MICHIGAN CITY | More than 700 signatures have been gathered on an online petition that demands Michigan City give back a bullet- and bomb-proof military vehicle supplied to the police department at no cost by the U.S. military.
Ray Wolff, of LaPorte, started the petition drive believing that the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle represents too much of a military presence in grassroots law enforcement.
"The concerns run the gamut but one of the those big reasons is kind of a concern that people have about the militarization of the police," said Wolff, who is chairman of the Libertarian Party in LaPorte County.
Michigan City police recently obtained its MRAP worth $800,000 at no cost under the federal military surplus vehicle giveaway program.
Police have cited the potential for occasional uses like safely transporting more than a dozen officers at once to situations involving gunfire and driving up to a doorway to provide a better chance for hostages to safely flee in a vehicle that's bulletproof.
Royce Williams, Michigan City police chief of services, dismissed claims the vehicle represents a step toward a police state or some type of military takeover of residents.
"All military weapons and ammo were taken off of it. It's just a vehicle of transportation for safety. That's all," said Williams. "It's no marshal law. There's no military state.
"We're a police organization and we'll continue the job we've been doing. It'll be no different with the MRAP or without the MRAP."
Since the 1980s, Wolff said the use of SWAT teams and other heavily armed specialized groups of officers have gone up dramatically even in situations that don't warrant such aggression.
He said the major reason is the war on drugs, which he feels would be better fought if treated more as a "public health issue" and less of a criminal matter.
Wolff doesn't dispute that bad guys are becoming more dangerous, but feels the reasons have much to do with the country's strong stance against illegal drugs and the police themselves becoming armed with more powerful weapons.
"If we would take a step back and maybe take a fresh approach because it's obvious the direction we're heading is not winning the war. It's actually escalating it. We think there are better ways to approach it," said Wolff.
Wolff said the petition likely will remain available to sign online for about a month before presented to the police chief, mayor and City Council.
If anything, he hopes the petition will at least give residents a chance to express their feelings, perhaps at a public hearing before officials possibly reconsider keeping the vehicle.
The petition is available by logging on lplp.org or by searching the Libertarian Party of LaPorte County on Facebook.
"We have this large number of people who are concerned. Their voice wasn't considered in the decision-making process," said Wolff.