NY departments face funding shortage for vests

Long Island police departments are facing a shortage in federal funding for ballistic vests, just as demand for the lifesaving piece of equipment surges

By Kevin Deutsch

LONG ISLAND — Long Island police departments are facing a shortage in federal funding for bulletproof vests, just as demand for the lifesaving piece of equipment surges due to the number of illegal guns on the streets, authorities said.

More than 3,000 officers have survived shootings since the mid-1970s thanks to body armor, according to the Department of Justice, including some from Nassau and Suffolk. But congressional funding for the grant program that helps local police departments buy vests has fallen by about 30 percent over the past three years, from $30 million in 2010 to $21 million in 2013, government data shows.

On Long Island, in 2010, county police departments received roughly $360,000 in grants, in 2013, $54,000.

The program once reimbursed local police departments for half the cost of every vest. Today, the same program covers only one-third of those costs and approves fewer requests, with total reimbursements dropping from 8,149 vests in 2011 to 2,621 in 2013, records show.

In response to that data, local police officials and lawmakers are calling for a restoration to old funding levels. They say the vests, which cost anywhere from $350 to $850 each and last about five years, are vital to officer safety.

"This critical piece of equipment is too often ... a luxury for our police departments," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who called Wednesday for passage of legislation that would increase funding for bulletproof vests by a third over the next few years. "It's a recipe for keeping cops and communities safe."

The legislation, known as the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act, recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but was blocked from reaching the floor. Schumer said he plans to bring it to the floor next week.

Bulletproof vests are credited with saving the lives of a number of local cops. In July 2012, NYPD Officer Brian Groves, 30, of Patchogue, was struck by a single bullet that nearly penetrated his protective vest during a confrontation with a gunman in a Manhattan housing project. He survived what officials said would likely have been a fatal gunshot wound had he not worn the vest.

In October 2012, Nassau County Police Officer Arthur Lopez, 29, of Babylon Village was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Floral Park. Officials said that he was struck in the chest and was not wearing his mandatory bulletproof vest.

Copyright 2014 Newsday

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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