Nearly five months after Bloomington aldermen voted to create a new police advisory group, the board’s seven appointed members will meet for the first time Wednesday for an orientation session.
The Public Safety Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB) will meet from 4-5:30 p.m. at the Bloomington Police Department’s Osborn Room. The agenda includes a review of the ordinance that created the board, as well as discussion about board leadership, rules, and future meeting dates.
The board’s creation in July capped a months-long lobbying effort by local organizations such as Black Lives Matter. That came in response to growing tensions in Bloomington between police and many members of the minority community, some of which were documented in a May report. Not In Our Town, YWCA McLean County, and the ACLU of Illinois joined Black Lives Matter in advocating for the board.
Art Taylor and Jeff Woodard, two of the PSCRB’s seven appointees, said they view the board as both reactive and proactive. It will react to concerns from those who’ve had negative interactions with Bloomington Police, they said. But it also aims to stop Bloomington from ever becoming the “next Ferguson”—a shorthand for what happens when a community is at war with its own police force.
“I’ve always viewed this board as one of inoculation,” said Taylor. “To help prevent the measles or chicken pox, you get an inoculation. When we develop dialogue between the community and police, those are all forms of inoculation that help us have a conversation between what may be seen as different entities, when in fact we’re all part of the same community.
“This board is another opportunity for us to continue the dialogue,” Taylor said.
Taylor, a longtime civil rights activist, retired from State Farm Insurance, where he was director of diversity and inclusion in claims services. He’s also been involved with Not In Our Town (NIOT) projects.
Taylor’s father was a police officer in Chicago. Taylor, who is black, said he’s never had a run-in with police that made him uncomfortable. But family members have. And he remembers getting “the talk” from his own father about how to behave if he ever was stopped by police.
“That’s always stayed with me my entire life,” Taylor said.
Woodard also brings a lifetime of experience to his PSCRB appointment. He lead a diversity initiative for the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington, where he works as the director of marketing and community relations. He previously served as downstate chair for the Local 2488 UAW union’s civil rights committee, and he’s a two-time Diversity Scholar for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Woodard, who is black, grew up in Rockford. That community was shaken last month when a police officer was killed in a scuffle with a motorist during a traffic stop.
“My passion is people. It’s vital that we have citizen input,” he said. “I thought my strengths and skills would help set a tone of civility and be able to communicate and build relationships. That’s what I do for a living.”
“It’s about listening,” Woodard said. “And I think we can do that.”
So what will the PSCRB actually do? That’s still being determined, Woodard and Taylor said. The first orientation meeting is Wednesday, but the board’s first official meeting is still being scheduled.
“What I envision is our board being able to take complaints from citizens in the community when an event or stop or something maybe went the wrong way,” Taylor said. “And be able to process that and investigate and be able to bring information to bear that could better answer that complaint. We are an advisory board, so we’re not into change police procedures or anything like that. But we want to create a better understanding of what those processes are in place and how they can best be communicated to the community. I see that as our role.”
The board’s formal power is limited. The city’s police union contract specifically limits re-investigations and prohibits police officers from being compelled to testify in front of citizen review boards.
Woodard, who comes from a union family, said that won’t hold the board back.
“I don’t see that as a hindrance to making a positive difference in the community,” Woodard said.
The seven appointees were chosen from 66 applicants. The other five members are:
- Robert Bosquez, serves with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project
- Sally Rudolph, decades of public service in many roles including planning bodies and the McLean County League of Women Voters
- Jan Lancaster, owner of the Bistro in downtown Bloomington and a staunch ally of gay rights
- William Bennett, City of Refuge Ministries pastor
- Surena Fish, retired Wood Street resident who was active in recent years in a neighborhood campaign to stop disruptions at a business near Miller Park
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