Bloomington Police Department Officer Jeff Alwine was often seen downtown on a Segway, patrolling and getting to know businesses and community members as the only downtown officer.
That was until 2014 and the start of the Downtown Resource Officer program.
The DRO program began two years ago and is funded by the City of Bloomington through a $100,000 grant from Housing and Neighborhood Development in Bloomington. Alwine is one of six resource officers, or white shirts, who patrol Bloomington and work with the homeless to provide assistance.
Seminary Park quickly emptied of people Tuesday afternoon once Alwine arrived. Alwine said it can be difficult to develop relationships with the homeless.
Two homeless park residents, Craig Raymond and Taffany Ducharme, did stay behind. Alwine said it was a miracle they stayed.
“Initially nobody would talk to the police,” Alwine said.
Alwine arrived at Seminary Park in response to a call about a possible resident there stealing a United States flag the night before. Alwine said based on video footage, it looked like Raymond might have been the one to steal the flag. Following this evaluation, Alwine walked up to him and spoke about it once everyone else was gone.
Raymond, a Navy veteran on the USS Kennedy and graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz, quickly admitted to taking the flag. He said he was drunk and just saw a flag hanging low enough to take at United Country Realty on South Walnut Street by the park.
“I just thought I needed a flag,” Raymond said.
Alwine spoke quietly to Raymond, who was cradling his guitar, and found out the flag had been given to someone at the Shalom Community Center and Raymond had stashed the flag pole in the dumpster behind the homeless shelter.
Raymond said as he was talking to Alwine about the flag, he was praying for an officer to confirm his story about what he did with it.
“I’m praying,” Raymond said. “Praying I don’t go to jail.”
Raymond and Alwine then took a trip in a police car down to Shalom where they recovered the flag pole and shook hands, and Raymond, guitar in hand, departed through the back gate into Shalom.
Alwine said he tries to focus on building a good rapport, so, when situations like this happen, police officers and citizens can help each other.
“If you have a good rapport, they’ll listen to you,” Alwine said.
Taffany Ducharme, the other homeless woman who stayed behind with Alwine, was waiting for an interview at the Bloomington Sandwich Company.
She said she had sent her friend Corie James to Kroger to get a few things for her, but she stayed in the park to watch her stuff and to talk to people.
“You’d think poor people wouldn’t steal from other poor people,” Ducharme said.
Ducharme has a number of past cases for criminal trespassing and resisting law enforcement in Indiana, but she said she is trying to turn her life around. It is hard living on the street, she said.
“Everyone you know has bad habits,” Ducharme said. “It’s like I’m in the land of the lost.”
Alwine said Raymond and Ducharme both have come a long way in trusting him.
“We’re breaking down some of those walls,” Alwine said.
While Raymond worked willingly with Alwine and trusted him enough to ride along with him, he said he did not trust or like the police as a whole.
The next day after talking with Alwine, Raymond was almost arrested outside Peoples Park twice.
He said afterward he thought the police were terrified of him.
“I’ll shoot the shit with them as individuals, but I’ve got no love of the police,” Raymond said.
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