The Bloomington City Council reconvened for what it called a “Town Hall Listening Session” Tuesday night in response to backlash against the city’s recent purchase of an armored truck.
Each member of the public was given time in three-minute blocks to say anything they wanted to the council about the purchase. The council did not reply to any questions or statements.
Community members expressed frustration with this setup. Some said the meeting was meaningless without replies from the council.
City Council President Dorothy Granger said the council will research the questions asked and get back to those who asked them. She did not say how long this would take.
The meeting opened with the mayor and police chief both saying they should have rolled out the announcement in a different way.
Bloomington Police Department Chief Mike Diekhoff said they dropped the ball on that.
Citizens stood up and spoke on both sides of the issue. Some were teachers, some parents and some law enforcement officers or their spouses. Some were public officials.
Of the police wives who spoke, a few got choked up when they talked about their husbands going to work. All said they just wanted the police to be safe.
A man who called himself as a conservative said he saw many Republicans speak out against the purchase at the meeting but not identify themselves as such. He called the truck a bipartisan issue.
At one point, a woman asked anyone in the room who had questions about this purchase to raise their hands. Almost every city council member raised theirs.
Vauhxx Booker is the organizer of Bloomington's Black Lives Matter group, which planned the protest of the truck at Mayor John Hamilton’s State of the City address. Booker said he talked with Diekhoff and Hamilton before the town hall.
When Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain stood up to speak, someone yelled, “Fuck the police.”
“If the blue are engaging in this process, you can engage in this process,” Booker said from his seat. “Let the sheriff speak.”
Swain said his department doesn’t have the authority to call in military help when something goes wrong. If a school shooting happens, local law enforcement responds, he said.
Many talked about how they fear police will misuse the vehicle.
One man brought a box of books with him. He tossed them on the ground in front of the council members’ bench as he spoke. One was titled “The Blue Wall of Silence: Secrets Revealed Behind Police Abuse and Corruption.”
Some said they trust Hamilton and Diekhoff but are concerned about how the truck could be used under different leadership.
Others said this purchase should come alongside police de-escalation and sensitivity training.
“Police are not soldiers and should not have a soldier’s mentality,” Bloomington resident Scott Tibbs said.
Judy DeMuth, superintendent of the Monroe County Community School Corporation, said she supports the purchase. She said the community needs to trust the professionals to make this decision.
Peter Dorfman, who said his specialty is public relations, offered the council what he called professional advice.
“If Bloomington were paying me," he said. "I would tell them to call this off."
There are three more opportunities for the public to ask questions about the truck next week, Granger said. Vauhxx and other activists called for one of the times of these meetings to be changed so it doesn’t conflict with a school board meeting.
Diekhoff said he would see what he could do.
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