Anything can happen without a moment’s notice, and every day police officers are putting their lives on the line while at work, which is why Daleville police officers were recently issued new bulletproof vests.
“We owe it to every officer to give them the protections that are available to them and should be with the job here,” Daleville Police Chief Harvey Mathis said. “If we are going to ask you to put yourself in harms way we have an obligation to afford the officer the basic protections.”
The new vests, for reserve and full-time officers, were purchased through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant.
The federal government program provides 50 percent of the cost for vests approved through its program, and requires that each police force have a mandatory policy in place requiring officers wear the protective vests while on duty.
The cost for the 22 new vests was about $12,000, and half of that was approved in the city’s 2014 fiscal year budget.
“When the budget came close for fiscal year 2014, I was asked to prioritize what was my number one priority for spending on down, and my number one priority was getting every officer a new vest,” Mathis said.
Mathis said the department needed to replace the protective equipment to reduce liability issues and give every officer and their families peace of mind.
“Every officer when they walk out the door could face a potentially life-threatening situation where they might come under fire,” he said. “Many officers have been hurt or killed completely by surprise. They never anticipated that it was going to become a shooting situation. I knew some of the officers had outdated vests and it shouldn’t have to be (that way).”
Some of the department’s previous gear was surplus combat vests purchased from Fort Rucker, and were outdated.
Mathis said the new protective vests are comfortable, lightweight, thin, have a four-year warranty and are fit for each officer, which will allow them to work more efficiently than an old vest fit for another officer.
In addition to the bulletproof vests, Mathis said the department also budgeted for a $72 vest cover and $39 specialty shirt for each officer.
The vest cover carries the bullet-resistant vest and is designed to blend with the department’s uniform, while the T-shirt absorbs sweat.
Officer Noah Suiter said the additional clothing will also help keep the officers cooler in the hotter months.
“When it gets really hot, we can take the vests off, drink water and cool our bodies down,” he said.
Suiter said he believes the new vests are a major improvement from the previous ones.
“Given the equipment that we had, we were making do with what we had,” he said. “When chief came aboard he promised us new vests, new equipment and to get us up into the 2013 era of policing instead of 1960s style.”
But more important than the looks, Suiter said he feels safe.
“I feel very safe because it’s not expired materials that we’re wearing. It’s up-to-date,” he said. “I think it’s phenomenal to have these vests because you never know what you’re going to run into.”
Mathis said what is imperative to him is offering his officers the maximum protection and minimizing the possibility of injury or death.
“It’s for their own safety,” he said. “This job is inherently dangerous. I would never want to be in that position where I have to tell a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend that (their significant other) was lost because we couldn’t afford them the basic protections. That’s unfathomable for me.”