Bloomington city officials are purchasing an armored vehicle for the police department while some vocal residents are pushing to halt the process.
Over the last two months, officials and protesters have sparred publicly as hundreds of residents weighed in on whether or not they think the purchase should go through.
Here’s a look at how this controversy has played out:
Feb. 13: Original Announcement
City officials first announced the purchase of an armored vehicle at a press conference on Feb. 13.
Police say the bullet-proof Lenco BearCat is necessary to protect against AR-15s and AK-47s, and only the Critical Incident Response team will use the vehicle.
“I know there’s a lot of distrust of police, but I can never see an incident where we have a protest downtown where we’re going to roll this vehicle out to use it,” said Police Chief Mike Diekhoff. “It doesn’t – it won’t rise to the level of following our policies and following the matrix to deploy our CIRT team.”
Bloomington had access to another armored vehicle for more than a decade, but they retired it in 2012 because it needed a lot of repairs.
Some residents at the meeting expressed concern that the purchase is part of an ongoing national trend of militarizing local police forces. And they questioned why the public didn’t get to weigh in before the city decided to make the purchase.
But others supported the decision.
The department will pay about a quarter of a million dollars for the BearCat using money from the public safety local income tax.
Feb. 15: State of the City Address Disrupted
A few days after the announcement, protesters disrupted Mayor John Hamilton’s annual State of the City Address.
“I asked the police department to conduct another public session earlier this week to dialogue when, how and why this public vehicle can be used for public safety and importantly when, how and why not to be used as well,” Hamilton said at the address.
Black Lives Matter Bloomington Organizer Vauhxx Booker stood up and interrupted Hamilton’s speech. Others seated throughout the Buskirk-Chumley Theater started shouting out, too.
The State of the City Address is considered a special session of City Council, so no public comment is allowed.
Booker says sitting outside with signs isn’t enough to catch the attention of public officials.
“This disrupts that process, it’s something near and dear to the mayor, he tends to like these speeches, and creates that uncomfortability in people that is going to continue to have people have a dialogue,” Booker says.
Hamilton says he understands people have different views and it’s appropriate to express them in the proper forum.
“It’s unfortunate that a large public meeting was hijacked by a few people with some electronic assistance, but we’ll continue doing the good work – I’m proud of what’s happening in Bloomington and we’ll continue the discussion,” Hamilton says.
Feb. 20: First Public Meeting
City officials quickly scheduled a public meeting to hear from residents.
On Feb. 20, City Council members heard from dozens of people both opposed to and in favor of the purchase.
Several times activist yelled and cursed at the board and police representatives in the room. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter group stepped up on more than one occasion to ask the crowd to be courteous.
Others spoke in support of the purchase, including some spouses of police officers.
Feb. 23: Mayor Hamilton on ‘Indiana Newsdesk’
Mayor Hamilton joined us on WTIU’s Indiana Newsdesk a few days after the public meeting.
He announced the city would reach a decision about the purchase by the end of March.
The city held two of three public meetings about the vehicle after community backlash in response to the purchase.
Early in the evening, the Board of Public Safety, which oversees the police department, discussed the purchase at its regular meeting. Shortly after, city officials hosted the first of two open houses in the City Hall atrium. Officials say they hope to create a dialogue with citizens about the controversial issue.
Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff told the Board of Public Safety that it’s unusual for a county with a university the size of Indiana University not to have an armored vehicle.
“Across the Big 10 every other university, except for IU, has access to an armored vehicle located in their county,” he says.
At the open house, representatives from the city stood at different stations explaining training and procedures of the Critical Incident Response Team, which would use the armored vehicle.
Some protesters called out Mayor John Hamilton, and then he engaged in civil debate with them over the armored truck and the way the city handled its purchase.
March 1: Final Open House
Bloomington Resident Michael Bird says he thinks he’s OK with the city getting an armored vehicle, but thinks there should have been more transparency in the process.
He says he came to the open house because he has questions about the vehicle’s potential use.
“I really needed to talk to the folks who were on the street about this particular vehicle and the job that they do,” he says.
Hamilton says the city will use public comments they receive to help decide what the future holds for the vehicle.
“We knew we didn’t start that as soon as we should have; we’re doing it now,” he says.
On WFIU’s Ask the Mayor on March 21, Hamilton said the city had already gotten hundreds of public comments and said so far, most of them were in favor of the purchase
“Both at the public meetings and comments, our comments are actually running a majority in favor of the armored vehicle replacement,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton said his office has been hearing from both sides of the issue.
“Public safety is much bigger than any tool, any one policy. I’m really proud of the history in Bloomington on working with community engagement, community policing. Our police force is trained four times more than the state requires,” Hamilton says. “Public safety is a very broad issue and every mayor talks about public safety. This issue on how to equip your police force is going to generate discussion and some people have views different ways, but we’ll move forward with it pretty shortly.”
March 23: Public Comment Period Ends
March 26 & 27: Group Of Protesters Shows Up At Mayor’s Office
As the deadline for Hamilton to announce the city’s decision drew near, opponents stepped up their protests.
A small group showed up at the Mayor’s office on back-to-back days. They talked to a city representative about their concerns.
“We don’t want to be seen as a disruptive force, we want to engage with our city officials,” says Black Lives Matter Bloomington organizer Vauhxx Booker. “We want to work in every avenue possible to come up with an outcome that’s best for everyone in the community.”
March 28: Protesters March To City Council Meeting
Dozens of protesters met with a few Bloomington City Council members after attempting to disrupt the meeting.
Members of Black Lives Matter Bloomington marched from the courthouse square to city hall in an attempt to shut down the council meeting.
But council members adjourned seconds before the protesters made their way into council chambers.
Most council members left as the protesters entered the room, but Steve Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Andy Ruff remained.
After weeks of protests, Mayor John Hamilton (D-Bloomington) announced the city will move forward with purchasing an armored vehicle.
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.
Hamilton is asking the police department and the public safety board to adopt updated protocols dictating when the vehicle will be deployed.
He wants 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.
But that’s not enough to address concerns of protesters, who say the lack of transparency surrounding the acquisition is one of many concerns.
The city of Bloomington released the more than 500 comments it received in response to its controversial armored vehicle purchase.
The comments show, of the residents who participated, slightly more people indicated their opposition to the purchase.
The city redacted names from the document listing the feedback, but is allowing residents to request their names be included with their responses.
April 4: Protesters Disrupt City Council
Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted the City Council meeting just minutes after it started.
Council Member Dave Rollo was speaking about the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the purchase of an armored vehicle for the city, when a protester named Jada Bee interjected.
Within minutes the room erupted into chaos and council president Dorothy Granger called to adjourn the council meeting. Coucilmembers voted 5 to 4 in favor of adjourning the meeting.
Another interruption at the April 11 council meeting one week later ended differently, with one protester being escorted out of the room by police.
The protesters worked with some city council members to draft a resolution asking the mayor’s office to stop the purchase entirely…and go through the process again with input from other city officials and from the public.
That resolution will be on the agenda at an upcoming city council meeting.
The vehicle is expected to be delivered sometime this summer.