WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Eyes grow wide and jaws hang slack as the MRAP rumbles onto Meadow Street from the Willimantic Police Department.

In town since October, the behemoth armored vehicle is imposing beyond expectation and exactly what Willimantic needed, according to the police officers who use it and the town leaders who approved it.

“This is not a violent city,” Officer Stan Parizo Jr., the Willimantic Police Department’s SWAT Team leader, said. “But we have a lot of narcotics here, a lot of high risk warrants. We have the need here, and now we have the equipment.”

Willimantic Police Chief Lisa Maruzo-Bolduc had wanted an armored vehicle for the department for a while, but the need became very clear to everyone in town last June. Officer Kevin Winkler was shot during an incident on Tunxis Lane and it was difficult to figure out where the shooter was, Maruzo-Bolduc said.

“We had a wounded officer pinned down in there,” Maruzo-Bolduc said. “That reinforced to us that we needed a rescue vehicle.”

The department had been on a list to receive surplus military vehicles, but had not gotten a call. Instead, Maruzo-Bolduc began investigating options to purchase an armored vehicle and found her cheapest option was an $80,000 large pickup truck.

Then, in July, the call came about the MRAP, which was given to the department for free.

“I think the Town Council was a little bit dismayed,” Maruzo-Bolduc said. “It’s probably bigger than we need, but when you don’t have any money, you take what you can get.”

Willimantic’s MRAP is a former military vehicle that saw time in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The “mine resistant, ambush protected” vehicle is credited with significantly reducing the number of killed and wounded soldiers from roadside bombings. The U.S. military ordered more than 20,000 MRAPs at the height of military operations in the Middle East. They are valued at about $1 million per vehicle.

Police Officer Jonathan Lisee is the primary driver for the MRAP and he trained the other members of the SWAT to drive the vehicle as well. He served in Iraq and drove an MRAP 12-14 hours every day for a year.

“When I would drive it over there it sounded like it was being hit by rocks the entire time we were on the road,” Lisee said. “It was the sound of bullets bouncing off it. Here we only have to think about getting to our location and the roads are a lot better here.”

The MRAP has been deployed, although Parizo and SWAT Commander Sgt. Rob Rosado declined to comment on the specifics.

It’s likely the vehicle won’t sit idle for long. The SWAT Team had its busiest year ever in 2013 with 19 calls, giving it the third highest number of calls in the state, Parizo said.

Mayor Ernie Eldridge said he knows the vehicle has concerned some residents. But, so did the police dog unit when it began, Eldridge said.

“I think once people see how it’s used they won’t be as worried about it,” Eldridge said. “It’s meant to protect the citizens of this city.”