Schumer: Police Officers Stand in Harm’s Way for Us Every Day – We Must Equip Them With the Very Best Vests to Stay Safe
Washington, DC - May 8, 2014 - Today, on a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E.Schumer revealed that federal funding has significantly declined over the past three years for a grant program that helps local police departments purchase life-saving bulletproof vests for their officers. Schumer explained that the decline in funding has come at the same time as demand for these vests has increased across the country, leading to a decline in the number of New York PDs that receive grants. The program used to reimburse local police departments for half the cost of a vest, but due to this decline in funding and increase in demand, the program is now only able to cover around one-third of the cost. This program has enabled local law enforcement agencies across New York to purchase over 200,000 vests since 1999, but the number of vests the program has reimbursed has dropped from 11,647 in 2010 to just 2,608 in 2013. Therefore, Schumer urged his colleagues in the Senate to pass The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act, a bipartisan bill that would authorize the program and increase funding for it by 33% over the next several years. Schumer will explain that bulletproof vests have been credited with saving the lives of over 3,000 police officers nationwide, and that this critical safety program should be given long-term stability.
“Every single day, tens of thousands of police officers across New York put their lives on the line to keep us safe, and we need to do everything in our power to equip them with the bulletproof vests they need to stay safe,” said Schumer. “This program has been an incredibly valuable resource for cities and towns around the state, but it is clear that the federal funding being provided is no longer cutting it. As a result, local departments are forced to spend more of their own budget on these vests, and in some cases they are being turned down for funding altogether, forcing them to make difficult decisions about how much to invest in officer safety. For the sake of police officers around the state, who stand in the line of fire to keep our communities safe, we must pass this bill when it hits the Senate floor next week.”
On the call, Schumer highlighted the need for increased funds and a more consistent funding stream by providing data on the decline in the amount of federal support and vests that police departments in each region of Upstate New York have received over the past three years. Schumer explained that the money appropriated to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bulletproof Vest Program (BVP) declined from $30 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to $21.5 million in Fiscal Year 2013, which has led to Upstate New York’s receiving almost 9,000 fewer vests in 2013 compared to 2010. Below is the total number of grant money received by region in 2010 compared to 2013:
In the Capital Region, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $1.3 million in grants, in 2013, $133,500.
In Central New York, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $179,000 in grants, in 2013, $55,000.
In the Rochester Finger Lakes Region, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $104,000 in grants, in 2013, $67,700.
In the Hudson Valley, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $275,000 in grants, in 2013, $200,000.
In Western New York, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $147,000 in grants, in 2013, $89,000.
In the Southern Tier, the numbers stayed about the same. In 2010, Police Departments received over $100,000 in grants, in 2013, about $107,000.
In the North Country, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $27,000 in grants, in 2013, $23,000.
In Long Island, in 2010, Police Departments received roughly $360,000 in grants, in 2013, $54,000.
Schumer explained that bulletproof vests worn under clothing can cost anywhere from $350 to $850, which is a significant amount of money for police departments around the state, especially since many of them try to equip all of their officers with vests. DOJ requires that vests comply with the most current National Institute of Justice standards as of the date they were ordered, in order to ensure officers have the very best protection. Purchasing vests is even more of a strain on local police departments’ bottom line when you factor in the fact that the average bulletproof vest needs to be replaced approximately every five years. Schumer said that in a time when local government budgets are being squeezed, the funding provided by the federal government is an important resource for police departments to keep their officers equipped with vests while in the line of fire.
Schumer stressed that federal funding to pay for part of the cost of each bulletproof vest is well worth it because these vests have been proven to save lives. Schumer cited examples across Upstate New York of officers whose lives have been saved thanks to wearing a bulletproof vest while on duty. These examples include Rich Curran, of the Syracuse Police Department, who was shot while pursuing a wanted parolee in April 2009; Gowanda Police Officer Jason Miller, who was shot in September 2008 while chasing a suspect; Schenectady Police Officer Thomas Kelly and Detective Jeremy Pace, who were shot in February 2010 while executing a search warrant; and Rochester Police Officer Luca Martini, who was shot in December 2009 while responding to a home invasion. Miraculously, in each one of these cases, the officers survived due to the fact that they were wearing bulletproof vests. And these officers are not alone. Since 1987, bulletproof vests are credited with saving the lives of over 3,000 police officers nationwide.
The Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) was created by the bipartisanBulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 1998. Since the program took effect in 1999, BVP has provided matching Federal grants to more than 13,000 jurisdictions nationwide a total of $375 million in federal funds for the purchase of over one million vests (1,146,909 as of December, 2013). BVP is a critical resource for state and local jurisdictions that saves lives. Based on data collected and recorded by the Department of Justice in FY 2012, protective vests were directly attributable to saving the lives of at least 33 law enforcement and corrections officers in 20 different states, an increase 13.7% over FY 2011. At least 14 of those life-saving vests had been purchased, in part, with BVP funds.
Unfortunately, authorization for the program expired in September 2012, and since then, funding has declined. Schumer explained that in order to make funding for the program consistent and at the level that police departments need, the program needs to be reauthorized and have its long-term funding increased. That is why Schumer is co-sponsoring The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act, a bill authored by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would renew the program’s charter through 2018, set the program’s budget at $30 million beginning in FY16 – a 33% increase over what the program was appropriated in FY13 – and make several key improvements to the program.
Schumer highlighted one of the most important program changes proposed in the bill has to do with providing female officers with the right equipment. Under the reauthorization that Schumer is pushing, additional preference for funding would be given to local police departments that provide custom vests for female officers and other officers for whom a traditional-sized vest is not the optimal fit. Schumer explained that this is important for the safety of officers, because a mis-sized vest could leave parts of their body vulnerable to gunfire. Or, if the vest does not fit right and is not comfortable, it might lead police officers to decide not to wear it altogether.
The bill, after passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, and without a single amendment, was brought to the Senate floor yesterday but blocked by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). Schumer said he plans to work with his colleagues in the Senate to bring the bill to the floor again next week during National Police Week. Schumer also noted that applications for BVP grants this year are due by May 13.