04.30.19

Leahy And Graham Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Reauthorize Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

. . . Counterpart House Bill Introduced By Pascrell And King

WASHINGTON (TUESDAY, April 30, 2019) – Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), joined by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and 14 other bipartisan Senate cosponsors, on Tuesday introduced legislation, S. 1231, to permanently reauthorize the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, a federal grant program that helps state and local law enforcement agencies purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests for officers working in the field. Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), the Co-Chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, and Congressmen Peter King (R-N.Y.), led the introduction of companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Across the country many law enforcement agencies struggle to maintain necessary protective equipment for all of their officers. Vests are costly and wear out too soon. For more than 20 years, this partnership grant program has filled in the gap, playing a crucial role in ensuring that the nation’s police officers are equipped with the latest protective technology to keep them safe. The program has awarded more than 13,000 jurisdictions a total of $467 million in matching federal funds for the purchase of more than 1.3 million vests. Congress has renewed the program five times, most recently in 2016. The current authorization expires next year.

Leahy said: “This is a partnership that makes a lifesaving difference. I hear about its importance all the time, across the country, from officers who have this protection because of this program. That’s why I’ve fought for this program for more than two decades. Protective vests are perhaps the most tangible support Congress can provide for our nation’s law enforcement officers. This legislation will outfit hundreds of thousands of police officers with protective vests. It will save lives. And I’m hopeful that Congress can come together to renew and strengthen the program once again.”

Graham said: “Our law enforcement officers are facing greater threats to their personal safety every day. Bulletproof vests have been proven to protect officers in the field. This program plays a critical role in helping more departments across the country get access to these life-saving tools.”

Pascrell said: “The brave men and women who place their lives on the line to protect our communities deserve every ounce of support from their government. For law enforcement officers who face daily dangerous situations, bulletproof vests save lives. Making this important grant permanent so law enforcement officers can have access to vests is one of the most sensible policies Congress can pursue.”

King said: “This legislation is a no brainer! We owe it to the men and women who put their lives on the line to ensure that each one of them has a vest. It can be the difference between life and death. That simple.”

But armor vests can only save lives when they are actually worn. To ensure taxpayer funding appropriated by Congress for body armor to protect law enforcement, the Department of Justice instituted a mandatory wear program. This requirement was carefully written to ensure that local law enforcement agencies maintain discretion in how this requirement is implemented on a local level.

Leahy co-authored the first legislation creating the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program after a 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. Following the tragedy, Leahy teamed with former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) to introduce bipartisan legislation authorizing these matching federal grants to help state and local jurisdictions purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests.

During the last reauthorization, the Judiciary Committee heard testimony from officers who benefited from this program, including the Chief of the Police Department of Woodway, Texas, who brought with him a bloodied vest purchased through this program that saved the life of one of his officers. According to the Government Accountability Office, the lives of thousands of law enforcement officers have been saved by body armor.

Other cosponsors of the Senate bill include Senators Feinstein (D-Calif.), Grassley (R-Iowa), Coons (D-Del.), Cornyn (R-Texas), Durbin (D-Ill.), Tillis (R-N.C.), Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Hawley (R-Mo.), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Collins (R-Maine), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Gardner (R-Colo.), Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Toomey (R-Pa.). Other cosponsors of the House bill include Representatives Demings (D-Fla.), Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Visclosky (D-Ind.), and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Collins (R-Ga.).

Supporters of the bill 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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