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Q&A: Bloomington City Manager On What Criminal Justice Reform Could Mean For Police Departments

Tim Gleason
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason says additions to police training under Illinois law will require extra training time for new law enforcement recruits.

Change is on the way for Illinois police departments.

Racial bias and gender equity are a few of the topics now required in training under the criminal justice reform bill signed into law last month. The changes to police training are set to take effect throughout the state on July 1 of this year.

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason spent 25 years as a law enforcement officer. He now serves as a member of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. He says discussions on how to implement the required changes are in the early stages. 

WGLT spoke with Gleason about what the future of police training in Bloomington might look like.

What are all these changes going to mean for Bloomington law enforcement?

I've had a front row seat to this discussion that truly started, I'm going to say, August of 2014 with the events in Ferguson, Missouri. What Gov. Pritzker signed into law is going to have an impact. You know, there are many positives in this police reform, but there is going to be a cost to the local government. This is going to add two, if not three additional weeks to any basic academy. Well, there's a cost there, and then some of the training that is going, the ongoing training that you'll see at the MTUs, the Mobile Training Units. And so there's going to be an additional cost here, there as well, and that's going to be borne, you know, by the local governments, by the local communities, we haven't quite figured out what that cost is going to be.

What long-term changes are we looking at with this bill?

I think we're the first in the nation to do this. I think that there is a lot of concern out there from the men and women that provide the 24/7 safety to us in our communities, and I think once the dust settles, we're gonna find that this is something that is welcome, and can definitely be a benefit to the communities. So that's an initial thought that I've got is recruiting for my police department, and then the retention of my officers. I know that a lot of different communities throughout the state are hearing that as well, but it is a concern right now, because we're under, we're understaffed. There's always duty-related injuries, there's always retirements, you might have someone that's gone to that academy and went through the field training program and didn't make it to the end of their probation, a variety of reasons. I think we get beyond it at some point.

What are things looking like on the funding front with regard to these changes, especially bearing in mind the discussions continually going on about police funding reform?

We're getting ready to finalize our budget, we proposed the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, we're on a May 1 to April 30 budget cycle, and some questions arose concerning how do we fund the police, you know, these different line items. I welcome this, and I look forward to the day that I can put together at least the portions that I'm responsible for for this larger discussion that I heard out of my elected officials. And the question is, how do we police, which is different than 'what about this line item, you know, this $250,000 line item in this new budget, city manager, that you're proposing?' If you hear these discussions throughout the nation, at least what I'm picking up on are communities saying, we want to have a say in how we're being policed. I think it's very interesting, and I completely welcome that conversation.

How are these training reforms going to affect the way area law enforcement goes about its job?

I think it will improve. But it's time. I talked about the two or three additional weeks for a basic academy. I think it's 16 weeks now, so you're going to be pushing 20 weeks waiting for that new recruit, that you probably hired after you had a vacancy that was in place for quite some time. So I mean, you're already, you know, pushed back, but again, right thing to do. Now, the in-service training, you've got officers, you're already understaffed, you've got officers that have responsibilities out on the street and the different duties that they provide the community. Now you're adding additional in-service training. So I mean, it's all gonna add up to time, and time oftentimes equals funding, or in this case, increased funding needs. But at the end of the day, you got to find a way, you know, and we will.

On the whole, do you see these changes to the training curriculum as necessary, particularly in Bloomington?

Yeah, I do. We've got a police department that we can be extremely proud of. That's not to say that we can't always improve on a very good department, but this community is lucky to have the kind of department that we do have. We're an example throughout the state. I'm very proud of the Bloomington Police Department and know that we'll get better through all of this. I mean, one, we don't have any other choice, but two, I think that the community is going to see a side of the Bloomington Police Department, and I think the officers for the Bloomington Police Department are going to see a side of the community and through that there's going to be growth. We're on a growth period, you know, we always are, but this is probably one that is going to provide tremendous growth, generational change. Honestly, it's exciting.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.