You are currently viewing Q&A with New Bloomington Civilian Police Board Young Member Kimberly Howard

Q&A with New Bloomington Civilian Police Board Young Member Kimberly Howard

It has been five years since Bloomington City Council passed an ordinance establishing a resident-led police review board.

And now, for the first time, the city’s Public Safety and Community Relations Council includes a teenage member.

This is unique among committees and commissions in Bloomington, says Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe. He recently appointed 16-year-old Kimberly Howard to the youth position of the PSCRB, formalized with City Council’s approval on July 25.

Just two weeks after her first Police Review Board meeting, the teenager begins her senior year at Bloomington High School. Rhonda and Tony Howard’s daughter says she also has two part-time jobs, as captain of the BHS color guard and staying involved in choir and theater, among other pursuits.

Despite his busy schedule, Howard took the time to meet with PSCRB President Ashley Farmer and WGLT to talk about the importance of adding young members to the board.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

WGLT: Ashley, can you start by telling us the purpose of the PSCRB?

So, this is meant to be a board that bridges the gap between the police and the community, in a number of different ways. The primary means is, of course, to review complaints appealed by the police department. But we also have meetings where we discuss issues of concern the public may have regarding the Bloomington Police Department. More recently, of course, some of those issues have been the Flock Safety system’s automated license plate readers, as well as racial disparities in traffic stops. So issues like that, which are a concern of the community, are also something the council is dealing with.

Kimberly, why do you think it is important that the city council has taken steps to add youth seats to council?

Everyone has different experiences – age, race, class. Everyone has different things. Just the fact that they thought of adding a young member, like a younger person, says a lot. I can go out, see my peers and talk to them. And I can come back to my committee and tell them what I learned. So the council can be more aware, as far as the younger generation is concerned.

The city council voted to add two young members in 2021. Ashley, what are the reasons it took 18 months for the mayor and council to move forward with this?

Initially, there were recruiting issues due to COVID. And then, you know, just trying to spread the word. Sometimes some Normal students were interested. But that qualification is where you need to live in Bloomington to be on the board. Make sure those qualifications were so very clear. Also just, in terms of time, I mean, you’ve heard how busy Kimberly is. So I think it’s just a matter of someone being willing to set aside that time because the high school students are so busy. In addition to activities and things like that, they often work at least a part-time job.

Ashley, as leader of this council, can you explain how the Bloomington community benefits from youth involvement?

Young people tend to have more contact with the police than other populations. This is especially true for the 14 to 25 age group, isn’t it. So it’s even more important that we have someone in that age group, on our board – who can understand what those interactions might look like, especially a minor or someone who’s just being 18, 19, what those interactions with the police might look like and how those interactions with the police might influence opinions. Once someone has an established opinion about the font, it can be very difficult to change it later.

Kimberly, you shared what a busy schedule you already have. I know that board member Rachel McFarland recruited you. But what convinced you to apply for the nomination?

As a spokesperson and advocate and able to help this bridge with the police department, I felt like it would help me a lot, grow more. I also want to have a voice. I am very vocal with my opinions. And when I’m comfortable, the board will see. Although I want it to be positive – when I feel comfortable, I will call when I feel like something is wrong.

City Council approved Howard’s one-year appointment in July, after the mayor recommended her for the job. Mwilambwe says the 16-year-old’s candidacy has impressed him, particularly the fact that she is already serving the community with volunteer work and her career goal of working in the medical field.

On the council of nine people, a youth seat remains open for a one-year term; and a regular seat, for a three-year term, has not been filled since the death in April of council member Reverend Brigitte Black.

At the PSCRB’s next quarterly meeting — Sept. 1 — the board is expected to update information on Flock security cameras and racial disparities in traffic stops, according to Farmer. BPD representatives will also host a presentation on the rules and regulations surrounding marijuana use in Illinois, she said.

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