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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Bloomington (IL) Police Department as the June 2018 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Chief Brendan O. Heffner assisting a young boy with a building project during an event called “Project with a Cop.”
The City of Bloomington sits in the heart of Illinois and is a twin city with the Town of Normal. Home to the headquarters of State Farm Insurance, Illinois Wesleyan University, and Lincoln University, Bloomington is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the state.1 With a population of approximately 80,000 residents, this suburban area was named one of “The Greenest Cities” in America in 2018 by Insurify, and was ranked number 10 in the 2016 Best Affordable Places to Live for Families in America by Liveability.2
According to Bloomington Police Chief Brendan O. Heffner, the city is not immune to the challenges facing many parts of the country. Illicit drug use and hybrid gang issues have occupied most of the police department’s time, but thefts, burglaries, and distracted driving are also issues impacting public safety. With an average of 76,000 calls for service per year, the city’s 154 employees (128 sworn officers) stay busy.
“Like in anything else, we try to educate the public,” said Heffner when asked how the department manages those challenges. “We do a lot of enforcement based on intelligence-led policing. That has resulted in crime being reduced in the last four years by 30 percent. It’s through educational efforts and enforcement efforts. Especially with drugs, you know, you can’t arrest your way out of everything. Through the efforts of our officers – patrol units, investigation units, our VICE unit – and working with the DEA and other agencies, good collaborative efforts have helped us. The community has helped us too.”
Community engagement drives Heffner’s approach to policing. Using social media, he says the department has been able to solve crimes in as quickly as twenty minutes. He also strongly encourages officers to engage in positive, non-enforcement interactions with community members. “There are always going to be people to arrest, but the majority of citizens are law-abiding. Unfortunately, because of the current climate, some people may fear the police and we don’t want that.”
In June 2017, the Bloomington Police Department, in collaboration with Mid Central Community Action and the West Bloomington Housing Collaborative, opened the Jefferson Street Community House in a neighborhood that had been plagued with high crime. In a statement posted on the Bloomington Police Department’s Facebook page in December 2017, Heffner described the purpose of the community house.
“The new community house reflects the Bloomington Police Department's commitment to strengthen community relations and enhance public safety,” said Chief Brendan Heffner. “The community house will reduce officers' response time, increase police visibility, and provide officers the opportunity to meet and collaborate with community members.”3
Since the community house opened, Heffner says there have been no shootings in the neighborhood. “We have a TV, a PlayStation. Officers can stop by and engage people in the area.” In fact, the department has hosted a number of events at the community house, including “Project with a Cop,” where Bloomington youth were able to engage with law enforcement through the building of various projects. Heffner is featured in the winning photo working on a project with a young boy. “You’ve gotta be careful giving kids a hammer,” he laughed. “It was fun, though.”
Youth engagement is critical to Heffner, as he shared that many of the city’s shootings involve teenagers. His goal has been to connect with children as young as possible to prevent them from joining gangs and/ or participating in violence. Through the department’s intelligence-led policing, Heffner says officers have a good idea of what is going on, or they can find out. “We deploy our resources in the right area to deter crime or mitigate it.”
Through a program called Minorities and Police Partnership (MAPP), the department spearheads an annual education summit called “Behind the Badge” where citizens participate in a shortened version of a police academy. Through MAPP, citizens gain a better understanding of what law enforcement officers experience while wearing the badge. Citizens participate in various simulations and role-playing that allow them to act as a law enforcement officers doing routine police work.
“Our department strives to be professional and go about our jobs in a fair and unbiased manner. That’s what we do. We will always strive to increase our community relations,” Heffner firmly stated.
When asked how he recruits new officers, he shared that the department has actively sought out to hire more minorities, but recruiting for the profession has been a challenge overall, based on the current climate and messaging that many people receive about policing. “You might have someone who is interested in law enforcement, but they buy into what they see on social media. It does make it hard. Some people fall prey to peer pressure. But what that lets me know is that people who apply really want to be here.”
While the department has sought out different avenues for recruiting diverse candidates, such as recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as in Chicago and other surrounding areas, getting the right people is most important. “One thing I think that people miss is that it’s not just about diversity in color, it’s about diversity in thought. That’s how we benefit greatly.”
With a law enforcement career that spans over 25 years, including almost five years as Bloomington’s chief, Heffner will be leaving his position in a few weeks to become the United States Marshal for the Central District of Illinois, a Senate confirmed position. He admits that leaving will be difficult. “I try to do my best. I’m not perfect by any means. I’ve tried to make decisions that I’ve felt were best for the department and my community,” he shared. “You put your heart and soul into something, and even though it’s a great opportunity and it’s a great honor to be U.S. Marshal, it’s tough to leave.”
The COPS Office congratulates the Bloomington Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2018 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner. Photo courtesy of the Bloomington Police Department.
1. “About the City,” City of Bloomington, Illinois, accessed May 1, 2018, http://www.cityblm.org/visitors/about-the-city.
2. “Award Winning Community,” City of Bloomington, Illinois, accessed May 1, 2018, http://www.cityblm.org/doing-business/economic-development/award-winning-community.
3. The City of Bloomington Police Department, Facebook, published December 8, 2017, accessed May 2, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/cityblmPD/posts/1359818034031472:0.
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