Six months into his new role as Bloomington police chief, Dan Donath said his department has made progress in some key areas, including recruiting more minority and female officer candidates, and changing and modernizing the department's culture.
But Donath said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas he's not ready to take a victory lap over a drop in the number of complaints against his officers, from 20 in 2018 to 11 last year. He's not sure what it means, if anything.
“Some years they go up and then next year they go down,” Donath said. “There’s always a little bit of variance in a career of this nature.”
Two of the complaints were forwarded to the city's citizen advisory review panel. The Public Safety and Community Relations Board found no officer wrongdoing in either case.
However, Donath said the department will review its notification policies following a recommendation the PSCRB issued on Wednesday. The case involves a suspect who went to the hospital and didn’t know his DUI had been voided. The officer later reissued the citation.
Donath said he believes the PSCRB serves an important function.
“I think it’s good to have those checks and balances, have someone else they can turn to to evaluate those things, so I think their role and their value is important. Even though they’ve had very little to no work to do in regard to reviewing complaints that we’ve followed up on, I believe it’s important they are there.”
Donath said he believes he’s working toward developing a more modern culture, particularly when dealing with mental health.
“A lot of the calls we have for service are related to mental health,” he said. “In 2020 we are trying to resolve those issues as opposed to just fulfill the law enforcement role of just drive them to the jail and drop them off and then that’s our role, that’s it.”
Bloomington Police plan to be setting up more outdoor public cameras throughout the city.
Donath said the cameras are an effective tool to reduce crime.
“Our job at the police department is to reduce crime and the fear of crime, and public safety cameras are a part of the equation,” he said. “They are not a huge part, per se, but they are part of the equation, and we are just trying to use technologies that exist today to help keep our city safe.”
The city currently has eight on display, all in public view. The department is replacing some of the older cameras and hopes to install five to seven new cameras each year.
Donath said the department will put the cameras in areas that have the highest call frequencies and crime.
“People love them. In fact we get people call in and say, ‘Can I have one in my neighborhood?’ But we just don’t have that many yet.”
BPD has been using the cameras since 2013. Prosecutors used evidence from the cameras during a recent murder trial.
The department pays for the cameras with revenue from the city’s new gaming terminal fee.
Record DUI Arrests
Bloomington Police averaged nearly one DUI arrest per day last year. The department's 349 drunk-driving arrests mark a record for the department and 43% increase over 2018.
Donath said he's concerned there will be more impaired drivers on the road now that marijuana is legal.
“People know the law and they know those things exist but yet they still do it,” Donath said. “So I don’t think cannabis will be very much different.”
The department’s previous high was 300 in 2016.
Normal Police reports sharp declines in DUI rates in recent years. The department recorded 292 arrests in 2015. That number fell to 188 in 2018 and 142 last year.
Chief Rick Bleichner said he believes the increased use of ride-sharing services has likely contributed to the decrease.
"There's not as much need to have to drive in those situations anymore," Bleichner said. "I think that has certainly played a role in it."
The town also saw a five-year low of alcohol-related crashes last year with 19. That's a 50% drop from 2017 when the town had 38 alcohol-related crashes.
The McLean County Sheriff's Department reports a 25% drop from 2018 (279 to 208) but the total is higher than 2015 and 2016 levels.
Donath said recruiting efforts to attract more minority and female police officers appears to be paying off.
He said the department's latest round of candidate fitness exams and interviews produced 13 potential hires; six of them are minorities and two are women.
“We feel like we’ve made some progress in that area,” Donath said. “We hope that through this continued process of hiring that plays out and we are able to make some hires and that we continue to do that in the future too.”
Donath said the department could hire up to 16 officers this year. The department is already short eight officers, with three soon to retire and three more to go on permanent disability. Plus, he says the city has budgeted two more officer positions. The challenge, he said, is finding enough qualified candidates.
BPD has worked with the Bloomington Public Safety and Community Relations Board and minority groups to seek more minority applicants.
More than 300 had applied. Starting pay is $67,000.
Donath said when he started as chief six months ago, the department had one African-American officer, four Hispanics and five women.
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