Senate Judiciary Committee Overwhelmingly Approves Leahy-Authored Bill To Reauthorize Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

Committee Also Reports National Blue Alert Act of 2015 To Full Senate; Program Has Helped Buy More Than 4,000 Vests For Police And Sheriff’s Officers In Vermont

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, March 26, 2015) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation authored by Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to reauthorize the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, a federal grant program whose charter has expired and needs to be renewed. Leahy, who coauthored the original law establishing the matching grant program, hailed the Committee’s action Thursday and called for the Senate to quickly take up and pass the measure.

“I have met 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 said. “Protecting law enforcement is not a partisan issue, and today’s overwhelming vote in support of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program is an encouraging sign that Congress can come together to provide the most basic support for the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect us. I hope the Senate will soon take up and pass this important legislation.”

The bipartisan bill coauthored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) extends for five years the matching grant program that helps members of law enforcement purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests. The program has issued nearly 1.2 million vests to 13,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country since it was established in 1999. Congress has reauthorized the program four 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. 

The bill, which was approved by a voice vote, also ensures that agencies uphold mandatory wear policies so that the vests are worn regularly. It also creates incentives for agencies to provide uniquely fitted vests for female officers—a critical provision highlighted by officers like Officer Ann Carrizales of Stafford, Texas, who was shot twice during a routine traffic stop in 2013. At a Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Leahy last year, Officer Carrizales said “I would not be sitting here today had I not been wearing a properly fitting bulletproof vest.”

The Committee also approved by voice vote the bipartisan National Blue Alert Act of 2015. The bill, coauthored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Graham, directs the Department of Justice to establish a national communications network to quickly broadcast information to law enforcement agencies nationwide when an officer is injured or killed in the line of duty.  In cases involving the serious injury or killing of a law enforcement officer, it would also assist in the apprehension of suspects who cross from one law enforcement jurisdiction to another.  Leahy is an original cosponsor of the legislation.

Supporters of both bipartisan bills 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, Sergeants Benevolent Association, and the International Union of Police Associations.


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