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A mammoth armored vehicle recently acquired by the Northwest Regional SWAT team has an intimidating appearance, but in emergency situations, the vehicle might be a source of comfort for residents in peril.

The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle is like a fortress on wheels.

Merrillville police Cmdr. Robert Wiley, a Northwest Regional SWAT team leader, said the vehicle is bulletproof and it can withstand blasts from many types of explosive devices.

The former military vehicle was obtained by the team in early October, and it will primarily be used in rescue situations.

"Our job is to preserve life," said Crown Point Officer Mile Knezevic, another SWAT team leader, "This is going to help preserve life."

Northwest Regional SWAT serves Merrillville, Crown Point, Schererville, Dyer, Griffith, Hobart, Lowell, Munster and Lake Station.

If there is a situation involving an active shooter, the MRAP would be deployed to the scene, Wiley said.

Besides protecting officers from bullets, the vehicle could be placed between the shooter and potential victims to keep them safe.

The MRAP also could be a valuable resource during natural disasters, such as floods and blizzards.

The vehicle has the capability of driving through several feet of water or snow. It could be used to rescue residents trapped in their homes.

Wiley said the MRAP has a price of $412,000, but the SWAT team obtained it at no cost through a federal government program that provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement.

Northwest Regional SWAT had been on a waiting list for the vehicle for more than a year. Following a letter from U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, the team was notified it would be receiving the MRAP.

"I don't think we would have obtained it without his help," Wiley said.

Receiving equipment at no cost is important to the team because it is self-funded, Knezevic said.

Each member agency associated with Northwest Regional SWAT is responsible to provide a ballistic vest, helmet and M-4 rifle for each officer they have on the team, he said. Northwest Regional handles the other expenses for the team.

It generates its funding through donations and other programs, including its annual SWAT school.

Besides obtaining the MRAP for free, Atlas World Class Body Shop in Schererville painted the vehicle at no cost. Atlas also has provided free paint work for the SWAT team's other vehicles.

People interested in donating to the SWAT team can contact Merrillville police Sgt. Bob Morgan, the team's commander, at (219) 769-3531.

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