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COLUMN: BPD’s armored vehicle purchase is questionable

The Bloomington Police Department has purchased a Lenco BearCat, an armored tactical vehicle, which is set to be delivered sometime this spring.

On Tuesday, in a press conference for the city’s police and fire departments, Police Chief Mike Diekhoff announced the purchase and upcoming delivery. 

Diekhoff said the vehicle “is to protect our tactical team members, and it will also be used if we have situations where community members are at risk and we need to get to them safely.”

The name of the Lenco BearCat is an acronym for ballistic engineered armored response counter attack truck.

“It is armored so it will protect the occupants of that vehicle on high-risk calls like search warrants, hostage situations and things like that,” Diekhoff said.

City spokeswoman Mary Catherine Carmichael told the Herald-Times the $225,000 cost of the vehicle will be paid for using local income taxes.

The necessity of this purchase is highly questionable. Bloomington does not have a large record of hostage situations — the last one occurring in 2011. And while there was a hostage situation in neighboring Owen County in August 2017, these situations do not occur enough to require an armored vehicle. 

While policing always involves some risk to officers, BPD has not seen an officer killed in the line of duty since 1975.

Diekhoff explained the vehicle will be a resource for the wider region and can be use in other counties, but at least eight other Indiana police departments have acquired even more high-end armored vehicles in recent years, including the sheriff’s office in neighboring Morgan County, as well as the one in nearby Johnson County.

Because of the low incidence of these situations and presence of these vehicles in neighboring counties, there does not appear to be a sufficient need for this vehicle which would justify spending nearly a quarter-million dollars of our income taxes.

Additionally, these purchases raise questions about the growing militarization of police, which has been a problematic trend in the United States in recent years.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with using an armored vehicle for high-risk civilian rescue operations. The problem arises when those vehicles are misused, as in high-profile cases where they have been deployed for crowd control.

The BearCat that BPD is acquiring is not a military surplus vehicle. It is being purchased new directly from Lenco, the largest designer and manufacturer of tactical armored security vehicles in the U.S. However, this model is used by a number of militaries around the world. The Syrian Democratic Forces, who are supported by the U.S., received BearCat armored vehicles in 2017.  

Lenco markets the BearCat for use by both law enforcement and military personnel.

Hopefully, BPD will stick to Diekhoff’s word and only deploy the BearCat in situations where tactical officers are completing high-risk missions. Still, the purchase was probably unnecessary in the first place.

At the very least, there should be community input into what equipment we want our taxes to provide for our police. Announcing a purchase after it has already been made does not allow room for community input.

There are countless ways to spend $225,000 which would be more productive than an armored truck for which a sufficient need has not been demonstrated.

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