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Watch now: In Central Illinois, a heightened focus on police agencies' efforts to diversify
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Normal Police Department officer Jasmine Johnson says earning the badge has been her dream come true. Johnson said police agencies in general will have to look at changing their approach to minority hiring if they want their departments to reflect their communities. She said Normal was working in the right direction.
Normal Police Department Chief Rick Bleichner says recruiting qualified minority police officers has become one of his primary goals in staffing the department. Making adjustments to the process, such as doing long-distance assessments to make it easier for candidates in other cities to qualify, has helped the department.
Normal Police officer Jasmine Johnson calls for people to work together to end unjust police actions during the "United Against Police Brutality" event June 18. Johnson helped organize the event, which saw officers and protesters walk together through Uptown Normal.
BLOOMINGTON The years-long efforts of Central Illinois law enforcement agencies to diversify their forces are getting more attention in the months since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody.
Floyds death sparked protests in Bloomington-Normal and around the country. Some advocates have called for police reforms that include restructuring and defunding, or shifting resources to other positions, like social workers. Many also pointed to departments across the U.S. that dont look like the communities they serve.
You need to have people, law enforcement, going into the community that represents the community, said Linda Foster, president of the NAACPs Bloomington-Normal Branch. Thats how you learn, thats how you understand and thats how you are able to build relationships and its not seen as us against them.
Bloomington-Normal NAACP President Linda Foster addresses the topic of "change" during a rally May 31 outside the Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.
Its too soon to tell whether Floyds death will make that harder, they said, but overall heavy scrutiny and negative media coverage of the profession in recent years have not helped.
It's only been a couple of months since that incident, said Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath, who anticipates it will have an impact on recruitment of minorities and new officers overall.
In Bloomington, data provided by the department shows that 92.7% of the departments 123 officers are white and 7.3% are people of color, including seven Hispanic officers. Compare that with U.S. census data that shows the citys population is 73.4% white and 10.1% Black.
The Normal Police Department has 82 officers, of whom 90.2% are white and 9.8% are minorities. The towns population is 77.4% white, 11.2% Black and 5.8% Hispanic.
The McLean County Sheriffs Office has 54 officers, of whom 94.4% are white and 5.6% are minorities. The countys population is 79.2% white, 8.4% Black and 5.2% Hispanic.
At Illinois State University, the police force is 79.3% white and 20.7% minority officers. Roughly 71.2% of the students enrolled in fall 2019 were white; 10.8% were Hispanic, and 9% were Black.
Leaders of all four departments acknowledge the disparity and say diversity remains a high priority in recruitment and hiring. Theyre competing with departments across the region that are working toward similar goals, and several said they face an uphill battle because of the stigma surrounding police work these days.
We have not initiated a testing cycle for deputy sheriff since before the George Floyd incident, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage said. However, we are seeing an overall decline in applicants to be police or correctional officers, I believe largely due to the anti- police sentiment that is being pushed.
Meanwhile, advocates for police reform say a focus on diversity could distract from other changes that need to be made.
As long as our policing system continues to operate the way it does now, we will continue to have problems no matter the racial makeup, said Bloomington Ward 6 Alderwoman Jenn Carrillo, who has been involved with the local Black Lives Matter movement. ... People do get stuck in this whole diversity angle of things. Diversity isn't the same as racial justice.
Black Lives Matter of Bloomington-Normal member Jenn Carrillo, also Ward 6 Alderwoman on the city council, leads the crowd in raising their fists for solidarity duringthe organization's meeting June 7 at Miller Park in Bloomington.
By the time Jasmine Johnson joined the Normal Police Department in 2016, the department had been working for years to recruit more officers of color. Police Chief Rick Bleichner had spoken publicly for months about it as a priority, something Johnson, who is Black, said she appreciated reading in a news article.
To her, hiring a diverse workforce just makes sense. Its important for a number of reasons, but it mainly builds trust between officers and community members while placing potential victims at ease.
From my experience, it seems as though with everything thats going on, if you can see someone who looks like you, its more of a comfort thing, said Johnson, 29. They can relate to you more. I dont think its a racial thing by any means, but I think its important.
Johnson said she sometimes encounters women who are more comfortable speaking with her than with a male officer. Ive also had where Ive interacted with someone whos African-American and they feel more comfortable speaking with someone whos African-American, as opposed to someone who is Caucasian, because we can understand the experience, she said.
Normal Police Department patrolman Jasmine Johnson is the third generation of police officers in her family. She said one tip she would give potential minority applicants is to be determined in meeting the requirements for a police department's screening procedures.
Bloomington police this spring added five new officers, three of whom were people of color. But Donath stressed that they were hired for their qualifications, not skin color.
I am very adamant about hiring only highly qualified candidates to ensure we provide great service to our community, he said. In addition, we would like people of color to see working at our police department as a real possibility. Sometimes, people in general fall into a trap that any given career field is not for their race or sex, etc.
But, this is a good job that gives a person an opportunity to help others and make a good living for themselves and their family.
City Manager Tim Gleason, who also is a chairman on the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, said the city has taken measures to improve minority officer recruitment and there is still more to do.
