01.08.15

Leahy Introduces Bipartisan Bill To Reauthorize Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

Joins With Senator Graham To Make Early Push In New Year For Lifesaving Program

WASHINGTON (Thursday, January 8, 2015) – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) 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. 

The program has issued more than one million lifesaving vests to 13,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country since it was established in 1999.  Congress has reauthorized the program three times, most recently in 2008.  However, the program’s charter expired in September 2012 and the Senate has failed to pass reauthorization legislation despite bipartisan efforts to do so.  On Thursday, Leahy and Graham urged the Senate to quickly take up and pass the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015.

“Our Nation needs no additional reminders of the dangers faced by law enforcement officers each and every day,” Senator Leahy said. “Far too often we have grieved as officers are killed in the line of duty.  In 2014 alone, 126 men and women serving in law enforcement lost their lives.  Although protective vests cannot save every officer, they dramatically increase the chance of survival.  I have met personally with police officers who are living today because of a bulletproof vest, and they will attest to the fact that the vests provided through this program are worth every penny.”

Leahy added: “I am hopeful that all Senators – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – will join us now to ensure its swift reauthorization.”

“Law enforcement personnel put their lives on the line to protect the public each and every day,” said Senator Graham. “We ought to ensure they have the best available equipment to protect themselves as they protect us.”

The legislation introduced today reauthorizes the program for five years, and it includes important reforms to meet the needs of today’s law enforcement officers.  The bill creates incentives for agencies to provide uniquely fitted vests for female officers—a critical provision highlighted by officers like Officer Ann Carrizales of the Stafford, Texas, who was shot twice during a routine traffic stop in 2013.  Carrizales recounted the dramatic experience at a Judiciary Committee hearing last year, telling Committee members that “I would not be sitting here today had I not been wearing a properly fitting bulletproof vest.”

In 2012, Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling was the lead-off witness at a Judiciary Committee hearing about the program. At that hearing, Schirling said “The safety of our nation’s law enforcement officers is a wise and necessary investment. I urge you to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Act and continue to provide funds to help law enforcement agencies across the country purchase life-saving vests for their officers.”

The bill Leahy introduced today ensures that agencies uphold mandatory wear policies so that the vests are worn regularly.  To ensure taxpayer dollars are not misused, the bill also makes clear that grantees cannot use other federal grant funds to meet the matching fund requirement the program requires.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended these commonsense reforms in a 2012 study about the program.

Leahy authored the 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 matching federal grants to help state and local jurisdictions purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests.  According to the Government Accountability Office, the lives of approximately 3,000 law enforcement officers have been saved by body armor since 1987. In Vermont over $980,000 in grant money has helped to supply 4,392 vests.  

A copy of the bill is available online. Cosponsors include Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

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

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