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Mayor John Hamilton, Remarks as Prepared for Downtown Safety Press Conference

Remarks as prepared, Mayor John Hamilton, Downtown Safety, Press Conference 10:30am
Monroe County Public Library grounds, Bloomington, IN, August 10, 2016

Thank you all for coming, as we gather here at the public library, one of the central meeting places of our community, a focus of downtown where every week hundreds and hundreds of people from all walks of life, all ages, all interests and backgrounds gather.

As we meet here, our community of Bloomington of course exists in the midst of a region that surrounds us, a state, a nation, indeed an entire globe. Many aspects of our life in our community are affected, directly and indirectly, by factors and forces from far away - from the region, the state, the nation, and the globe.

When I spoke earlier this year, at my inauguration and my first state of the city, I noted that we as a community face challenges, and that we'll need to experiment - try different approaches and solutions, see what works, what makes progress, what moves us in the right direction. And also not be afraid to try things that may not work, and to correct course, change our plans.

I want to talk about two challenges today, and efforts I believe are needed to meet them. I'm not here to announce solutions - these are complex challenges - but rather efforts and pilots, experiments, actions, to begin to address them. We're on a path to improve our city, but no doubt it will take time and collaboration, and involve learning and improving our efforts.

First I want to talk about safety and civility. Our public spaces must be, and must feel, safe. Our community quality of life is grounded in, depends upon physical safety, both real and perceived. This isn't a liberal or conservative issue. As I have said before, our crime rate has risen substantially over the past ten years. And more recently, including even just this summer, our community has witnessed greater stress and issues of both safety and civility, in particular in downtown public spaces.

I have parks employees who feel the need for police support as they go about their work in some downtown parks. We have a growing number of individuals who seek to make their living panhandling in our community. We have dramatic evidence of greater use and abuse of illegal drugs, from discarded needles to overdoses to serious behavioral problems. As we have thousands of new residents joining our community, each year, and their families visiting, our downtown gateway at times is not as welcoming and civil a place as we desire it to be.

I want to be clear that physical safety, which is a foundation of this and every community, does not equate to tranquility. Our public streets and spaces are where we come together as a diverse, vibrant, rainbow community. Where people from all walks of life meet, live, work, recreate, socialize, express themselves. In public spaces our views can be challenged, our sense of beauty can be enlarged, or changed, our sense of community can be expanded. They are places of marches and protests, sometimes dramatic and large, sometimes solitary and small. They are places of celebrations and memorials. The great agora.

They will not always be tranquil, but our public shared spaces MUST be places of physical safety.

To address this first issue, of downtown safety and civility, some steps have begun and some will soon begin. As I said, this is a process to address a complex challenge. We will need to work together, and I'm very glad we have so many dedicated, resourceful people and institutions here today.

Our police department has already taken steps. Let me say I am exceedingly proud of our police department, Chief Diekhoff, the sworn officers and all the staff who do an outstanding job for our community every day. We joined the Obama administration's Open Data Initiative earlier this year, to open up doors, share data regularly, and increase collaboration with departments around the country focused on improving community connections, accountability, and results. I've also asked the Public Safety Board to lead a systematic review of the 59 recommendations of the President's 21st Century Policing Task Force, to be confident that we're leaving no stone unturned in being the very best police department we can be. That process will conclude this year and lead to reports and recommendations early in 2017.

I'd like to announce today several additional steps we are taking.

First, I have asked our Community and Family Resources Department, led by Beverly Calendar-Anderson, to engage the Community and Justice Mediation Center (CJAM), to help our community work together on this challenge. CJAM has established the Downtown Safety and Civility Dialogue and Deliberation Project (DSCDDP), with a Steering Committee, which will gather data, interview stakeholders, map concerns, interests and resources, and identify systems and change points, concluding with a final report of findings and recommendation by the end of this calendar year.

Stakeholders to be involved include affected businesses, including restaurants and other commercial establishments, arts venues, and Monroe County Public Library; patrons of downtown and the public; individuals whose behavior is a source of stress, and people experiencing homelessness; Government - City and County, the court/justice community and law enforcement; non-governmental organizations, health-care institutions and service providers - including organizations providing direct services to individuals in need; and community and advocacy groups, including neighborhood associations and groups engaged in social advocacy.

I want to thank the members of the Project steering committee, including: SPEA professor Lisa Amsler, Ed Greenebaum, CJAM's Director of Programs, Virgina Hall, citizen and retired social worker, Rafi Hasan, of the City of Bloomington, Lisa-Marie Napoli, of IU's Political and Civil Engagement Program, and Jim Shelton, of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.

Second, at the recommendation of the police department, I have approved installing six surveillance cameras in four areas identified as high incident locations, specifically Seminary Park, People's Park, the North end of the B-Line (3 cameras, due to the curve) and the B-Line South of Kroger's (one camera with long distance capabilities). These cameras will be a pilot effort. They will not be monitored live, but it is intended they will prove a deterrent, and also a tool for enforcement if needed.

