At least 56% of nation's departments require the use of bulletproof vests


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Drizzt
May 1, 2003, 05:08 PM
The Indianapolis Star

April 30, 2003 Wednesday City final Edition

SECTION: STARWEST; Pg. 1W

LENGTH: 742 words

HEADLINE: More officers now fitted for safety;
At least 56% of nation's departments require the use of bulletproof vests

BYLINE: BY R. JOSEPH GELARDEN JOSEPH.GELARDEN@INDYSTAR.COM

BODY:
Morgan County Sheriff Robert Garner is taking no chances.

"We lost a deputy, and I don't want that to happen any more if I can help it," he said.

That's why Garner last week ordered road patrol deputies to wear bulletproof vests while on duty. He also requires detectives to have them in their cars and ready for use.

Hendricks County's new sheriff, Jim Quearry, also ordered deputies to wear body armor since taking office Jan. 1. It doesn't matter if the day is hot and muggy. If Hendricks County deputies are on duty, the vest is mandatory.

"I want to err on the side of caution," Quearry said.

Although larger Indiana departments, including the Indianapolis Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff's Department and the Indiana State Police, say wearing body armor is optional, an increasing number of police agencies nationally are requiring it.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2000, 56 percent of police agencies nationally required officers to wear body armor. That's up from 25 percent in 1990,

Such policies appear to be working. Body armor has been credited with saving the lives of more than 2,500 law enforcement officers since the 1970s.

Government and industry sources say that success is the result of technological improvements that have made vests lighter and stronger. The latest models, which can cost from $500 to $1,000, feature fibers such as DuPont's Kevlar that are stronger than steel and can stop most bullets.

No one can say for sure whether a vest might have saved the life of veteran Morgan County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Starnes, who was shot four times in the chest during a July 14, 2001, shootout with a burglary suspect. Starnes died a month later.

Garner was among the deputies called to the scene of that shooting. While Garner refuses to second-guess Starnes' decision not to wear a vest, it is clear that the event affected his thinking.

Indianapolis Patrolman Jason Thalheimer is often cited as an example of how vests can save lives. On Aug. 19, 2000, he jumped out of a patrol car to confront a suspect. Seconds later, he took a bullet in the center of his chest. The vest stopped it.

Body armor also can prevent officers from other types of injury. A vest saved a Marion County deputy from serious injury in a motorcycle spill during last year's Indianapolis 500 Parade.

"He was at Washington and Illinois streets on his motorcycle. He hit a curb and it launched him off the cycle," said Bart McAtee, a deputy chief for Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson.

"He slid down the street and the pavement tore up his shirt. He would have been seriously injured, but he was wearing a vest," said McAtee.

Younger officers are more likely to wear body armor, McAtee said. That's often because they've become used to wearing vests during training, according to the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.

"We have 245 uniformed officers and about 200 of them wear them, even though it is optional for all officers except those assigned to the K-9 and SWAT teams," McAtee said.

Another reason for the vests is that patrol deputies are seeing more and more suspects carrying heavy weapons, said Garner.

"We have a bunch of AK-47s (confiscated from suspects) in the property room," Garner said. "And those (bad) guys can really reach out and touch you with them," Garner said.

Hendricks County's Quearry, a retired federal agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, wore a vest for years.

"You never know when a little old grandma could panic and do something stupid, and kaboom something might happen," he said.

Call Star reporter R. Joseph Gelarden at 1-317-444-6885.

_____________________________________________

Fast facts on vests

* An estimated 150 police officers' lives are saved each year because they were wearing body armor.

* Of the 147 police officers nationally that died in the line of duty last year, 55 were shot to death. The most recent in Hendricks or Morgan counties was Daniel Starnes of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department in 2001.

* The FBI estimates that 42 percent of police officers shot and killed since 1980 would have been saved if they had been wearing body armor.

* The risk of dying from a gunshot is 14 times higher when an officer is not wearing body armor, according to the FBI.

* No police officers from 1985 to 1994 died from a gunshot that penetrated a vest, according to an FBI study.

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Matt G
May 1, 2003, 05:22 PM
Last point is worthy of note:
* No police officers from 1985 to 1994 died from a gunshot that penetrated a vest, according to an FBI study.

Police departments buying vests would do well to heed the real lesson there: better to supply officers with lighter, more comfortable vests that they will wear, then to give them all Level III armor that will stop hand-cannon fire, but is heavy, inflexible, and not breathable. Level IIA on your torso beats Level IV in the trunk.

