Bloomington police face criticism for armored truck purchase

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Bloomington's police department is facing criticism for buying an armored truck that opponents argue will militarize the college town's police force.

Residents who oppose the new $225,000 truck that's being built for the department's critical response team questioned Police Chief Mike Diekhoff about the purchase last week.

Protesters halted Mayor John Hamilton's annual State of the City address two days later by shouting and using a megaphone to voice their unhappiness about the vehicle, which will be outfitted with metal plating and have bulletproof glass designed to stop high-powered rifle rounds.

Vauhxx Booker, an organizer for Black Lives Matter Bloomington, stood and interrupted the mayor's speech on Thursday. He was joined by dozens of other audience members, who shouted as Hamilton tried to continue speaking. The protesters argued that the armored truck would militarize police in the city of 85,000 residents that's home to Indiana University's main campus.

"We don't want that in our community," Booker told The Herald-Times following the protest.

Hamilton said during his speech that local government didn't "air enough of those questions and concerns publicly early enough" and laid out plans for community meetings on the issue.

Bloomington police have been without an armored vehicle since 2012, when its truck became too unreliable to use and maintain.

The new civilian-grade armored vehicle is being built to the department's specifications.

Diekhoff said last week that his department is "very cognizant of the perceptions of being militarized" but stressed that it needs the new vehicle and it will only be used by specially trained officers who respond to high-risk calls involving firearms.

"I've never had to go and tell the spouse, the significant other, of a police officer that they've been shot and killed. I don't ever want to do that. In my mind, this is insurance," Diekhoff said. "The fact that I can take a step to protect my police officers, to protect people they are responding to who have been under fire . it's based on our experience that our officers have been fired at when they are trying to provide a safe alternative."

The critical response team, which responded to 19 incidents in 2017 and 15 incidents in 2016, currently travels in two 15-passenger vans that have had the seats removed to make room for guns and other equipment.

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