This is definitely a priority, Gleason said. In no way am I satisfied with where we are at as an organization, but over the last two years, our minority employees have increased from 7.5 to 11.5%, and my direction to staff is let's be targeted and intentional. Lets cast a wider net on government employment, specifically public safety.
Of the 29 officers on the Illinois State University Police force, 23 are white, three are Black, two are Hispanic, and one is listed as other.
Officers Jasmine Johnson, right, and Brad Park led the Normal Police Department's "United Against Police Brutality" walk across Uptown Normal on June 18.
Hiring for diversity has been, and always will be, a primary focus for our department, said Chief Aaron Woodruff, but its just too early to say if there has been any impact recently, since we havent had any vacancies posted. Prior to the George Floyd murder, we had already seen a downturn in overall applications for police officer. We attributed that to a number of factors, including the healthy economy (prior to COVID-19); the type of work which requires working weekends, overnight, and holidays; decreasing benefits; and the continuing fallout over the previous policing issues after Ferguson.
Woodruff said the key is to develop personal relationships when recruiting.
That includes, but is not limited to, working with our local community organizations to help us find good people who still want to make a positive difference in our communities, despite the current stereotypes surrounding policing.
In Normal, the police department made minority hiring a top priority when Bleichner was hired nearly nine years ago. However, he said, the department is committed to hiring the best candidate for the job, which means attracting a diverse talent pool.
One of the most important things I think I do, or functions as a chief, is hiring people, said Bleichner. At the end of the day, I could retire, somebody else could come in and they could change every directive within the police department, but one thing they cant change very easily is the people. Thats the legacy.
The department follows a comprehensive recruitment plan that is evaluated each year. Most candidates are pulled from within an 80-mile radius of the department, and Normal actively recruits at colleges, universities and in military magazines.
We certainly arent where we would like to be, but we have made progress, said Bleichner. We dont have a specific number in place that once we get there we can declare victory. Our approach is hiring the best people that we can because theyre going to be representatives of us.
Johnson feels the Normal Police Department has had some success in recruiting minority officers because of its commitment to creating a welcoming culture and engaging with people through programs such as the Minority and Police Partnership.
But, as conversations and opinions toward police shift, Johnson said it is more important now than ever to focus on community policing. That doesnt just mean attending events, she said; it includes getting out of the patrol vehicle and interacting with people on the streets.
I know sometimes thats very hard to do when were getting calls for service, she said. I think if we can get back to community policing, engaging with the community and hosting more events that actually engages the community, that will be a way to not only change the narrative, but show the community that we are more than what we have been in the past perceived to be.
As part of an effort to connect with the community, Normal and Illinois State University police officers held a march June 18 at which they walked alongside protesters carrying Black Lives Matter signs. Johnson came up with the idea for the event and brought it to Bleichner, who readily agreed. Officers who attended said it was important for them to show the community that they did not agree with the excessive force shown in Minneapolis.
Miltonette Craig, an assistant professor in the Criminal Justice Sciences Department at Illinois State University, said community engagement is crucial for departments.
The underlying premise is that the police are supposed to protect and serve, she said, and it is very hard for them to work with the community that views them as illegitimate.
Craig, who is Black, described growing up in a Florida community where her experience with law enforcement was different from some in other communities where most residents are white.
When it comes to those that are disadvantaged, high-crime, high poverty, then they dont see the police unless they are coming in for law enforcement purposes, Craig said. I did not see the service part of policing until much later in my life.
Bloomington city leaders in December 2017 formed a group, the Public Safety and Community Relations Board, to handle appeals from people unhappy with how the police department handled complaints about officers.
Art Taylor, who was the boards first chairman and is still a member, said the group has only had two complaints to review since it was created. But the board plays a vital role because it serves as a factor in officers decision-making while on duty and could prevent incidents from escalating, he said.
We have had no police brutality in Bloomington, to my knowledge, in the same kind of light of what is going on with George Floyd and others who have lost their lives in other communities because of police brutality, Taylor said. I think the PSCRB has created something where the police at least have some pause to think and consider, before anything happens.
More work ahead
Advocates of police reform say there is still much work to be done, both in Central Illinois and nationally. Some believe the problems cant be solved by only diversifying the force.
Theres a systemic problem in policing and putting Black bodies or bodies of color into the blue uniform is not really addressing the issue that we see within police departments nationally, said Ky Ajayi, a leader with Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.
Efforts to increase minority recruitment are needed, but Ajayi fears a hyper focus on the former will overshadow the pressing need for widespread police reform.
There needs to be radical restructuring of policing, he said. We have seen officers of color brutalize citizens, brutalize residents of communities. Weve come to the conclusion that when we focus on diversifying law enforcement, it doesnt address the systemic problems within policing.
Black Lives Matter of Bloomington-Normal member Ky Ajayi speaks to attendees of its meeting June 7 at Miller Park in Bloomington.
The solution, he said, is police reform and decreasing the number of interactions between officers and citizens. To do this, Ajayi suggested funding social service programs and having people equipped to handle calls for service for mental health crises and homelessness.
