Bloomington City Council members generally say they aren't ready to overhaul public safety in the city amid national calls to "Defund the Police," but several want to start heading in that direction.
City council member Jenn Carrillo was the first on the council to suggest the city start shifting some police resources to help the disadvantaged after George Floyd’s death and several other recent incidents of violence against Black people.
After Black Lives Matter BloNo recently issued its demand that local governments slash police funding in half by 2023, city council member Jeff Crabill called that an aspirational target. Crabill, a Black Lives Matter supporter, suggests starting with no funding increases, especially since the crime rate has dropped in recent years.
“When we look at the U.S. military budget, we just say more is needed, always more is needed because you can never do enough for public safety,” he said, adding that stemming the growth of law enforcement agencies would force them to make more substantive changes.
“If you look at the reforms that have been placed on police departments for many years, it doesn’t seem to be solving the problem,” Crabill said.
He said one place to cut would be to remove police officers from schools. Council member Julie Emig said she's open to shifting resources,but said the discussion needs collaboration among the city, police, Black Lives Matter, the city's civilian review board, the NAACP and others.
“We have all of these entities who are positioned to engage in restructuring and reform,” Emig said. “I think that collaborative piece is probably the thing that’s most lacking right now.”
Emig said she considers the 50% funding cut a starting point in the discussion to address what has become a sea change in how Americans view policing.
“This is a national call that crime fighting is a very small part of what police may actually do every day. And if that’s the case here, then let’s talk about it,” Emig said.
City council member Joni Painter said she's also willing to talk about it, but said too much of the discussion goes too far, especially on social media.
“People have been screaming at one another on Facebook and other social media over the whole thing,” Painter said. “It’s a shame that an important issue is being shredded like it has been.”
Painter joined the fray, calling the local Black Lives Matter movement unprepared and heavy-handed. Still, she supports some of the group's demands, including an end to cash bail.
“I think it adds a layer of profit to our justice system and I don’t think that the free market has any place in our system of justice,” said Painter, adding she'd like to see mental health and other resources get more funding, but she's not ready to take that out of police coffers yet.
Council member Mboka Mwilambwe said he supports incremental increases in targeted areas that could do the most help.
“What I would do is try to increase resources in some of the areas of concern, like economic opportunity for example, little by little to see does that make a change in what we are trying to address here,” he said.
But Mwilambwe said the city must proceed carefully to ensure officers can still respond when they are truly needed.
“We also do not want to create the fear from people that there will be less safety,” Mwilambwe said.
Others on the council are taking a wait-and-see approach. Council member Donna Boelen said she has nothing to say about defunding police until there's an actual plan to consider.
“When the sound bite 'Defund the Police' has some real substance, I will be able to offer an informed opinion,” Boelen said in an email. “Until then, there is no value to speaking on the topic.”
The next budget cycle is still 10 months away, so there likely won't be any concrete plan for a while.
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner has said he'll veto any measure to significantly cut police funding, but added he's willing to support some reforms.
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