The City of Bloomington and the Bloomington Police Department created a new civilian position in 2019 with hopes of decreasing crime and building community presence.
Two new neighborhood resource specialists provide an extra public safety presence in Bloomington's neighborhoods. They conduct additional patrols to reduce calls for officers, look for anything out of the ordinary and try to build relationships within the community by talking with residents and going to community meetings and eventssuch as homeowners and neighborhood association meetings.
“We want to offer that different kind of presence,” specialist Jessica Oswalt said. “We can start building a positive relationship with the kids and everybody in the community.”
Specialists are not sworn officers. They do not carry weapons and have no arresting powers. Police officers will respond instead if there is evidence, a suspect or the incident does not take place in a residential area.
Oswalt, 33, and Vicki Minder, 62, are relatively new to BPD and were hired for the new position in December. They had six weeks of training in various subjects, including mental health, first aid, CPR, defensive tactics, dementia and bias. They also spend a lot of time riding along with officers.
“We spend a lot of time with them to see how and what they do to respond to those calls,” Oswalt said.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the specialists are limiting contact with the public. Minder said they are conducting extra patrols and dealing with complaints over the phone.
Oswalt said specialists have a dual role in the community. One role is responding to calls that do not need a police officer, such as traffic hazards and disagreements between neighbors.
“I think it's significant that we get called to kind of help resolve whatever is going on before law enforcement would have to get involved,” Oswalt said.
Another part of the position is going to community events and centers. Oswalt and Minder said they look forward to engaging with the community in this way more in the future.
Their first time going to a community event was the Banneker Spring Carnival on Feb. 21 at the Banneker Community Center on West Seventh Street. The event was family-oriented with carnival games and activities for children.
“I think that's really important, especially for kids to feel safe and secure coming up to someone in a uniform with whatever they need,” Oswalt said.
Banneker Community Center Program and Facility Coordinator Erik Pearson said the specialists participated in many of the activities and handed out police badge stickers at the door.
“It was extremely positive,” Pearson said. “They were very well received.”
Oswalt said they gather data on different areas to see which crimes are common, then they come up with plans on how residents can be safer.
Minder said people in the Highland Village neighborhood were concerned about cars speeding and children walking to school. The specialists found out there were no speed limit signs on the road and contacted the proper people about fixing the issue.
Minder said when patrolling, she and Oswalt try to prevent crimes of opportunity. She said she looks for things to warn residents about, such as leaving a garage door open or bike in the yard.
“You take away the opportunity, and a lot of times you take away the crime,” she said.
The specialists also connect residents to local resources, such as the Shalom Center, Bloomington Housing and Neighborhood Development and animal control. Minder said their goal is to assist people to get more help.
“Help them help them themselves,” Minder said. “Empower them with resources.”