Bloomington Police expanding community policing, outreach efforts in 2016

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Jan. 15, 2016)-- The new year will bring expanded community policing in Bloomington. Officers will soon be designated to work in neighborhoods across the city, in an effort to promote a positive relationship with police.

The chief said they’ll be building off success they’ve already seen.

“We’re looking for a different way to do it,” said Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff.

Bloomington Police started getting complaints about aggressive panhandling and public intoxication downtown a few years ago. In 2014 and 2015, the department moved toward the downtown resource officer program to help the homeless and transient populations.

There are now six officers.

“It’s a different approach,” said Brett Rorem, a downtown resource officer, “Our main focus is calls that deal with individuals who are honest, homeless, have nowhere to stay.”

His beat includes driving around the downtown area in an SUV, not your typical police car. He also wears a Bloomington Police polo-style shirt, which he said makes him more approachable.

“Things like that kind of help bring some of the barriers down,” he said.

Rorem and the other resource officers get out of their cars, walk around, and develop relationships with those special populations, eventually connecting them to social services.

“We found out the other day, another individual that’s been hanging out downtown for about six months, one of our social workers let us know he got housing, and that’s great,” he said.

The alternate approach is about to expand. Chief Mike Diekhoff said Bloomington Police will soon designate neighborhood resource officers, though he isn’t sure of a number yet.

He said the specifics of that program are still being worked out.

“That program is more community policing at its basics, making sure that officer is known in the neighborhood,” he said, “The neighborhood resource officers, they’re going to be encouraged to go to neighborhood meetings, get out, and walk around.”

Diekhoff said officers like Rorem are proof that alternative methods can work and be successful.

He said he wants residents to feel like they can connect easily with police, along with setting aside fears of an adversarial relationship.

“It’s not traditional police work,” he said, “You hear a lot of disconnect between police departments and the community, and we’re wanting to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

Diekhoff said he hopes the neighborhood resource officer program will be in place sometime this spring.