Judiciary Committee THIS WEEK To Start Consideration Of Leahy Bill To Reauthorize Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

. . . Committee Will Also Consider National Blue Alert Act of 2015

WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, March 24, 2015) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday will take the first step to advance Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) legislation to reauthorize the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, which has helped Vermont law enforcement officers purchase more than 4000 bulletproof vests.

Leahy’s bill would extend for five years the matching grant program that helps members of law enforcement purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests.  The program has helped 13,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country purchase more than one million protective vests for their officers since the Leahy program began in 1999. 

Leahy said:  “Our nation needs no additional reminders of the dangers faced by law enforcement officers every day.  On behalf of the public and our communities, Congress can and should continue to provide real support to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line.  The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program protects these officers in their daily duties.  I thank Chairman Grassley for listing this bill, and I urge all senators to support it.”

Leahy authored the legislation creating the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program after the tragic 1997 shootout along the Vermont-New Hampshire border in which federal law enforcement officers were equipped with bulletproof vests, while state and local officers from Vermont and New Hampshire were not.  Two state troopers were killed in the shootout.  In the wake of that tragedy, Leahy teamed with former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) to introduce bipartisan legislation authorizing matching federal grants to help state and local jurisdictions buy lifesaving bulletproof vests.  According to the Government Accountability Office, the lives of approximately 3000 law enforcement officers have been saved by body armor since 1987.  In Vermont more than $980,000 in grant money has helped in buying 4392 vests for local and state law enforcement officers.  

Congress has reauthorized the program four times, most recently in 2008.  But the program’s charter expired in September 2012, and the Senate has failed to pass reauthorization legislation despite bipartisan efforts to do that.  Leahy coauthored the original law establishing the matching grant program and joined this year with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to introduce the reauthorization measure, which has 14 bipartisan cosponsors.

The bipartisan reauthorization bill ensures that agencies uphold mandatory-wear policies so that the vests are worn regularly to protect officers.  It also creates incentives for agencies to provide uniquely fitted vests for female officers — a critical provision highlighted by officers like Ann Carrizales of Stafford, Texas, who was shot twice during a routine traffic stop in 2013.  At a Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Leahy last year, Officer Carrizales said:  “I would not be sitting here today had I not been wearing a properly fitting bulletproof vest.”

The Judiciary Committee Thursday also will begin consideration of another bill to protect law enforcement officers, the bipartisan National Blue Alert Act of 2015.  The bill coauthored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Graham and cosponsored by Leahy directs the Department of Justice to establish a national communications network to quickly broadcast information to law enforcement agencies nationwide when an officer is injured or killed in the line of duty.  In cases involving the serious injury or killing of a law enforcement officer, it would also assist in the apprehension of suspects who cross from one law enforcement jurisdiction to another.

Supporters of both bipartisan bills include the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major County Sheriffs' Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Tactical Officers Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association.


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