Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 18, 2013

Bloomington targets issues in downtown

City addressing panhandling, public intoxication.

The Associated Press
Kokomo Tribune

---- — BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington officials have launched a new police patrol and outreach program for downtown to address problems with vandalism, panhandling and public intoxication.

The plan announced by Mayor Mark Kruzan will add two police details and calls for installing surveillance cameras on public properties. It also includes a plan for officers to work with social service agencies to address issues such as homelessness, The Herald-Times reported.

Kruzan said both approaches are needed in order for the effort to succeed.

“Too many people were writing me with a very common theme — that they don’t feel comfortable going into downtown,” Kruzan said. “That is plain and simple intolerable.”

Under the police component, officers working on overtime will staff the B-Line Trail and the area around Kirkwood Avenue, the city square and the Monroe County Courthouse for 88 hours a month. Those on the B-Line will use bikes or drive an ATV, while the officers stationed downtown will patrol on foot, police Chief Mike Diekhoff said.

The outreach program will offer training so officers better understand homelessness. Police will meet monthly with social service agencies and will be urged to refer people to a social service agency instead of making an arrest. They also will keep detailed records of police interactions downtown. An anti-panhandling campaign also will be incorporated into the plan.

“Clearly, it’s going to be a more specialized and time-consuming effort,” Diekhoff said. “The officers are going to take more time than they might normally take.”

The additional patrols will cost the city about $6,000 a month, which will be paid for with parking meter revenue.

Kruzan said the goal is to improve the overall behavior and conduct of people downtown, not to force people to leave the area or to make arrests.

“We’re extending compassion and expecting compliance,” he said. “But if you take advantage of a community’s compassion, there’s a cost.”

Diekhoff agreed.

“Arresting someone isn’t necessarily going to resolve the problem,” he said. “I think the goal is to make the downtown a much more enjoyable place to be.”

Kruzan said he hopes the officers become familiar faces to those who frequent downtown.

He said the city will install surveillance cameras on public property but won’t announce the exact locations. Some will be permanent, while others will rotate to new locations depending on the need.

“I do not like the concept of government monitoring its people,” Kruzan said. “But I think we’ve gotten to a point where it’s necessary, at least for now.”