Senate Unanimously Passes Leahy Bill To Renew Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

. . . Bipartisan Bill Now Goes To The House

WASHINGTON (WEDNESDAY, May 6, 2015) – The Senate on late Wednesday unanimously approved Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) legislation to reauthorize the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, which has helped Vermont law enforcement officers purchase nearly 4400 bulletproof vests.

Leahy’s bill would extend for five years the matching grant program that helps members of law enforcement purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests.  The program has helped 13,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country purchase more than one million protective vests for their officers since the Leahy program began in 1999. 

Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote on Wednesday afternoon, Leahy said:  “After much too long of a delay, I am glad the Senate has finally passed my bipartisan legislation to help to put vests on the backs of over 200,000 police officers. This bill is perhaps the most tangible support that Congress can provide to law enforcement officers, including officers in Vermont. I urge the House to pass this bill so we can get it enacted without any further delay.”

Leahy authored the legislation creating the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program after the 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.  In the wake of that tragedy, Leahy teamed with former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) to introduce their bipartisan legislation authorizing matching federal grants to help state and local jurisdictions buy lifesaving body armor and bulletproof vests.  According to the Government Accountability Office, the lives of approximately 3000 law enforcement officers have been saved by body armor since 1987.  In Vermont more than $980,000 in grant money has helped in buying 4392 vests for local and state law enforcement officers.  

Congress has reauthorized the program four times, most recently in 2008.  But the program’s charter expired in September 2012, and the Senate has failed to pass reauthorization legislation despite bipartisan efforts to do that.  Leahy coauthored the original law establishing the matching grant program and joined this year with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to introduce the reauthorization measure, which has 23 bipartisan cosponsors.

The bipartisan reauthorization bill ensures that agencies uphold mandatory-wear policies so that the vests are worn regularly to protect officers.  It also creates incentives for agencies to provide uniquely fitted vests for female officers — a critical provision highlighted by officers like 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.”

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.”

Supporters for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program include the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Tactical Officers Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association.


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