BLOOMINGTON – In the service of improving public safety, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton today introduced the details of a pilot program announced last fall designed to help retain and recruit police officers and deepen the Bloomington Police Department’s (BPD) connections in the community.
The pilot program includes support for housing and for take-home cars focused on BPD officers living in the city. In combination with other enhancements, such as increased numbers of social workers and neighborhood specialists, resident-based reviews of racial equity and the future of policing, and continual review of best practices through the Board of Public Safety, these changes are designed to continue to improve BPD’s effectiveness in protecting public safety and sustaining public confidence in and relationships with the BPD.
The new BPD Housing Incentive Program (BPDHIP) encourages members of the BPD to live in the community and among the people they serve by providing eligible applicants with housing subsidies. This program, being piloted through the end of 2022, will offer officers in good standing who reside within the city limits one of the following supports:
- A one-time down payment assistance in the amount of $12,000 to purchase a home; or
- Monthly rental or lease payment assistance in the amount of $500 for up to five years.
In addition to the housing allowance program, an Individually Issued Vehicle Program (IIVP) will assign BPD vehicles to police officers who live in the city for their on-duty, off-duty, and take-home use as a means of promoting the presence of the BPD throughout the community. Some officers who live outside the city but inside the county and provide specially trained services such as hostage negotiation, water rescue or critical incident response, will also participate in the IIVP. The BPD estimates that up to 20 officers will currently qualify according to these criteria for participation in the IIVP, and 10 for the housing subsidy program. At the end of 2022, the City will evaluate the effectiveness of both pilot programs in achieving their goals.
“Supporting and increasing the number of officers who live in the city they serve will help sustain the positive relationships and trust that are the foundations of safe and strong communities,” said Mayor Hamilton. “Offering housing and vehicle incentives are strategies we are exploring to attract and retain the highest caliber of public safety officers in these challenging times. I appreciate the support of the City Council in continuing to advance BPD in its service as, in my view, the most progressive and innovative police department in the state.”
In its final report, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015) recommended that “law enforcement agencies should institute residency incentive programs” as one way of “building trust and nurturing legitimacy on both sides of the police/citizen divide,” a foundational principle of community policing. The BPD has incorporated the report’s six pillars of community policing into its training.
The BPDHIP and the IIVP were proposed during the 2021 Bloomington City Council budget hearings to address challenges of retaining and hiring quality police officers in recent years. Both pilot programs are funded in the 2021 budget, and will depend upon renewal through the 2022 budget process. Together with housing and vehicle incentives, the BPD’s 2021 approved budget proposals included the addition of five new non-sworn positions including two new social workers, two new neighborhood resource specialists and a data analyst, a stated goal of retaining a corps of 100 sworn officers during 2021, and the creation of a community-based task force to review and make recommendations about the future of policing.
Currently, the BPD employs 92 sworn officers; eight more have been approved for hiring. One of two new social workers has been hired and both new neighborhood resource specialists have been hired to begin later this month. Interviews are underway for the other new social worker position.
“Attracting and retaining the best possible candidates for our department is our goal,” said BPD Chief Mike Diekhoff. “We believe that offering a housing and vehicle incentive, as do many departments across the country, will help ensure the excellence of the BPD and its staff.”