Taylor, of the review board, has said that he felt concerned about a recent interaction with Bloomington police in his neighborhood. He and his wife, Camille, were approached as part of a complaint of disorderly conduct involving a vehicle that matched the description of their car.
Donath said last week that a review of the situation found the officer acted appropriately.
Art Taylor, of Not In Our Town, left, talks with Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath on June 8 after a rally of the Bloomington-Normal Branch of the NAACP, NIOT and local law enforcement departments.
But Art Taylor said they were approached in a way that put them on the defensive, and he wrote to several local officials and community leaders about his concerns with the experience.
The Taylors have been active in community service projects and nonprofit organizations during the 30 years theyve lived on Bloomingtons east side; Art Taylor had been named chairman of the review board at its first meeting because of his reputation for this work.
If that can happen to us and we understand that we are known in this community and I am on the PSCRB it can happen to anybody, he said.
Whole new era
It is not enough for police departments to simply increase minority recruitment efforts, said Foster, of the NAACP. Agencies must be transparent with their efforts to recruit and hire officers.
It comes down to hiring, Foster said. Thats the proof. We need to see an intentional effort to make a difference in our community.
People need to see police departments recruiting in areas out of their comfort, and the department needs to show there are minority officers who have been promoted to higher ranks, Foster added. That means having minority officers who are sergeants, lieutenants and captains, not just patrol officers.
The Bloomington-Normal NAACP is working on a list of recommendations for law enforcement agencies to increase transparency and minority recruitment. While the list has not been finalized, Foster said the organization plans to unveil the recommendations soon.
We really do need to move forward toward a more aggressive stance on making our community a community that is inclusive of all individuals that are willing to put the work in, she said. Its going to take some work.
If law enforcement agencies are serious about increasing diversity, then they need to evaluate what barriers are preventing them from achieving that goal, said Robert Moore, a retired U.S. Marshal and police community relations consultant who chairs the Illinois NAACP criminal justice committee.
You have to know whats stopping you from being successful, he said. If you have a department that is constantly losing your African Americans or minorities, you know theres something wrong.
These barriers include not having a proper recruitment plan, not having trained recruiters, a lack of resources and tense community relations. Once the barriers are identified, Moore said, the police department can move on to developing a comprehensive recruitment plan.
Moore was lead consultant in a 2016 case study of the Springfield Police Department as it made diversity a priority. When he was first brought on, Moore and his team started by evaluating the police departments mission statement, past newspaper clippings and interviews with community members.
What we found was that mayors and city council people had been promising minority recruiting for 20 years and nothing had changed, he said, which further damaged community relations. We also found that there was no recruiting plan.
Moore added that Springfield, like many police agencies from the 1980s to 2000s, had essentially cut off the hiring process and was not actively recruiting officers.
The Springfield department has since increased its number of black officers by nearly 150%. But the issues that led to the lack of diversity will likely be felt for years to come, Moore said.
Today, the Illinois NAACP and the Illinois Chiefs of Police have developed a list of 10 principles to building trust. They include treating all people with dignity and respect, rejecting discrimination, embracing community policing and undergoing de-escalation training.
Moore travels with the Illinois Chiefs of Police to promote the 10 principles, bringing residents and law enforcement agency leaders together for dialogue. Officers need to be held accountable and disciplined when they behave badly, he said.
Were heading into a whole new era when it comes to policing and accountability, he said.
Can you help? The latest Crime Stoppers of McLean County cases
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Darius D. French, 31, was wanted as of May 19, 2020, on a charge of aggravated driving under the influence. He is6 feet1 inches tall and weighs295 pounds. He hasblack hair andbrowneyes. His last known address is in Bloomington.
Star A. Jones, 26, wasnamed as of May 15, 2020, on a warrant charging her with theft over $500. Sheis 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 115 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes. Her last known address was in Normal.
Timothy L. King, 21, was wanted as of May 5, 2020, on a robbery charge. He is6 feet tall and weighs155 pounds. He hasblack hair andbrowneyes. His last known address is in Bloomington.
Deonte K. Spates, 21, was wanted as of May 2, 2020, on a warrant charging him with robbery. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 135 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. His last known address was in Bloomington.
Terrell D. Moon, 33, was wanted as of April 3, 2020, of a warrant charging him with delivery of a controlled substance. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. His last known address was in Bloomington.
Aaron J. Fluty, 44, was wanted as of April 1, 2020, on a charge of delivery of a controlled substance. He is5 feet10 inches tall and weighs150 pounds. He hasbrown hair andblueeyes. His last known address is in Bloomington.
James L. Fields, 22, was named as of March 27, 2020, on a warrant charging him with delivery of a controlled substance. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. His last known address was in Bloomington.
Regina M. Evans, 43, was wanted as of March 4, 2020, on a charge of aggravated driving under the influence. She is5 feet8 inches tall and weighs140 pounds. She hasred hair andgreeneyes. Her last known address is in Normal.
Carl R. Herrman, 74, was wanted as of Feb. 25, 2020, on a charge of theft. He is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs180 pounds. He has white hair andbrowneyes. His last known address is in Bloomington.
Watch now: In Central Illinois, a heightened focus on police agencies' efforts to diversify - Bloomington Pantagraph