Crime went down slightly in Bloomington last year, but shootings remain a big issue for the police department.
Chief Dan Donath presented the 2019 crime figures to the City Council at Monday's meeting, reporting a 3% drop in total incidents from the previous year. But aggravated battery increased by 24% to 280 incidents, with 33 shootings included in that figure.
Donath, who was elevated to chief in August, told the council that a growing gun culture is to blame, saying it’s not just a Bloomington problem but a national issue.
“Our crime level is still at a very good level, but it’s concerning with the gun violence among the young males under the age of 22,” Donath said after the meeting.
Twelve people were struck by gunfire in 2019, including the city's only homicide victim. Three suspects were arrested in connection with the April shooting that killed 25-year-old Juan Nash and injured two other victims.
The single 2019 homicide came after a spike to nine killings the previous year; there were three homicides in 2017 after two straight years without any.
The number of shootings more than doubled the 2018 total after two straight years of declines, from 41 in 2016 to 15 a year ago.
Donath said prevention efforts hold the key to curbing the gun violence, touting the City Life program initiated last March by former Chief Clay Wheeler as part of a long-term plan. The program supports local at-risk youth age 11-16 improve conflict resolution skills.
The chief said he would like to see the department improve its investigations and work harder at stopping repeat offenders.
“We do tend to see some of the same people involved in multiple shootings,” he said. “So if we can get a hold of them and slow down their activity, that will overall lower our number of shootings.”
Other crime figures showed a 54% increase in “street-level” robberies to 57, nine above the five-year average, with gun possession factoring in many cases. Motor vehicle thefts were slightly down, from 88 to 74; Donath noted nearly every incident resulted from drivers leaving their keys in the vehicles.
The report also listed Donath’s departmental goals for 2020, beginning with strengthening community relations through an open dialogue. City Manager Tim Gleason said Donath is “hitting the mark” with those outreach efforts.
“We know we can do more … It’s critical,” said Gleason. “That connectivity is something that we know if we increase those efforts and we do a good job with that, you will see crime go down overall because you find that the different populations in the community will police themselves.”
Donath also said the department will continue plans to increase diversity in recruitment and hiring. He noted three minority officers are on track to join the force in May.
“Any time you’re trying to increase diversity in areas where there historically hasn’t been much success for law enforcement, I think the first thing you have to do is you have to have some trust,” he said. “By building relationships, I hope I can build some trust so people will recognize the value of a career in law enforcement.”
Gleason said improving diversity throughout all city departments “is of the utmost importance.”
“When we talk about the entire organization for the city, we want it to be reflective of the community that we serve,” he said.
After a lengthy discussion, the council voted unanimously (with two absences) in authorizing Gleason to approve a 100% renewable energy supply contract with the Stone River Group later this month. The city’s current municipal electric aggregation contract expires in June and the new agreement will take effect in July.
The resolution was the only item pulled from 14 on the consent agenda. Other items included: purchasing four LifePak cardiac monitor/defibrillators for the fire department; spending $36,620 on a new Ford F-350 with a snow plow for the public works department; approving a final plat for the Boys & Girls Club subdivision; granting a permanent premise extension for a patio at Parkview Inn; and approving a liquor license for a planned Firehouse Pizza location on Morrissey Drive.
The council also heard a presentation of Not In Our Town’s 2019 annual report from Mike Matejka. A public hearing on the proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year drew no comments.
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