Bloomington police address concerns over department's armored vehicle

(File photo)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WTHR) - Police in Bloomington addressed residents' concerns Tuesday about the department's purchase of a new, $219,486 armored vehicle.

The truck will be used by specially-trained officers in Bloomington's Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT).

But some neighbors worry that kind of equipment could put the public in danger, if misused.

The armored vehicle for Bloomington is already purchased. It's a done deal. But the debate is far from over. At issue: protection for officers from danger vs. a police force that appears more like the military.

Some fear an incident similar to Ferguson, Missouri with a militarized police force turning on their own.

Some also worry a protest or riot on the campus of Indiana University, like one that happened in 2002, could be met with officers in an armored truck.

That's partly why dozens came to the Bloomington Police Department for a discussion with the Chief of Police at noon on a weekday.

"That could be misused," said Bloomington resident Ross Martinie Eiler. "It has been misused in other places and although we'd all like to think that Bloomington's special and our folks would never do anything wrong, it could happen here as well."

"I don't know they can guarantee that it won't be used at protests," added resident Abby Ang.

"I have seen instances where they have been used inappropriately," responded Bloomington Police Chief Michael Diekhoff. "I watched things that happened in Ferguson and thought, 'what are they doing?' That is not us. This is a piece of equipment. It's not our mentality."

Chief Diekhoff emphasized that the civilian-grade armored truck they bought is armored, not armed and will never be used at a protest.

He says it's to protect his officers.

BPD has been without an armored truck since their old one broke down in 2012.

"We are very cognizant of the perceptions of being militarized and that is not what we are going to do. This is a response vehicle for emergencies and high-risk situations and that is all that it will be used for," Chief Diekhoff said.

They've purchased the truck, called BearCat, by the Lenco company.

It's a Ford F-550 with bulletproof glass and metal plating to withstand fire from automatic weapons.

The CIRT team only will use it, responding to hostages and standoffs, like last fall in Owen County, when they came under fire from an active shooter and had to use Morgan County's armored truck for protection.

"It is my responsibility to make sure that not only my people are safe, but also the people we're responding to help are safe," Diekhoff said, "and we can't do that right now."

Steve Scott attended Tuesday's discussion and supports the purchase.

He is a military veteran and says this vehicle is not military grade.

Scott also has helped the CIRT team train, as an "role-player", portraying an aggressive suspect during a simulated hostage situation.

"I've seen these guys in action. They're good. They're very professional and I think the purchase of this vehicle, if it saves one life, it'll allow those officers to go home at night and be safe with their family," Scott said.

Diekhoff says Bloomington is the only Big Ten city without an armored truck right now.

That'll change when their truck arrives in June.

The police chief promised transparency moving forward, saying he'll put online when and where this truck is used. It's being paid for with revenue through the Public Safety Local Income Tax.

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