Delaware police seek funding for bulletproof vests

 U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, announced federal funding for bulletproof vests. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, announced federal funding for bulletproof vests. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Local law enforcement in Delaware hope to purchase more bulletproof vests this year from recently appropriated federal funds in an effort to protect officers on the job.

The Bulletproof Vest Program, which started in 1999, provides federal grants to law enforcement agencies to purchase vests for officers. Since its initiation, the program has awarded more than 13,000 jurisdictions a total of $430 million for the purchase of more than one million vests.

This year, the program appropriated $22.5 million to fund up to 50 percent of vests for agencies across the country.                                 

New Castle County Police currently has a BVP grant request for 200 vests, while Wilmington Police received 68 bulletproof vests from the program last year.

During a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, D-New Castle, and law enforcement discussed the importance of the program.

New Castle County Police Chief Col. Vaughn Bond said so far this year, two of his officers have been shot at while trying to apprehend suspects.

“As we know in law enforcement, we face more aggressive individuals who have shown us they’re willing to arm themselves with a firearm, and more concerning is the fact many of these individuals are now turning their firearms onto officers,” he said. “There’s no question about the value of the vests we wear, they save lives.”

Law enforcement officers need new custom made vests about every five years, and at about $900 dollars each they can be costly for local law enforcement.

“That’s expensive, and it often historically would fall into the lower echelon of replacement items,” said Coons, who helped secure funding this year. “I think [the program] is a way the federal government can insist on state of the art vests that are regularly tested, and meet the latest needs of law enforcement in the field are the ones that are fielded and to make sure agencies of all sizes have a competitive opportunity to access this lifesaving technology.”

He said he believes the amount of funding available this year is at its highest, and hopes the program will continue to grow.

The program charter had expired in 2012, and the Senate failed to pass legislation for its reauthorization. However, legislators were able to reinstate it in 2015.

Coons said this year wasn’t particularly challenging to secure the funding, but was not a guarantee, as spending has been tightened this year.

“In an era when the administration has imposed significant cuts across the board to domestic spending programs, it required some fight to make it a priority,” he said.

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