Third, I have asked Chief Diekhoff to implement an enhanced presence of law enforcement officers in the downtown area, also as a pilot effort. This increased presence will include traditional policing, as well as our Downtown Resource Officers ("DROs" or "White Shirts") and our parking officers now in uniform.

Fourth, I have asked Chief Diekhoff to assure that we are appropriately enforcing the existing state statutes relating to panhandling, which include, among other things, prohibitions against panhandling between dusk and dawn, any touching, no soliciting at a bus stop, in a vehicle, at a facility used for public transportation, in a motor vehicle stopped on the street, in the sidewalk dining area of a restaurant, within 20 feet of a bank or ATM, or standing in line or waiting to be admitted to a commercial establishment. Details are listed on our website at bloomington.in.gov under "panhandling."

Fifth, in collaboration with the university and social service providers including the United Way, we will be establishing a public information campaign to encourage residents who want to help those in need to contribute to social service agencies providing services rather than directly to panhandlers. Links to agencies that serve people experiencing homelessness, drug addictions and mental illness are available at bloomington.in.gov/give. Additional campaign materials are being developed and will be shared with the community as they are available, and I want to thank Barry Lessow for being here today. By giving to local charities and not panhandlers, people support programs that offer solutions.

Finally, I have directed Paula McDevitt and our Parks Department to continue the planned programming in People's Park, and to consider any additional programming appropriate for the downtown parks that could facilitate increased safety and civility downtown. The Tuesday Concerts in the Park resume August 16 and will run through September 27, from 11:30 to 1:00. Chief Diekhoff, Mr. Lessow, and Ms. McDevitt will be available to answer questions and provide details as needed at the conclusion of my remarks.

I want to reiterate that these steps are efforts and pilots, not a comprehensive solution. We have a lot of work ahead, and no doubt we will find some things work and some don't. We will be listening for new ideas, and we will continue to evolve our efforts. We will measure the impact of what we do. And we will reflect the steady resolve to assure that our public spaces are indeed places of safety and civility.

I am very pleased that we have representatives present from Downtown Bloomington, Inc, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, BEDC, Indiana University, United Way, several downtown faith congregations, Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Monroe County Public Library, the Shalom Center, IU Health, New Hope Family Shelter, Monroe County Health Department, CJAM, Community Kitchen, downtown businesses, and others. So many people representing organizations who care - who want to help.

And these partners, and our discussion of physical safety and civility, lead us to a second challenge. Addressing more of the underlying issues. As I said at the outset, Bloomington sits amid factors and forces affecting us from our region, our state, our country and our planet. We are part of an economy that leaves too many people behind. An education system that at times can reflect a student's zip code more than their skills and abilities. A social safety net that is frayed and torn and lets too many people with disabilities, addictions, mental health issues and more fall through cracks.

Our community strives mightily to create a community of opportunity, of justice, and fairness. We care deeply. Crawford Homes. Jack Hopkins funds. Our incredible and dedicated social service sector. Religious institutions that have been working to make our community more just and compassionate for generations. The Interfaith Winter Shelter. Abundant private charity. The list goes on and on.

Yet we know we have many people, fellow residents, and yes some visitors, who suffer every day. From deep poverty. From un- or under-employment. From homelessness. From addiction. From un- or under-treated mental illness.

So in addition to all the steps outlined above, I have directed Beverly Calendar-Anderson to form a Safety, Civility and Justice Task Force composed of social service providers, downtown business owners, faith community representatives, law enforcement, other experts and interested residents, to receive and study the results of the CJAM process, other best practices and relevant research, and to take additional public input beginning in January 2017. I will ask that this group submit recommendations to me and if appropriate to city council, no later than April 2017.

Every major religion in the world embraces the values of empathy and compassion. Many moral / civic frameworks evaluate effectiveness by examining how those with the least power or advantages fare within a given system. Bloomington is a community that values compassion and diversity, a commitment to each other.

I noted in my state of the city address the importance of reaching out before tragedies might strike, to reach the dispossessed, the marginalized, the bitter, the lost, those who feel they don't fully belong to this great community.

We will work together to make sure our community is a safe place, yes. Absolutely. AND we will also work together to determine what we can do to assure that no children grow up homeless in our city. To identify gaps in services to those suffering mental illness, or addiction, or deep poverty, and do our best to fill those gaps. I know we can't pretend that our community can solve every major ill. But we can take steps to improve the situation. And the group Beverly will lead will take the CJAM recommendations and do our best.

I'm challenging all of us here - religious leaders, social service providers, the business community, residents - to keep both of these issues in mind. Public safety is fundamental and we will continue to improve it. AND public justice is fundamental, and we will continue to improve that as well.

We will make mistakes as we go. We will try some things that won't work. But we will try some things that do work, that make a difference. I know this community wants a safe, civil and just city. That is a good and a lofty goal. And I thank you all for being a part of that vision, and part of the solution, as we work our way toward an ever better Bloomington.

Thank you for your time and commitment to our community.

I and others will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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