Texas’ ri­fle-re­sis­tant vests tab: $23M

Cen­tral Texas of­fi­cers will re­ceive new ar­mor.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Katie Hall khall@states­man.com

Texas plans to spend $23 mil­lion to equip law en­force­ment of­fi­cers across the state with ri­fle-re­sis­tant vests, which will pro­vide of­fi­cers with a level of se­cu­rity that most have never had.

The law en­force­ment agen­cies that are re­ceiv­ing state grants to pur­chase the vests are big and small. Some have fewer than a dozen of­fi­cers; oth­ers have thou­sands. The vests — which can be some­what large and bulky — are com­monly used for crit­i­cal in­ci­dents and, in some cases, are meant to be worn over an of­fi­cer’s cloth­ing in ad­di­tion to a bul­let­proof vest.

Law­mak­ers ap­proved the funding last year in re­sponse to the July 7, 2016, shoot­ing in down­town Dal­las in which a man armed with a ri­fle am­bushed of­fi­cers and civil­ians dur­ing a protest against po­lice bru­tal­ity. He killed five po­lice of­fi­cers, struck nine oth­ers and in­jured two civil­ians.

“We are liv­ing in a new time now,” said Bas­trop Po­lice Chief Steve Ad­cock, whose de­part­ment will soon be able to out­fit all 21 of­fi­cers with the new vests. “We are try­ing to pre­pare if we ever get in­volved in a mass shoot­ing or any kind of high stress­ful sit­u­a­tion like that.”

Kyle Po­lice Chief Jeff Bar­nett said that for most de­part­ments it used to be un­re­al­is­tic and cost-pro­hib­i­tive to out­fit non-SWAT of­fi­cers with two dif­fer­ent kinds of vests. But Bar­nett, whose de­part­ment is re­ceiv­ing 52 new vests, said the need for them is greater than be­fore, a sen­ti­ment echoed by other Cen­tral Texas po­lice of­fi­cials.

“Your day-to-day of­fi­cer did not

have ac­cess to a vest of this pro­tec­tion level . ... But these days, we’ve wit­nessed more of­fi­cers be­ing killed from sniper fire or be­ing am­bushed,” Bar­nett said. “In some of those cases, those crim­i­nals were us­ing ri­fles to as­sault the of­fi­cers, and it’s be­com­ing more ap­par­ent that this pro­tec­tion level is nec­es­sary for of­fi­cers in this day and age.”

Gov. Greg Ab­bott echoed the sen­ti­ment.

“The job of our law en­force­ment com­mu­nity is be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult as the threats our of­fi­cers face con­tinue to in­crease. The state of Texas will not sit idly by and tol­er­ate these ac­tions,” he said in a state­ment about the funding for the vests.

De­spite the con­cerns, on-duty po­lice shoot­ing deaths have been de­clin­ing in the United States over the years. From 2008 to 2017, an av­er­age of 51 of­fi­cers a year died from gun­shot wounds, ac­cord­ing to data from the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund. In the 10 years be­fore that (1998 to 2007), the av­er­age was 58, and in the pre­vi­ous decade, (1988 to 1997), it was 73.

The two lead­ing causes of on-duty deaths among po­lice of­fi­cers are shoot­ings and crashes, ac­cord­ing to the data. Some years, traf­fic-re­lated deaths out­pace gun-re­lated deaths.

The Austin school dis­trict’s Po­lice De­part­ment is re­ceiv­ing money to buy 82 vests, enough to out­fit all of its of­fi­cers. Sgt. Lance Cox said they’re nec­es­sary in the event of school shoot­ings.

“We can go back the last 10 years and see that the num­ber of school shoot­ings has ob­vi­ously gone up . ... We want to make sure that if some­body walks into that build­ing, re­gard­less of the type of weapon that they’re car­ry­ing, that our of­fi­cers have proper equip­ment to keep them safe as they’re try­ing to keep the stu­dents and staff of that cam­pus safe.”

Sev­eral Cen­tral Texas law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said their of­fi­cers won’t wear the vests on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

The school dis­trict of­fi­cers, for ex­am­ple, will keep theirs in their pa­trol ve­hi­cles or of­fices and bring them out dur­ing crit­i­cal in­ci­dents, Cox said. The pol­icy re­gard­ing when to don the vests has not been made clear yet.

Ad­cock said his of­fi­cers will wear them when they “are go­ing to a high-stress sit­u­a­tion, like a bar­ri­caded sub­ject.”

Bas­trop County Sher­iff Maurice Cook agreed with Ad­cock. Sit­u­a­tions don’t arise of­ten in which po­lice need the spe­cial vests, but “when you need it and you don’t have it, it’s too late,” he said.

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