Debate in Bloomington over purchase of armored vehicle for police department

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Dozens of people filled a room at the Bloomington Police Department Tuesday for a discussion about the purchase of an armored vehicle.

Police Chief Michael Diekhoff led the discussion about the truck, which will cost the city nearly $220,000. He said the vehicle is needed to protect officers when they respond to high-risk scenes.

"We’re put in situations where they become very dangerous and we have to work to protect people," Diekhoff said.

The way officers protect people, and themselves, was at the center of the debate during the event.

"The concern is whether it’s appropriate to have a militarized police," said resident Ross Martini Eiler.

The mayor's office has received around 120 calls and emails about the purchase.

"It's unfortunate we are in a world where we have to do have this," Diekhoff said. "The proliferation of guns and violence is such that we have to protect our people."

Bloomington police say they have responded to multiple incidents that involved suspects firing at police. Most recently, the chief cited a 31-hour standoff in Owen County that BPD assisted with last November. He said an armored vehicle is necessary for those interactions.

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

The police chief said the department opted to buy a civilian armored truck, instead of a military truck, in order to be more appropriate for their community.

But, others say buying an armored truck is not the right path for Bloomington and could actually escalate already tense situations.

"Even if it’s being instituted with really good intentions, 20, 30, 40 years from now we have a police that could be military force," Eiler said.

Another resident said he believes the chief when he says the armored vehicle will be used only when appropriate but worries about the future when someone else is making the calls.

"What happens when we get a new mayor?" said Josh Conway, a Bloomington resident. "What happens when we get new police chief?  What are the rules after that?"

Also among the crowd was Steve Scott who said opponents of the armored vehicle were focusing on the wrong thing.

"What they don’t take into consideration is that these officers who are going to be protected by the vehicle are people too," Scott said. "They have families. They have kids at home. It is not an offensive vehicle. It’s a defensive vehicle. It's going to save officers’ lives."

BPD had an armored vehicle from about 2000 to 2012, when it was retired due to poor condition. Since then, the department hasn't been able to afford a new one.

The police chief says newly available funds from the public safety local income tax will be used to pay for the armored vehicle currently being discussed. The contract for it has been signed and the vehicle is expected to be delivered this year.