Delaware's police chief said he views a former military vehicle recently acquired by the department as a defensive tool, not a weapon.
The city took possession of a MaxxPro MRAP -- or mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle -- in late May.
Chief Bruce Pijanowski said the department received the vehicle through a U.S. Department of Defense program that distributes used military equipment to local law-enforcement agencies. The city had to pay only for the vehicle's transportation from Colorado, which cost about $2,600.
"That came out of seized drug funds," Pijanowski said. "That did not come out of operating funds."
The city would have paid about $700,000 to purchase a new MRAP. The vehicle weighs almost 19 tons and was designed to protect against direct gunfire and blasts from improvised explosive devices.
Pijanowski said there will be fuel and maintenance costs associated with the vehicle, but those expenses also may be paid for with seized drug money. He said new parts for the vehicle likely would not be cost-prohibitive.
"Basically, the engine and the body are commonly available and they're in use in other (city) departments," he said.
When the city announced it had taken possession of the vehicle last week via its Facebook page, reaction from residents was mixed.
Some said they were glad the department had found another way to keep officers safe, while others said the vehicle looked suited for a war zone and not a city of Delaware's size.
A similar debate occurred among Columbus residents last fall when the Ohio State University Police Department acquired an MRAP through a military surplus program.
Pijanowski said he did not take the decision to acquire the vehicle lightly because he knew some people would see it as a sign of militarization.
"I understand those concerns and I struggled with the decision because there are people who have those concerns," he said.
Ultimately, Pijanowski said he decided the vehicle's potential to save lives outweighed any possible drawbacks. He said the vehicle is not a tank and will not be used as an offensive weapon.
"It's a tool," he said. "It's not a change in our policing philosophy."
Pijanowski said the vehicle would be used in limited situations, most likely those involving an active shooter or a suspect who creates a barricade. He said the vehicle will never be used for patrol or public-relations purposes.
"It's not the face of the department," he said. "It's a tool to protect officers."
Pijanowski said people don't often think of armed standoffs when they think of Delaware. Still, he said, such events happen three to five times per year in the city.
For instance, Pijanowski said, Delaware police and members of the Delaware County Tactical Unit could have used the vehicle during a standoff on Noble Street in May 2013. He said officers had to evacuate multiple homes in the area after a suspect began firing a gun from a second-floor window.
Pijanowski said the vehicle could be used to offer cover for officers and possibly transport bystanders in similar situations in the future. He said it also could be used during high-risk warrant services.