I hope all are well and see the light of spring coming around the corner!
Originally, I planned to write about so many big things ahead of us, items I spoke about at the recent State of the City address. But many of you are no doubt aware of concerns and some protests that have arisen about a planned purchase by the Bloomington Police Department of a replacement armored vehicle, to be used by the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), which deals with high-risk dangerous situations involving firearms.
With the Parkland school shooting still raw in our minds, and with the very real concerns about militarization of society, the proliferation of weapons all around us, and frankly the culture of fear that can be abused, I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts about all of this.
First, let me say how strongly I support and how desperately we need common sense gun control to reduce the terrible, daily loss of life to firearms in our country. I’ve written about it in the past and hope that the courageous young people of Parkland may help lead us to better laws and regulations. America’s unique status of suffering this carnage is inexcusable, and it’s fixable. Much as we would wish otherwise, Bloomington is not immune from this pathology.
Second, as Mayor I have a serious and sober duty to protect public safety in our community, for all of us. That includes working closely with and overseeing our public safety officers of the Police Department. Every day there are people in our community, for all kinds of reasons, who seek to do very harmful things to each other and to us. Our police officers face danger directly and professionally, to protect all of us. We owe them the tools and training for them to do their jobs well. Public safety overall of course is built upon so many factors beyond policing, that demand so much attention and resources. But police are certainly a foundational part of our safety.
Third, I am very mindful of the history in our country of abuse by law enforcement agencies and individuals – policies or actions or interventions that reflect our long history and continuing incidents of racism, sexism, prejudice, or sometimes just terrible judgments. Every community must be sensitive to the use of government power against our residents – ever vigilant against abuse of that power. And ever sensitive to how at times our systems of justice and public safety seem to criminalize poverty or addiction or mental illness. I’m very proud of Bloomington’s recent history on these matters, but it would be false and foolhardy to ignore the need to be aware of the risks, or to ignore the legacies that can still have painful impacts both in reality and perception.
Fourth, as regarding any issue evoking deep concerns and strong views, a public process is important to allow our democratic system to work. That process didn’t start as early as it should have in the case of the armored vehicle – which was talked about back in 2015 before I was mayor, and was included on a five-year capital plans starting in 2016 – but the public wasn’t engaged in discussing the planned purchase until February of this year. We’ve made up time recently with five major public sessions for input and review and discussion, and countless more individual or less formal interactions. Some members of the community have organized protests against the purchase of the replacement vehicle. Other members have stood up to support its acquisition. That is democracy. That is Bloomington. And those discussions will lead to better results for the community.
In the end, my job is to help Bloomington be the best community we can be, for all of us. I and my colleagues in city government will be taking in and reviewing the public comments, as well as the analysis of the need for public safety officers and concerns about procedures and protocols for appropriately responding to high-risk, violent situations in our community.
Before the end of March, I’ll announce plans for a path forward based on these analyses. The public, and city council, and relevant boards or commission may weigh in on the plans. We all know that no plan would please everyone. I’ll ask in advance that we all respect differences of opinions, and also understand that any plan will reflect and react to a world that is far from perfect, of course, but hopefully can be a step forward toward improving that world for all.
Thanks for all you do for our community, and let’s keep focused on protecting what’s essential and welcoming change that brightens our future.
Ps: If you want to learn more about the armored vehicle issue, check out information on the city website. If you’d like to catch up on the content of the annual State of the City address, you can see the written text here and you can watch a recorded version with slides here.