After weeks of protests, Mayor John Hamilton (D-Bloomington) announced Thursday the city will move forward with purchasing an armored vehicle for the police department’s Critical Incident Response Team.
Hamilton says the decision comes after receiving more than 500 comments from the public about the Lenco BearCat. He says the feedback was mixed, but it comes down to keeping people safe.
“We got a comment from someone that was involved in the incident that prompted the first acquisition of [an] armored vehicle, saying they had to leave their house under potential fire in their own vehicle, felt like they were in a cowboy movie,” Hamilton says.
How The Vehicle Will Be Used
Bloomington previously had access to an armored vehicle, but retired it in 2012. Only the Critical Incident Response Team has access to the equipment.
“There have been many times over the six years that we did not have a vehicle that the officers literally, everyday that they would be called out, would put their lives at risk,” says Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff says. “They faced high risk situations where they would be fired upon, the most recent being this past November in Owen County.”
The mayor cites data showing violent crime in Bloomington has approximately doubled over the past decade. Hamilton says Bloomington Police respond to more than 300 calls each year that involve weapons.
But, he says he’s making some recommendations about the vehicle and its oversight, based on resident feedback.
“We’re changing the color from dark blue to light gray, we’re going to be sure to affix decals and notification of a rescue vehicle on it,” Hamilton says. “We’re going to also, in fact not place the ram, a battering ram if you will, on the vehicle itself, but it will be available for use.”
Hamilton is also asking the police department and public safety board to adopt updated protocols dictating when the vehicle will be deployed. He wants the city council to draft a resolution that says how the vehicle should and shouldn’t be used – such as prohibiting its use for crowd control.
Diekhoff says there’s a specific threat matrix his department considers before the armored vehicle can be used.
“A request would be made from the shift supervisor, and that request would work its way up through its chain of command by going through a lieutenant, a captain, a deputy chief and then ultimately me,” he says. “And, through that whole process, it can be stopped.”
Critics Say More Oversight Needed Of Police Department
But, critics of the vehicle say the city should have asked for resident feedback before deciding to purchase the BearCat. Hamilton says while there were missteps, it resulted in more public comment than normal city processes. The city hosted a number of public meetings after protestors shut down the mayor’s State of the City address in February.
“I think the main point I would make is no matter what public process we had, we wouldn’t have had more public process than we had over the last seven weeks,” he says. “This has been a very open, transparent process to engage the public from the city council to individual members of the community, to groups.”
Members of Black Lives Matter Bloomington say they worry the vehicle will increase the militarization of police. The group held protests every day this week, including one at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
Stanley Njuguna is part of the Black Lives Matter coalition. He says the city’s response to public outcry over the purchase doesn’t satisfy him.
“The mayor’s abuse of procedure and his acting unilaterally demonstrates that he doesn’t think that he’s accountable to the civilian population when it comes to making these kinds of decisions,” he says.
Njuguna says he isn’t confident the city will only use the armored vehicle for violent or hostage situations. He and other activists are working with some city council members to try and draft other measures that will assure proper oversight of the police department.
“The ordinances that we’re working with city council members to introduce are going to legally mandate how the BearCat is used, are going to pose specific consequences for violating those protocols,” he says.
Organizer Vauhxx Booker says Black Lives Matter will interrupt future city council meetings until council members make a concerted effort to better regulate city police.
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