Could South Bend soon see crime-fighting armadillo trucks?

It is a pretty safe bet you will not find an armadillo on the streets of Michiana these days, but that could change in the future.

This is not the leathery-armor shelled mammal so commonly found in the southwest. It is actually a new kind of crime-fighting tool that is popping up in problem neighborhoods across the country.

And there have already been a number of meetings to possibly bring an armadillo to the streets of South Bend.

"The retired Brink's truck is armed with five infared cameras, foamed filled tires that will not go flat, a padlocked hood and protective screens over the headlights and tail lights," said Diana Hess of the Neighborhood Resources Corp.

The Peoria police chief came up with the idea after losing a squad car to suspected drug dealers.

The police department had parked a squad car in front of a drug dealer's house and returned to find it demolished.

The armadillo is virtually indestructible, and since its introduction, Peoria has added a second.

They are affectionately known as "Starsky and Hutch".

“The nuisance problems have diminished almost to zero over the period after they did that, driven them out of town,” said Hess.“I know there was concern that they might drive them to other neighborhoods , but just knowing that the city is not going to tolerate this kind of nuisance behavior starts to make drug dealing and other nuisance activity a little more problematic for those who are engaging in them.”

And now the wheels are in motion to perhaps bring a similar vehicle to deal with nuisance properties in South Bend.

Two South Bend neighborhood association leaders got the idea after attending a regional neighborhood network conference.

“They wanted to present this idea to other neighborhood groups in the city,” said Hess. “We did that at a recent roundtable and since then a committee formed and everyone was quite interested in this project.”

“Our assistant city attorney has been attending our meetings, so we're meeting with the city and the police department to see if the interest is there.”

Hess says that since Peoria launched its armadillo, close to 20 other cities have done the same.

South Bend could join the list, perhaps sometime next year.

“I think there's been some concern like if we park these vehicles in certain neighborhoods, will that prove to be a detraction to people wanting to move into those neighborhoods, but neighbors are concerned having the drug dealers or having the nuisance property in their neighborhood is already a detraction,” said Hess.

These vehicles are often left in the same spot for several days, and apparently, just the threat of being taped has prompted drug dealers and other troublemakers to get out of a neighborhood.

Cost could be a deterrent to getting one of these vehicles, but Peoria actually got a retired Brink's armored vehicle donated and Hess says one of these can be outfitted for about $18,000.

And they don't have to be manned. So, if South Bend can get a similar vehicle donated, maybe an old military Humvee, it may be a very cost effective way to tackle crime hot spots.

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