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Social Justice Activists Dominate Forum For Bloomington Police Chief Finalists

Crowd of people gathered around a small table questioning a man who aspires to be police chief in Bloomington
Colleen Reynolds
Members of the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and a downtown business owner question Bloomington Police Chief finalist Bill Colbrook, who is currently the police chief at Parkland Community College.

Questions from activists dominated Tuesday's meet-and-greet session for the two finalists for Bloomington police chief—one from within the police ranks and the other currently serving as chief at Parkland Community College.

Assistant Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath, who has been on the police force for more than 25 years in a variety of positions, said he understands attitudes towards police can be negative, particularly among minority groups. Despite challenges, including record deadly gun violence in Bloomington in 2018, he wants the job because “someone has to lead us through these times.”

Bloomington resident Cristo Ortiz-Palafox asked Donath, “What will you do to reach out to the undocumented community, the Spanish-speaking community who's obviously forgotten, to assure them that you will protect everybody in the community?”

Donath replied that he is not political and that politics would play no role in the way he runs the department. He also blamed national rhetoric for immigrants’ fear about reporting crimes they witness or of which they are a victim.

Three men and a woman question Bloomington Police Chief Finalist around a small round table
Credit Colleen Reynolds / WGLT
Cristo Ortiz-Palafo asks Bloomington Assistant Police Chief and finalist for the top position Dan Donath what he will do to reassure undocumented immigrants they won't get deported when they come forward to report a crime.

“A lot of their feelings are from a national perspective because locally here, ‘Do you know how many people we’ve detained or arrested because of their immigration status?’ Zero. None.”

He suggested the department could use its social media channels to reassure immigrants they can come forward to report crime without fear of being deported.

“I’m open to ideas,” Donath offered.

Olivia Butts and Cinnamon Porter from Black Likes Matter handed Donath a questionaire and asked if he would fill it out and return it to them. At first he responded, “Unless there are some gotcha questions.” He later said he would provide responses.

The organization says it’ll post what is submitted on its Facebook page, even if the answers are provided after City Manager Tim Gleason chooses his pick, which he said should be made early next week.

Retired Illinois State Police Capt. Bill Colbrook, a longtime Bloomington resident who now serves as police chief at Parkland, also agreed to fill out the Black Lives Matter survey. Among other items, it asks about releasing training and hiring requirements and for a promise to end what it calls is a pattern of pretext stops that unfairly target minorities.

The 11-point questionaire also asks about attitudes toward using data to predict where crime will occur, resulting in what Black Lives Matter believes will be a high police contentration in already over-policed areas.

NAACP Bloomington-Normal chapter leaders asked Colbrook how he would reach out to minorities to build a trusting relationship. According to Colbrook, he holds regular Q-and-A sessions with minority and immigrant populations to have critical dialogue in which he explains police operations, policies and his philosophy toward keeping the peace. 

“I am not an apologist for all things police. Police officers are humans. They make mistakes. The thing is you have to hold the officers who have gone out or who are beyond the law, beyond the policy, and you have to hold them accountable because that’s transparency,” said Colbrook.

Colbrook, who has been chief at Parkland for six years, said he’ll also bring to Bloomington a program used in Champaign bringing together a community coalition of leaders from every sector to solve issues of health, education, economic opportunity, and other factors affecting gun violence.

“The shooting violence, the fear of crime, the community relations, it’s a community problem. It’s not just a policing problem, so it takes a community solution,” he said.

Two men, standing near each other laughing and holding papers
Credit Colleen Reynolds / WGLT
Bloomington Police Chief finalists Dan Donath and Bill Colbrook laugh at the end of their community meet-and-greet on Tuesday evening.

Colbrook also emphasized repeatedly that he would adhere to the Illinois Trust Act and not assist federal immigration agents in carrying out efforts to arrest and deport undocumented residents. He assured Ward 6 city council member Jenn Carrillo, who asked what kind of relationship he would envision with ICE, that "this agency (BPD) is not going to be stopping people, infringing on their freedom, just to find out what their immigration status is.”

However, Colbrook clarified, “If ICE comes with a federal criminal warrant signed by a magistrate or judge, we will cooperate just like we would with any other agency whether they be local, state or federal."

Both men touted their passion and depth of experience in law enforcement, with Donath emphasizing that his knowledge of the community, officers, and local leaders give him a distinct advantage. He wants to continue what he says is the good work already underway to attack gun violence, noting officers have taken more than 20 guns off the streets this year and have made arrests in every gun-related murder in the past year.

“We have a fantastic police department. We do great work every day,” said Donath.

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Colleen has spent most of her adult life working the streets and beats of Bloomington-Normal for WJBC-AM where she won numerous reporting awards for hard news, feature writing, and breaking news coverage.