Spare a Vest Brother?

Each year over 52,000 police officers are assaulted or killed, often with a firearm or knife. This year alone, 34 officers have been killed in the line of duty, 16 with a firearm, and there are 7 months to go. Despite these figures, there are officers from coast to coast working without the one piece of equipment which may save their life if assaulted or shot tomorrow – body armor.

Every once in a while I see a posting on social media or a story on the local news program mentioning an effort to raise money for K-9 vests. Each time I see such a report I think to myself how horrible it is that a department would invest in a K-9 without ensuring the ability to properly care for and protect it. Do they beg for kibbles too? Imagine my outrage when I learned that fellow officers of the 2 legged kinds must also beg, borrow and plead for their own armor as well.

I am fortunate enough to work for a department which has always seen the importance of good quality body armor. Every officer has their own personal body armor, individually sized and fully paid for by the department. Vests are also replaced every five years (or within the current industry standard) and the replacement is usually the best money can buy.  I guess I never realized other officers were not so lucky.

I know many officers, especially at smaller departments, are required to supply their own duty gear and even uniforms. Times are tough and already-small budgets have been slashed across the board. But body armor? How about making them purchase their own crown vic while you are at it?  Sure, best can be expensive – bargain basement models start around $400 and top of the line tactical set ups can push $3000 each, but it is nothing compared to the cost of adding a name to The Wall.

There’s a grant for that.

Even a safety conscious agency, truly concerned about the safety of its officers, can find it difficult to absorb the cost of not only purchasing vests but also replacing them every five years. But, don’t worry, there is a grant for that – The Department of Justice Bulletproof Vest Partnership.

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 1998 authorized the DOJ to partner with local, state and tribal law enforcement agencies in an attempt to ensure every officer has access to body armor. Since its inception, DOJBVP has funded the purchase of over 1 million vests in 13,000 jurisdictions. In 2015 alone, the program distributed $18,173,215.00 to 3965 jurisdictions – enough to fund 48705 vests.

Of course there are some specific requirements for participation in the DOJ program. First, the grant will only pay for ½ the purchase price and the department must match the awarded funds. This can sometimes be a stumbling block for especially cash strapped agencies. Second, as of 2011, all participating departments shall have a written “Must Wear” policy in place to receive funds. Third, there is a limited amount of funding available so not every request can be met.

More information can be found at the DOJ website: www.ojp.gov

Body ArmorSharing Program

Growing up, I learned about sharing the hard way – by having a twin brother. As you can imagine, there was a lot of sharing necessitated by a need to cut costs – especially with large ticket items such as a car or luxury items. Other times, there was something one of us received and either did not need or want any more, so it was passed along for a second life. The same can be done with body armor. Once you or your department is done with it, pass it along to an officer who is not lucky enough to have their own. Yes, the industry standard is to replace vests every five years, and most spare vests will have been replaced because they outlived this 5 year time frame. However, most vests have many more years of serviceability ahead of them after the 5 year mark is reached. Plus, the officers who would be benefiting from these hand-me-downs are currently heading out shift after shift with no protection at all. Even a used vest is better than no vest and receiving one that you no longer have a need for could save one of these officer’s lives.

Of course many departments are reluctant to participate in a vest sharing program, some because they do not know where to begin and others due to concerns of liability. Luckily there are several organizations ready and willing to assist you with both aspects. By connecting with these organizations, individual officers or entire departments can make sure that their vests are put to good use by simply handing them over to program administrators. These organizations will then inspect the vest for serviceability, identify a needy officer and handle any necessary transfer paperwork. All you or your department is faced with is the understanding that you are doing a good deed for a fellow officer.

Armor of God (www.vestforlife.com) – started in 2009 and managed by two active duty Captains with the Muscle Shoal Department (Alabama), this non-profit organization assists departments in matching their used, no longer needed vests with needy individual officers. Armor of God is also endorsed by the Officer Down Memorial Page and has been featured on NBC’s TODAY Show.

Fallen Officers Remembered – originally started as a private tribute to officers killed in the line of duty, this faith based website soon realized the best way to remember a fallen brother or sister is by preventing a fellow officer from adding their own name to the wall. They now facilitate the collection of unwanted vests and their redistribution to needy officers. Like Armor of God, they have been endorsed by the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Industry First

Although having a used vest will provide a needy officer with the protection they might otherwise go without, there is something to be said about having a new, fresh out of the box vest. It will be sized to fit you, there will be no question of its serviceability and it will come with a fully intact warranty. Nick Groat, President of Safe Line Defense, not only manufacturers top of the line body armor but has taken it one step further by providing free vests to public safety professionals who would otherwise be at risk shift after shift. Through the Guardian Angel Program, Nick and Safe Line Defense identify needy professionals and provide them with their own brand new custom fit body armor. Additional information can be found at www.safelinedefense.com .

With Police Week just behind us, maybe the best way that you can remember a fallen brother or sister officer is by donating your used vest, thus assisting another officer in achieving their number one mission – returning home safely after every shift.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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