11.27.12

Leahy, Coons & Law Enforcement Representatives Mark Million-Vest Milestone For Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

Leahy, Coons & Law Enforcement Representatives Mark Million-Vest Milestone For Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, November 27, 2012) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), and officials from law enforcement today highlighted the success of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, which they announced has crossed the threshold of issuing more than one million lifesaving vests to state and local law enforcement officers throughout the country.

Leahy, along with former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), coauthored legislation to establish the program, which has awarded grants to states since 1999.  Leahy successfully steered legislation to renew the program’s charter through the Judiciary Committee in May. Despite broad bipartisan support of the popular and successful program, the reauthorization bill, introduced by Leahy and approved by the Judiciary Committee, remains stalled in the Senate. The program was most recently renewed in 2008, and its authorization lapsed at the end of September.

Leahy said, “Today, an officer’s bulletproof vest is a piece of equipment as indispensable as a side arm and radio.  This program has helped to bring about the increase in the awareness and use of this lifesaving equipment.  Police work is hard work, and often it also is dangerous work.  These brave officers protect our communities, and these vests help protect them.  Today there are at least a million reasons for Americans to feel good about what they have done to help protect our law enforcers.  This is a milestone that speaks to the success of this program, and to the strength of the law enforcement partnership between the states and the federal government.”  

Cities and rural communities alike have benefitted from the program since it was first enacted in 1999. In Vermont nearly $840,000 in grant money has helped to supply 3,930 vests.  According to the Government Accountability Office, $247 million has provided in reimbursement funding nationwide for the purchase of more than one million vests from 1999 through 2011. Approximately 3,000 law enforcement officers’ lives have been saved by protective body armor since 1987, according to the GAO.

“Police officers look out for our communities and our families every day, risking their own safety to do so,” Coons said. “We need to look out for them, too, and should be doing all we can to ensure they have the tools and resources to do their jobs safely. I saw firsthand as a county executive that the federal government can be a critical partner in protecting our police officers, especially for officers working in smaller communities where the purchase of modern body armor can be prohibitively expensive. The Bulletproof Vest Program has saved the lives of law enforcement officers and absolutely should be reauthorized.”

Leahy and Coons were joined by Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police; Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Ocean City, Md., police department; James Burch, deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice; and Sgt. David Spicer of the Dover, Delaware Police Department, who survived being shot in the line of duty by wearing protective body armor.

“The need to continue this program is more important than ever, as law enforcement has experienced an alarming increase in violence against officers over the last two years,” said Leahy, noting that the Senate must act to reauthorize the program before the end of the year.  “I hope we can get past the roadblocks and keep this important partnership going.  The safety of our nation’s law enforcement officers is far too important to play games with.”

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Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy
News Conference
Commemorating Issuance Of Millionth Bulletproof Vest
Under The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program
U.S. Capitol
November 27, 2012

Today there are at least a million reasons for Americans to feel good about what they have done to help protect our law enforcers.  This is a milestone that speaks to the success of this program, and the strength of the law enforcement partnership between the states and the federal government.  

When I was a prosecutor, these good men and women were my partners in law enforcement.  I have never felt more proud than when I was in Denver several years ago, and a police officer approached me, asked me if I was Patrick Leahy, and when I told him I was, he just tapped his chest where his vest was and said, “Thanks.” 

When I joined Senator Ben Nighthorse-Campbell in 1998 to develop this legislation, we shared the goal of improving officer safety, and making sure the men and women who serve every day across the country had better access to this lifesaving equipment. 

And we have worked throughout the years to strengthen and improve this lifesaving program.  We know it saves lives.  As the Government Accountability Office testified in the Judiciary Committee earlier this year, these vests have saved thousands of lives.

Bulletproof vests save lives in rural areas like those in Vermont, just as they do in more urban areas.  Thanks to the all-state minimum we were able to implement in the program, state and local law enforcement officers in Vermont have been able to secure more than 3,900 vests since this program began.  And it’s making a difference.

Today, an officer’s bulletproof vest is a piece of equipment as indispensable as a side arm and radio.  This grant program has helped to bring about the increase in the awareness and use of this equipment.   

And the need to continue this program is more important than ever, as law enforcement has experienced an alarming increase in violence against officers over the last two years. 

I know that Attorney General Holder and officials at the Justice Department have taken steps to strengthen this program and to promote officer safety as well.  I thank James Burch from the Department for being with us today to help us recognize the Department’s critical role in administering this program, and achieving this important milestone.

Those in Congress who have worked in support of law enforcement know that officer safety is paramount.  And I can think of few federal programs that help meet that goal more directly than this one.  I am determined to see it continue.   

In May, the Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly to pass a new Bulletproof Vest Partnership reauthorization, to extend the program for another five years.  I worked with Senator Coons, Senator Grassley, Senator Feinstein, and others to make sure this reauthorization had strong bipartisan support.  We did that. 

Unfortunately, this legislation continues to be held up for no good reason.  I hope we can get past the roadblocks and keep this important partnership going.  The safety of our nation’s law enforcement officers is far too important to play games with. 

I am proud to stand with Senator Coons and these fine law enforcement leaders in support of the men and women who serve us each and every day.  I have no doubt that this grant program has helped save lives — Sergeant Spicer is proof of that.  I look forward to working with my fellow Senators to get this done. 

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