Texas’ rifle-resistant vests tab: $23M
Central Texas officers will receive new armor.
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.