The proposed Bloomington Police Department 2021 budget allocates some money to hire an additional two social workers, two neighborhood resource specialists and one data analyst, resulting in a cost savings of more than $30,000.
However, some worry that by increasing the power of the police, biases and disparities would arise, in addition to independent service agencies remaining underfunded.
“Social workers certainly are a much better response in a mental health crisis and dealing with issues of poverty, but there’s a lot of value to having those types of resources outside of the police department,” said local social worker Donyel Byrd.
Byrd is one of the creators of a petition sent Sept. 21 to Bloomington City Council asking for money in the proposed budget — which is a 4% increase from 2020 — to instead go toward existing social service agencies such as Area 10 Agency on Aging, Shalom Community Center and Middle Way House.
The petition also recommends the creation and implementation of a local 24/7 crisis response model staffed by service providers and health care workers, an alternative crisis phone number answered by non-law enforcement services and a committee consisting of diverse community members to gather information, learn from it and implement into society.
“The ultimate goal is that all of our citizens have enough food, clothing, shelter, medical care, health care, so that we have ways to get our needs met without having a crisis,” Byrd said. “In the meantime, the police are responding to all sorts of crisis situations that they are not particularly well-equipped to handle.”
Byrd and the petition makers listed six reasons why they opposed the budget: It fails to address the sources of crises, leaves many vulnerable community members still untrustworthy of the police, deters independent social workers from operating due to police expansion, utilizes resources preexisting underfunded agencies could use and could foster racial and data biases.
The budget has been in the works since April, Council and Administrator Attorney Stephen Lucas said in an email. The city council then held hearings Aug. 17-20 where each department could submit budget proposals.
“After those August meetings, the controller and the city administration can make changes to the budget proposal ahead of the council’s consideration of the budget legislation,” Lucas said.
The consideration of the budget legislation will take place during Wednesday’s meeting, where a public hearing will be held discussing the budget, and Oct. 14, where the council will have a final vote on the budget.
Lucas said this petition is the only one of its kind the council has received on social workers.
Byrd said she hopes that whether or not this petition is successful, the community will improve its conditions and address any lingering social or economic inequalities.
“We just think that in addition to coming up with the different crisis responses, we need to support our current existing agencies,” Byrd said. “Bloomington wants better.”