Civilian Review Bloomington: FAQ edition

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With the recent proposal of a civilian review board in Bloomington, there’s been a lot of misinformation swirling around social-media threads. The ReSisterhood put together this fact sheet in the hopes of clearing some of it up.

What is the civilian review board?

The Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB), also known as a civilian review board, would have the ability to review complaints of misconduct involving the Bloomington Police Department (BPD). Currently, complaints about officers must be submitted directly to the police department itself. Civilians who feel that complaints have been unsatisfactorily resolved would be able to appeal to the PSCRB. The PSCRB’s role would be advisory in nature, and it would consist of seven unpaid volunteers appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.

What it isn’t

According to the president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, the review board “is not anti-police.”
Its members will not be paid.
It will not have the authority to independently investigate complaints (i.e. “do the police’s job for them”).

Who supports it?

-Not In Our Town
-YWCA McLean County
-Bloomington-Normal NAACP
-Black Lives Matter BloNo
-Central Illinois Pride Health Center
-Prairie Pride Coalition
-Illinois People’s Action
-McLean County League of Women Voters.
-American Civil Liberties Union (Central Illinois chapter)
-The ReSisterhood

Why do we need it?

This case study outlined by GLT in May 2017 , describing an apparent miscarriage of justice in July 2015, is a perfect example of the need for an independent civilian review board. While police were investigating a street fight in the Market Street area, they detained a deaf black man who happened to be nearby with his partner and child. The man’s neighbors tried to explain that the man was not involved in the fight, but the man was arrested for “resisting arrest and walking on a highway.” Although the charges against the man were ultimately dropped, the police concluded in their investigation that there was no evidence of racial profiling or wrongdoing in the episode. The man’s neighbors, who are white, felt like they faced intimidation from the police as a result of filing the complaint.

Racial profiling by the BPD appears to be to be substantiated by a number of other incidents. Mostly recently, a black man with a disability was detained by police in late June 2017 because, according to his sister, “they took issue with the motion of how his head moved while he walked.” A video of the man complaining to a police sergeant can be viewed here. The man’s sister has indicated her brother’s complaint was not satisfactorily addressed by the BPD.

Another black Bloomington man was pulled over by officers seven times in six months between 2010 and 2011Illinois state data indicated that people of color were pulled over in Bloomington 1.67 more times than white people in 2005 and 1.77 more times in 2004, yet received fewer citations than whites.

These findings are consistent with wider data on racial profiling by officers in Illinois. 2013 data from Illinois Traffic Stop Statistical Study Act, sponsored by then Senator Barack Obama, “reveals, as an example, that statewide across Illinois, African American and Latino drivers are nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be asked during a routine traffic stop for “consent” to have their car searched. Yet white motorists are 49% more likely than African American motorists to have contraband discovered during a consent search by law enforcement, and 56% more likely when compared to Latinos.”

Furthermore, the BPD has a history of inadequately addressing complaints. An excerpt from a May 2012 Pantagraph article underscores the extent of the problem.

Since 2009, the Bloomington Police Department has received 105 citizen complaints against its officers, but until a few months ago the department had not fully resolved, and in some cases even begun investigating, more than 25 percent of them.

Pantagraph review of the complaints showed BPD failed to complete 27 complaints from the last three years. Chief Randy McKinley said in an interview earlier this month his department had no proof that 11 of them were ever investigated.

In addition to incomplete follow-up, The Pantagraph found complaint investigations sometimes relied on audio and video recordings that were either nonexistent or of poor quality, and were carried out by supervisors who worked closely with the officers against whom the complaints were issued.

 

Chief McKinley left the department for a job in St. Charles, Missouri in 2013.

In a collective statement, the groups mentioned above state: “We believe it is dangerous to assume that the low number of complaints filed against officers are a measure of public satisfaction, when it may instead be an indication of public distrust with our current complaint process.”

How have civilian review boards played out in other communities?

A May 17th Pantagraph story describes civilian review boards in nearby Champaign-Urbana.

Urbana has had a civilian police review board since 2011. Mayor Diane Marlin views it as an effective tool to help bridge communication gaps between police and the community.
Most of Urbana’s complaints come first to the police department “and the vast majority are handled by the police chief,” she said.
But if someone is not satisfied with that decision, or things are not resolved to people’s satisfaction, “then the civilian review board acts as kind of another set of eyes and ears on the topic,” said Marlin.

Won’t a civilian review board undermine trust in police and prevent officers from doing their jobs?

No. In fact, nothing undermines trust in police officers more than police misconduct and mishandling of any subsequent complaints. Transparency means improved accountability, improved accountability means greater trust.

Alderman Jamie Mathy, who supports the civilian review board, said in a June 19th Facebook post that he “specifically asked Chief Heffner if there was some way that the PSCRB would hurt the department, and he wasn’t able to give me a way this damages the department.”

Says police chief Brendan Heffner, “I will be open about ways to improve the process for people to file complaints. I look forward to it because what we’re doing is communicating and conversing.”

What are the benefits to a civilian review board?

The main benefit of a civilian review board is to ensure that citizens receive equal justice under law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. A civilian review board will also create dialogue and build trust between the police and the community. Numerous stories show that the financial cost of police misconduct can be devastatingly high, to say nothing of the physical and emotional toll on victims. Addressing problems in the present is preferable to waiting around for them to worsen. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Additional sources consulted: Wells, Rachel and Edith Brady-Lunny. “Lingering concerns: Review of Bloomington police files shows lapse in complaint resolutions since 2009.” Pantagraph, 20 May 2012, p. A1.

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