The City of Bloomington has signed the contracts for a controversial purchase: a new $225,000 armored vehicle for the Bloomington Police Department.
The announcement came from BPD Police Chief Mike Diekhoff last week during a news conference and has raised concerns of police militarization from some members of the community.
BPD sent out a press release Monday and organized a public discussion of the Critical Incident Response Team, or CIRT, vehicle Tuesday trying to address some of these worries.
Every chair in the BPD Headquarters training room was full Tuesday, and many more people stood in its entrance. The crowd was a mix of media, government representatives and community members.
As the cameras focused on Diekhoff, the first question came: has this vehicle already been purchased?
The answer: yes. It will be delivered in 2018. The deal will not be renegotiated.
“I’m just really disappointed that this wasn’t more of a community process,” Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker, 34, said.
The primary focus of the questions were concerns about what many called the militarization of police.
One woman suggested the vehicle be painted pink to be less intimidating. Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge agreed.
“It’s Bloomington,” she said. “Let’s make it weird. Let’s make it funky.”
Diekhoff said the department is aware of the perception that it is militarizing, and told the gathered crowd that isn’t what the vehicle is for.
“This is a piece of equipment,” he said. “It’s not our mentality.”
He said BPD could have bought a retired military vehicle for much less, but chose to buy this model because it is less militaristic.
The vehicle will not be used in standard protest situations. It will only be used in critical situations, he said.
There were 17 incidents CIRT responded to in 2017, Diekhoff said. There were 15 in 2016.
BPD had an armored car for over ten years until it was retired in 2012, and has since relied on those of other police departments.
The previous vehicle, a retired bank truck, responded to situations outside of Bloomington in Greene and Owen County, and according to the press release the new one would be an asset to the region.
Diekhoff said the old vehicle hasn’t been replaced until now because the city couldn’t afford it. The city’s public safety local income tax will pay for the new vehicle.
The vehicle is an armored Lenco BearCat which is based on a Ford F-550 truck and will be used for high-risk crises, such as armed suspects, and should last about 20 years. It will be custom-made and designed to stop high-powered rifle rounds.
Diekhoff said the department does not currently own any vehicles which can do that.
This kind of vehicle can make situations like these less dangerous, according to the press release, which cited six specific crimes in Bloomington where the lack of a CIRT vehicle reportedly added to the “danger level.”
These include a standoff with an armed, suicidal man, a confrontation with an armed suspect, a group of home-invasion robbery suspects who barricaded themselves in an attic and a hostage situation ending with police using lethal force.
In a 2000 shooting, it took an armored vehicle from Indianapolis 90 minutes to arrive.
“It was clear that BPD had no effective way to deal with the situation or provide immediate aid to the victim who ultimately died,” the release said.
Capt. Steve Kellams said it is unclear whether they could have saved the woman who died if they could have entered the home immediately with the help of an armored vehicle.