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Donath Sees Culture Change, Minority Hiring As Successes In Chief’s Role

Dan Donath sitting at desk
Eric Stock
Dan Donath plans to retire as Bloomington Police Chief on Sept. 1.

Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath said he didn't plan to walk away from law enforcement so soon.
Donath plans to retire on Sept. 1 after one year as chief. Donath said he planned to stay in the role for at least three to five years.

“I had some personal things populate over the last couple of months and that’s mostly led me to this decision,” he said.

Donath said the department has made improvements in two of his main priority areas: more minority hiring and improved officer wellness.

He said the department has arranged for monthly professional development classes to help officers manage stress and other personal challenges. The first one was held in July.

“People really got it and started opening up about what it’s like to work in a job like this,” Donath said. “This wellness program, it’s not just about working out and eating right.”

Donath said three of the five officer candidates who went to academy training in the spring were minorities and the department also hired three female officers in the last year.

He said minority hiring remains a challenge that might become more difficult.

“It’s going to be even more challenging with some of the national anti-police rhetoric; who would want to apply for this job? Especially if you are a minority,” Donath said.

He acknowledged a lack of trust between police and the public may discourage some people from pursuing a career in law enforcement, but he said it's hard for many minorities to see themselves working as a cop, since they see so few of them in that role.

“People think of police work as being a white-male dominated career and they don’t even really give it much thought,” he said.

Donath said he leaves with no regrets and the department is being left in good hands. Assistant Chief Greg Scott will take over as interim police chief on Sept. 1.

Donath said he’s not figured out what the next “chapter” of his life will be, but said he may explore volunteering to help local families whose children will need daytime supervision when school begins exclusively online this fall.

Donath spent 26 years with the Bloomington Police Department. He replaced Clay Wheeler who retired as police chief in 2019.

City Manager Tim Gleason said he plans to take six to nine months to find Donath’s successor.

‘Defunding’ Police

Donath said relying on social service agencies to handle some calls police typically take wouldn't lighten their load that much. Black Lives Matter and other reform advocates say cops aren't necessary for some service calls and their presence can sometimes escalate matters.

Donath said the department gets just a few mental illness calls each month and only about half are considered non-violent.

“It would be great to have some of these calls from us, but you are going to have to change the culture of expectations,” Donath said. “Mental illness is one of the things that’s out there, but numbers-wise there hasn’t been a ton of calls for that.”

But Donath said there are many call police take that may seem unnecessary. He said too often people call police about trivial things and that ties up officers’ time.

“It’s just an expectation in our society and in our community that if something is not right and you can’t figure it out or you are not sure what to do, you call the police, that’s what people do,” he said. “It’s all kinds of calls that we get.”

Donath said police are just one dimension of the community’s response to mental illness. He referenced McLean County’s sales tax increase in 2016 that funds expanded mental health services in the county, included a new triage center and McLean County Jail expansion.

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