By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — The unknowns of patrol work make body armor vital to officer safety, area police said Thursday.
“We can’t predict crime,” Officer Kevin Voce of the Cooperstown Police Department said. The importance of protective vests was illustrated this week, he said, when a Nassau County police officer who wasn’t wearing a vest pulled over a vehicle and was fatally shot in the chest.
Last week, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats from New York, said they secured $635,012.90 for law enforcement entities across upstate from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership. In the program Schumer co-sponsored, the cost of new body armor is split with localities, a media release said, and the recent allocation provides support to buy 2,811 vests.
“Our law enforcement risk their lives each day to keep our communities safe,” Gillibrand said in the release. “It is our job to make sure that when they go into harm’s way to fight crime, they have the right equipment to keep them safe. That’s what this investment will do.”
In Colchester, Delaware County, the funding is “extremely important” and “definitely appreciated,” Senior Officer Scott Valentine said. The federal grant was of $700 for two vests covers about half the cost, he said, and most of the balance will be paid through a state grant.
Valentine said he and Officer Chris Erwin comprise the Colchester Police Department, which covers about the town’s approximately 140 square miles. They wear protective vests whenever on patrol, Valentine said.
“It’s one of the most necessary pieces of equipment — like a mechanic needs a wrench,” he said. “In law enforcement, you never know what or who you’re going to come across.”
The release said other allotments in the area were to Chenango County, $1,837.50 for five vests; Delaware County, $7,650 for 17 vests; Schoharie County, 7,700 for 22 vests; and the village of Walton, $2,808.65 for seven vests.
The program was created by the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 1998 to provide protective vests to state and local law enforcement. Since 1999, the program has provided $277 million in federal funds and funding for about 800,000 vests throughout the country.
Local police expressed appreciation for federal and state funding, which helps offset the majority of costs, especially as municipalities face budget constraints.
“Vests are expensive,” Lt. Douglas Brenner of the Oneonta Police Department said. “It’s not something you want to cut corners on — it’s like a rock climber doesn’t buy the cheapest rope.”
Brenner said the city didn’t receive funding in the most recent federal round because the police department is “caught up” on vest purchases for its staff of about 25. Vests not only save lives but also may slow down the impact of a knife or provide padding in cases of falls or other incidents, he said.
Oneonta officers are required to wear protective vests while on patrol, Brenner said.
Vests are measured to accommodate officers of different sizes, local police said, and vests are replaced about every five years.
In the recent federal grant awards, the village of Cooperstown was awarded $2,175 for five vests.
Voce, who writes the grant applications for vest funding, said a village such as Cooperstown may seem safe, but with a traveling public, there is no telling when someone with a gun may appear, even police officers visiting the community.