Leahy Introduces Bill To Reauthorize Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

Program Benefits State And Local Law Enforcement Agencies

WASHINGTON (Monday, May 7, 2012) - Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Monday introduced legislation to reauthorize the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, a federal grant program that helps state and local law enforcement agencies purchase bulletproof vests for officers working in the field.  Leahy authored the law establishing the matching grant program.

“Law enforcement officers in Vermont and across the country are putting their lives on the line each and every day to keep our communities safe,” said Leahy.  “In these lean budget times, we cannot compromise officer safety.  There has always been a bipartisan commitment to the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, and I look forward to working with all Senators to ensure the program continues.”

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program was established by legislation authored by Leahy 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 matching federal grants to help state and local jurisdictions purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests.  The program’s current authorization is set to expire in September.

Since the law was enacted in 1999, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program has helped state and local law enforcement agencies purchase nearly one million vests. In Vermont, police departments have received over $767,000 in grant assistance through the program, which has helped purchase more than 3600 bulletproof vests for Vermont law enforcement. In 2011 alone, over 320 vests were purchased for 28 jurisdictions throughout the state.

“Last year was an especially tragic one for the law enforcement community,” said Leahy.  “One hundred and sixty-three state and federal law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty last year.  This is a grim reminder of the sacrifices far too many individuals make serving to protect their communities and fellow citizens.  The Senate should do all it can to support officer safety, and I urge all Senators to support the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program.”

Leahy’s commitment to the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program has continued since the program was first authorized, and the bill introduced Monday is the fifth reauthorization of the program.  He has authored legislation to protect access to the program for small states like Vermont.  In recent reauthorizations, he secured the inclusion of an all-state minimum funding formula to ensure that all qualifying state and local jurisdictions receive a minimum of .5 percent of federal funds allocated to the program.  Most recently, Leahy authored a provision in the program to allow financially struggling jurisdictions to apply for a hardship waiver of the 50 percent match requirement of the purchasing cost.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider the bill introduced Monday at a business meeting later this week.  He is also a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and of the panel’s subcommittee charged with funding the program.  Earlier this year, Leahy chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing examining the effectiveness of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, and invited Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling to testify about the importance of the program.

Next week is National Police Week, which honors those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  Also on Monday, Leahy introduced a Senate resolution to commemorate Police Week.

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