Bloomington Police Department gets approval to move forward with armored vehicle purchase

Lenco BearCat

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.– Bloomington is moving forward with their plan to purchase an armored vehicle for the police department after several heated debates and protests.

Mayor John Hamilton made the announcement Thursday afternoon, and issued a 15-page statement explaining his reasoning and thoughts.

The argument has drawn heated debates during a series of public meetings over the purchase. Bloomington police want to purchase an armored vehicle, the BearCat sold by Lenco, for the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) to use during high risk situations where gunfire may be involved. The vehicle costs nearly a quarter million dollars and is a Ford F550 with plated armor. It would be funded by a public safety income tax.

“There are good reasons for a community to debate this issue, reflecting the real dangers to police officers in their work, the real aspects of implicit racial bias affecting all of us, and the evident legacy of misuse of such vehicles in places like Ferguson, Missouri and other communities, among other factors,” he said.

Officers argue it’s about safety for everyone, while opponents have argued the vehicle is too militarized, disproportionately affects those who are marginalized. Some have complained the process has not been transparent, and the mayor addresses that in his statement.

“The planned purchase of a replacement armored vehicle began without the transparency we aspire to and should demonstrate as your city government. Those were missteps for which both Bloomington Police Department (BPD) Chief Diekhoff and I have apologized and done our best to remedy,” he said.

When CIRT is deployed, Mayor Hamilton says it needs to be properly trained and outfitted and this vehicle will help keep them safe. In the past three years, the team has been deployed 25 times.

The mayor lists the following criteria needed for a CIRT vehicle:

  • Be produced domestically
  • Not require specialized tools, parts or personnel for maintenance
  • Have armor capable of absorbing repeated high-velocity rifle fire
  • Hold at least eight uniformed, equipped officers
  • Be built on a non-military platform, such as Ford, Chevy or Chrysler
  • Use gas, not diesel, fuel
  • Have four-wheel-drive capability
  • Have sufficient electrical power to operate winches and exterior lights
  • Have standing General Service Administration or State of Indiana bid pricing to allow efficient purchase

He says 100 vehicles were reviewed and only two met all of the criteria: the Lenco BearCat and the Armor Group BATT-APX.

“The Armor Group BATT-APX was eliminated because very limited operational history was available for the vehicle, versus a substantial and proven track record for reliability and functionality for the Lenco BearCAT,” he said.

The vehicle will be most commonly used to transport officers or bystanders to and from emergency situations or dangerous scenes, he said. It may also be used during events involving extraordinary circumstances that call for more precaution. It will also be used by crisis negotiators.

Despite the decision to buy the vehicle, several groups including Black Lives Matter oppose the purchase.

“I think that there are a lot of problems with how this proceeded and I think the mayor is wrong in approving the purchase,” said Stanley Njuguna of Black Lives Matter.

Njuguna said the group will continue to push for more oversight.

“We want the protocols…for when this vehicle is used to be backed up legally with the force of ordinance,” said Njuguna.

In terms of how the vehicle should not be used, Hamilton says, “It’s not appropriate to deploy the vehicle as crowd control at a protest, as crowd control at a sporting event or concert, as part of routine police work, or in any of the numerous situations BPD faces that do not warrant the deployment of a CIRT team.”

The use of the vehicle will be subject to oversight from Bloomington Police Department General Order: Critical Incident Response Team and the chief of police.

Mayor Hamilton has directed BPD to move forward with the vehicle’s purchase with some adjustments:

  • Change the color from dark blue to light gray
  • Reduce gun ports from nine to four – one on either side of the vehicle and two on the back doors
  • Identify the vehicle with the word “RESCUE” and the logo of the BPD prominently displayed
  • Store the ram separately, unattached to the vehicle in normal use, with separate authorization for deployment

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