02.15.12

Leahy Chairs Hearing On Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Program

Burlington Police Chief Schirling Testifies

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, Feb. 15) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday chaired a hearing in Washington, D.C., about the importance of the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, a federal grant program to assist state and local law enforcement authored by Leahy.  Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling testified before the Senate panel.

“Since its enactment, the bulletproof vest grant program has contributed to the purchase of nearly one million ballistic vests to help protect our law enforcement officers,” said Leahy.  “I wish that this lifesaving equipment was not needed, but I know better.  I am often reminded of the importance of this program when I encounter officers in Vermont and around the country and they tap their protective vests.”

“The nation’s police chiefs are vividly aware that we must continually evaluate and develop techniques that will protect our officers when confronted by those who will not hesitate to injure or even kill them,” said Schirling.  “We owe this to those who put their lives on the line every day for the freedoms we cherish. Among the most basic strategies is the use of bulletproof vests.”

Leahy authored the legislation establishing the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program after a tragic 1997 incident along the Vermont-New Hampshire in which a New Hampshire man, Carl Drega, killed law enforcement officers from both states during a shootout.  Federal, state, and local law enforcement were involved in the incident, but only federal officers were equipped with bulletproof vests.  Leahy’s bill authorizing the grant program was signed into law in 1998.  It included an important all-state minimum funding formula to ensure that all qualifying state and local jurisdictions would receive at least .5 percent of the total amount of federal funds appropriated each year.

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program is set to expire in September.  Leahy is expected to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to reauthorize the lifesaving program.

“Working to support our law enforcement officers has always been, and should continue to be, a bipartisan effort.  The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program increases officer safety and effectiveness,” said Leahy.  “I hope that now as we proceed to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Congress will join together with one voice to send a strong, clear message to our nation’s law enforcement officers that we will do all we can to protect them, just as they work so hard to protect all of us.”

Since 1999, Vermont police departments have received more than $767,000 in grant assistance from the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program.  The funds have assisted state and local departments in Vermont in purchasing over 3,600 vests.

Since its enactment, Leahy has worked to reauthorize and improve the legislation.  For most jurisdictions, the program provides up to 50 percent in matching funds toward the total cost of a bulletproof vest purchase.  Leahy co-authored an important bill in 2000 to improve the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program by recognizing the budget challenges faced by smaller law enforcement jurisdictions seeking to purchase bulletproof vests.  The bipartisan legislation modified the state match requirement in the program to provide that with certain smaller law enforcement jurisdictions, including certain jurisdictions in Vermont, the federal grant would always amount to 50 percent of the purchase cost.   

In 2009, Senator Leahy worked to provide the Director of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance with the authority to waive in whole or in part a state’s contribution to the matching grant program for jurisdictions facing demonstrated financial hardship.

Testimony and member statements from Wednesday’s hearing are available online.  An archived webcast of the hearing is also available online.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

“Protecting Those Who Protect Us: The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program”

February 15, 2012

 

Today the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony about the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program and other key programs providing Federal support for the men and women who serve in law enforcement.  When I joined to introduce and pass the original bulletproof vest grant program in 1998, I wanted to do all we could to help protect the men and women in law enforcement who protect all of us.  Just as we should have the best equipped armed forces in the world and the best equipped National Guard units, I believe that our state and local law enforcement officers need the best and most modern equipment to fulfill their mission and protect us in our communities across the country.  

We originated this program to provide needed Federal assistance after several law enforcement officers from Vermont and New Hampshire lost their lives bringing a killing rampage by Carl Drega along our border to an end.  Senator Campbell and I joined together to ensure that such basic, lifesaving equipment as the bulletproof vest would be available to state and local law enforcement officers.  

The need for this program remains. Tragically, law enforcement deaths are on the rise, again.  Last year, 177 Federal, state and law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.   No one should question the sacrifices that our law enforcement officers and their families make.  While dangers, injuries and death are increasing, state and local law enforcement budgets are cut. Nearly 12,000 police officers and sheriff’s deputies were laid off last year and the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services reports that approximately 30,000 law enforcement jobs remain unfilled.  Our important Federal assistance to state and local law enforcement is a key investment in public safety.  I was pleased to see that the administration’s fiscal year 2013 request for the bulletproof vest program is consistent with recent appropriations.

During National Police Week in 2008, Detective David Azur of Baltimore testified before this Committee.  Detective Azur was shot at point blank range in the middle of the chest while apprehending a criminal.  During his testimony, Detective Azur held up the armor plate from his vest that stopped the bullet that would have taken his life. 

Since its enactment, the bulletproof vest grant program has contributed to the purchase of nearly 1 million ballistic vests to help protect our law enforcement officers.  I wish that this lifesaving equipment was not needed, but I know better.  I am often reminded of the importance of this program when I encounter officers in Vermont and around the country and they tap their protective vests.

Today I am delighted that the Committee will hear from two outstanding representatives of law enforcement.  Chief Michael Schirling of Burlington, Vermont, is one of the new generation of law enforcement leaders.  Chuck Canterbury served in law enforcement for 25 years and is someone I have come to know well as the President of the National Fraternal Order of Police.  He is a strong voice for the men and women of law enforcement around the country.   We will also hear suggestions from a representative of the GAO on how the Department of Justice might further improve its distribution of funding. 

Working to support our law enforcement officers has always been, and should continue to be, a bipartisan effort.  This is something Senators can agree on regardless of politics.  Longstanding Federal initiatives like the Violence Against Women Act, the Second Chance Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and other important programs have traditionally enjoyed strong bipartisan support.  Senator Mikulski and Senator Shelby, as the bipartisan leaders of the key Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee, and Senators serving on both sides of the aisle on this Committee have been strong supporters of the bulletproof vest grant program.   

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act expires in September.  I intend to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to reauthorize this program and I invite all Senators to join me in this effort. The bulletproof vest partnership grant program increases officer safety and effectiveness.

Our support for state and local law enforcement has been a bipartisan tradition.  I hope that now as we proceed to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program and other important law enforcement measures, Congress will join together with one voice to send a strong, clear message to our Nation’s law enforcement officers that we will do all we can to protect them, just as they work so hard to protect all of us. 

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