Special police unit focused on helping those in need

(WISH Photo, file)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) – A special police unit is focusing its efforts on the homeless, unemployed or those just in need of a helping hand.

The Bloomington Police Department was getting complaints about panhandling and other issues related to that group. So it designated six officers to curbing those crimes, but more importantly giving those in need the help necessary to turn their lives around.

Sitting up against a tree or in a park surrounding by their belongings, Bloomington’s homeless community is sometimes ignored and overlooked. But when Officer Brett Rorem arrives, they have his undivided attention.

“I just come in contact with them like with another human being,” he said. “I just talk to them and see what’s going on in their life. I mean they are normal human beings. That’s all we’re doing here.”

24-Hour News 8 stopped by a park downtown where he was able to talk to homeless man named Billy, someone he’s come to know well. He spent a few minutes making sure Billy was okay, asking him if he was in need of housing.

Those types of conversations can be heard all across Bloomington as Rorem makes his rounds as a Downtown Resource Officer, also known as a “White Shirt.” As a resource officer, he wears a white polo. Normal patrol officers wear the standard dark blue uniform.

“A lot of the people in the parks we interact with daily, they know us by first name, we know them by first name and that barrier is gone due to just the fact of just having a white shirt on,” he said.

Officer Rorem said he targets areas like parks, back alleys, even wooded areas where homeless or unemployed congregate to check up on them while also making sure they aren’t breaking the law.

While at Seminary Square Park, he came across a man drinking a beer out in the open. The man claimed he wasn’t doing any harm by simply drinking alcohol.

“I’m not saying you’re hurting anyone but you’re drinking in my park and that’s illegal,” Officer Rorem said to the man.

The man was visibly upset and annoyed, telling officers to go away as they wrote him a citation. It’s the type of attitude Officer Rorem said he’s not used to experiencing.

“You probably heard him say, ‘Oh you’re a white shirt’, and 90 percent of the time the white shirts, actually 95 percent of the time the white shirts, they have no problem with,” Rorem emphasized.

The man accepted his ticket and was told he couldn’t return to the park for 24 hours. Interactions like these are part of the job but not what Officer Rorem prefers to do.

He’d rather be connecting those in need with shelters or other programs to help them get back on their feet. His unit works in conjunction with the Shalom Community Center, Bloomington’s homeless shelter. He also helps the homeless get signed up for housing programs.

“Trying to get these people off the street is another one of our goals,” he said.

Officer Rorem also drives a SUV instead of the stand squad car. It doesn’t have cage in the back, giving it a more inviting feel. He said he often gives people in need rides to wherever they need to go.

“If you have the right people helping you and they want the help, they can go anywhere,” he said.

The chief of police said since the special police unit started last April, the concerns of panhandling and other complaints have calmed down.

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