To y'all that have a vest and can't bring yourself to wear it, may I offer a trick to attenuate the shock of first getting into the vest? Wear just the carrier with just the front panel in it for a a few weeks before moving up to the full deal. It helps you get "harness broke." :)

El Tejon
May 1, 2003, 05:26 PM
I believe the Indianapolis media runs this story at least a few times a year. Why they do this I have no idea. Why point out that coppers wear vests? I would prefer that if the BGs have to shoot, they shoot at my vest and not at my groin or head. YMMV.

Erik
May 1, 2003, 05:56 PM
I imagine they do it in hopes that the number 56 increases via awareness. 56! Far too low a number, if you ask me.

kbellis3
May 1, 2003, 07:19 PM
The number will reach 100% when municipal insurance carriers begin requiring that as part of their insurance coverage that all uniformed officers and most other officers wear vest when not otherwise aurthorized to not wear vest due to duty limitations (ie undercover and such). When this happens you will see all departments requiring vests. :eek:

As a financial incentive alone departments should be issuing vest and require that officers wear them, along with spot checks and fines for the SUPERCOPS :banghead: who think that they will never need a vest. Because the cost of losing an officer or having one maimed for life can easily cost more than equiping a whole department with vest. Not to mention the associated pension costs, recruitment, training for a new officer; not to mention the loss of experience that the deceased or disabled officer.

Kyle

Fed168
May 1, 2003, 09:58 PM
It really should not be an issue. Officers should be required to wear their vests- if they are hot and uncomfortable, get over it. The alternative is breathing through a tube.

Monte Harrison
May 2, 2003, 10:39 AM
"We have a bunch of AK-47s (confiscated from suspects) in the property room," Garner said. "And those (bad) guys can really reach out and touch you with them," Garner said.Not that soft body armor is going to help much against 7.62x39, but wear it anyway.

kbellis3
May 2, 2003, 07:56 PM
FED168

one would think that a sense of self preservation and a general concern for officer survival would have lead to 100% mandatory use of vests a decade ago.

Hell, there are now vests for K9's, kevlar insole liners for combat boots that protect against landmines that are being tested and so fat the testing shows that kevlar boot liners likely to very effective help protect against major trauma from landmine detonations.

Yet in the year 2003 when all evidence point to the effectiveness of vests and other body armour there is still less than 60% rate of departments mandating that officers wear vests.

At this point what is the hold-up, costs ? There are numerous Federal and State Grants available for small departments to buy vests, there are private corporate grants, as private organizations that issue grant to help departments buy vests.

Now, I think the only thing that is going to push the remaining departments to require that officers wear vests is financial considerations: i.e. pressure from departmental insurance carriers, state or federal requirements as part of funding or grant processes. Barring those considerations, lawsuits from the injured officers or survivors of officers killed in the line of duty will be the only thing that forces department that are currently refusing to either issue or require the use of vests to begin doing both.

As for officers, they ought to wear vest out of a sense of self preservation even if they have to buy the vests themselves.

Kyle

Watchman
May 2, 2003, 08:15 PM
Police departments buying vests would do well to heed the real lesson there: better to supply officers with lighter, more comfortable vests that they will wear, then to give them all Level III armor that will stop hand-cannon fire, but is heavy, inflexible, and not breathable. Level IIA on your torso beats Level IV in the trunk.

Modern technology is a great thing and it is making great advances in vests.

Looking in my Gall's Catolog I see that the newer class 3 vests are LIGHTER than many of the old class II A vests.

Since most cops wear the IIA, upgrading to a III may be more realistic than it used to be. When my vest expires, Ill probably go to a Class III, which is also thinner.

Fed168
May 2, 2003, 08:16 PM
Kyle, frustrating, isn't it? We have a policy dictating when the vest must be worn- it is still ignored. Aggravating- but I don't have much sympathy for anyone who gets hurt when the vest would have helped.

kbellis3
May 2, 2003, 11:17 PM
Fed168

It is frustrating to hear of people dying because they did not take common sense precautions that their employment demands. Life guards should know how to swim be certified in basic first aid (CPR included), firemen should carry oxygen tanks and water hoses in fire trucks with them to fires, cops should carry guns and wear vests. Is this such a leap of logic and common sense ?

Kyle

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