“The law enforcement community has spoken with a single voice on this issue,” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), told a hearing yesterday on reauthorizing the 15-year-old federal Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program. “They understand the unfortunate reality that life-saving vests can be extremely expensive, particularly for smaller jurisdictions, and that they can wear out too soon.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is holding up the bill, saying it is not part of the federal government’s role, McClatchy Newspapers reports.
Since 1999, the federal government has spent $375 million to reimburse more than 13,000 local law enforcement agencies to help pay the costs of more 1 million bulletproof vests, says the Department of Justice, which runs the program. It estimates that the vests saved the lives at least 33 law enforcement and corrections officers in fiscal year 2012. “I have heard of and known numerous (Fort Worth Police Department) officers who have avoided serious injury because of the ballistic vests they carry,” said spokesman Sgt. Raymond Bush. “Their importance cannot be overstated.” Many large police departments didn't receive federal funding for vests in 2013. Larger agencies, characterized as serving populations over 100,000, are not so high a priority for the grant program as smaller departments.