

Black Lives Matter activists say the idea they weren't consulted about a potential west side police substation is not the only problem with the plan.

Group member Ky Ajayi, who lives on the east side of town near the airport, said following the Bloomington City Council meeting that the model of community policing articulated to the council by police and Mid Central Community Action is 'nice,' but not enough."We need them to know that what we see is harassment. We see folks looking at young black men, especially, as somehow less than human, or at best, a threat. They walk up on a traffic stop with their hands on their holsters. Why do they fear us so? Come talk to us," said Ajayi.

Police Chief Brendan Heffner said Mid Central Community Action approached him with the idea. He said the substation is not intended to be enforcement driven.

In fact, Stacey Tutt of Community Action noted the 12 dollar a year lease for the police stipulates weapons cannot be stored there, and the main use of the property is to foster ties with the community.

Chief Heffner said if he needs more officers in the area, he can deploy them. The area in question is a hot spot for crime reports. Heffner told Aldermen that there had been fifteen incidents of gunfire in that area in twenty months and four shootings. This substation, Heffner said, is about community policing.

"There are youth that remember me, though I do not remember them, when they see me off duty at some of the basketball tournaments, and things of this nature. Great kids. That's how we get to know each other. Not in enforcement situations, but in non-enforcement situations. We can reach out to kids and kids can come by and see us," said Heffner.

Activists said the idea of the substation in the 800 block of West Jefferson Street could be patriarchal and patronizing. Ajayi said the proposal appears to be the same old stuff.

"We're at a point where 'cookie with a cop' doesn't cut it. That's not what we need in our community. We need real police reform," said Ajayi.

He also questioned the details of the plan asking how often police would be there doing reports and what metrics the department would use to measure successful community policing? How often would they be available for neighborhood programs? How much would they get out in the neighborhood, since they could find no officer willing to live in the house renovated by Mid-Central Community Action?

"Do we want them to come at Christmas and bring us presents. No! We want them to treat us with respect. We want them to see young kids hanging on the corner and not go up to them, push them around and demand information. We want them to talk to us as human beings," said Ajayi.

City Council members in Bloomington urged Community Action to dive deeper into neighborhood sentiment.

Community Action Director Deb White said they have been working on the plan a long time and it originated in the west side.

"This goes back to 2012 when we launched the West Bloomington Housing Collaborative and a resident said if you really want to make an impact you should make a substation for the police at Friendship Park," said White.

Ajayi says 'god bless community action and their intentions, but his Wayman A-M-E Church at Olive and Allin, and his west side friends knew nothing about the idea.

White said they will do more, but they have already done a lot.

"We've done door to door listening to people. We've given surveys in the mail. We've had a community needs assessment, a community impact measurement. We've had listening sessions at Mount Pisgah," said White

Chief Heffner said he will meet with Black Lives Matter Thursday evening.
The matter returns to the Council January 23rd.

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