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Complaints in 2019 about Bloomington police down by nearly half

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BLOOMINGTON —  There have been 11 complaints filed about Bloomington police conduct so far this year, with one being appealed Wednesday to the city's Public Safety and Community Relations Board for further review.

The complaints this year are down from 20 filed in 2018, 15 In 2017 and 17 in 2016.

"That's a reduction of almost 50 percent in 2019, and that's a great improvement that can be attributed to many things," said board Chairman Art Taylor after the panel's quarterly public meeting Wednesday.

"Part of it, I think, is because of the effort of the board to basically be a sounding board to the general public," added Taylor. "I think body-worn cameras have helped out tremendously. New leadership at the Bloomington Police Department has also helped reduced the number of complaints."

The panel of private citizens was created by the City Council in July 2017 to advise the police chief and city manager on police-related issues and complaints.

"As of (Thursday), we have received approximately 84,000 calls for service and only 11 complaints (this year)," said Bloomington Assistant Chief Chad Wamsley, who oversees the department's office of professional standards.

The 11 complaints in 2019 involved 12 allegations of misconduct, said Wamsley.

Nine of the allegations were resolved as exonerated, meaning the acts occurred but were lawful and within policy, or unfounded, meaning the allegations were proved to be false.

The three remaining allegations remain under investigation.

"I believe this reflects positively on our department and how we are dedicated to providing high quality service to the citizens in our community," said Wamsley.

An appeal of a complaint received by the board on Wednesday is the second in the panel's two-year existence.

The numbers are in stark contrast to contentious public dialogue in 2017 during efforts by an alliance of community organizations to have Bloomington create a civilian police oversight board that advocates insisted was needed to ensure civil rights, particularly for minority residents.

Some officers, including former Chief Brendan Heffner, the city's only African-American police chief, spoke out to set the record straight, they said, about false information painting the department as being racist

 All complaints about Bloomington police must be filed first with the police department, which then investigates them.

The seven-member PSCRB, which has been meeting monthly since December 2017, reviews any cases appealed by people dissatisfied with the BPD's determination.

But the board plays an advisory role only.

In looking at an appealed complaint, the board is empowered only to review whether police department protocols were followed properly in the department's own investigation of the complaint. They are free to make recommendations on policy changes, but have no authority over the department.

Taylor said he does not know the nature or any details about the appeal filed Wednesday in relation to a 2019 complaint.

"We'll be setting that one for review after the first of the year," said Taylor.

The earlier appeal stemmed from a complaint filed with the police department in 2018 "so that's one complaint per year," said Taylor. "That's a pretty good record so far."

The earlier appeal came to the board at its first monthly meeting in 2019 after a BPD internal investigation exonerated an officer in a citizen's complaint.

After its first-ever review of an appeal, the board in March affirmed BPD's decision, finding Bloomington police followed all department protocols and procedures. The board did not recommend any changes to any department protocol and procedures.

Contact Maria Nagle at (309) 820-3244. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle


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