Officers in Delaware courthouse shooting fight for federal funding for bulletproof vests

Two police officers shot during the New Castle County Courthouse shooting rampage in February are alive and well today because of the bulletproof vests they were wearing under their uniforms. They are speaking out about their benefits.

Corporal Steve Rinehart and Sergeant Michael Manley of the Capitol Police Department joined U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) on the steps of the courthouse to urge Congress to reauthorize a grant program which helps police departments purchase bulletproof vests.

Rinehart and Manley were working their usual security check points the morning of February 11 when Thomas Matusiewicz opened fire in the lobby of the building.

“Basically that morning, just after we opened up, a gentlemen had entered the lobby, he approached the two women, he unfortunately killed them. I was able to engage the assailant there and in turn, had been struck while we were exchanging gunfire,” explained Rinehart.

Matusiewicz killed his ex-daughter-in-law, Christine Belford and her friend, Laura Mulford before turning the gun on himself.

Rinehart was struck in right side of his chest near his name plate but the 10 millimeters of Kevlar protected him from the shot. He said he didn’t even realize he had taken a bullet until someone pointed it out.  

“I had returned back after making sure the scene was secure and safe, someone pointed out to me that I had a hole in my shirt,” said Rinehart. “I wasn’t even aware of it at the time.”

Manley was also struck by a bullet delivered by Matusiewicz. Because he was wearing a vest, he only sustained a few bruised ribs and a laceration.

Both Manley and Rinehart’s vests had been purchased through the Bulletproof Vest Partnership. The program provides 50/50 match funding to local police departments for the purchase of bulletproof vests.

However, the grant program has expired and is de-funded in the current federal budget, according to Coons, who recently re-introduced legislation to keep the federal funding going.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, police departments across the state purchased 891 vests through the program in FY 2012 and 1,791 vests in FY 2011. The match program helped local departments save thousands of dollars on their already tight budgets.

“Many departments that face significant budget crunches already, will simply draw out how long they will have vests in service, they’ll have vests that don’t fit as well, that aren’t the latest technology, that aren’t fully protective or are no longer the best they could be,” said Senator Coons. “I can’t imagine a better investment than a 50/50 match program between the federal government and the local law enforcement that has been dedicated to saving lives.”

The cost of a vest for each officer ranges from several hundred to more than a thousand dollars and vests need to be replaced every few years to work properly.

Coons explained that a previous bill to reauthorize this program was held up by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) who fought to block the bill when it was first introduced last year in the Senate Judiciary committee.

“There are a number of senators who feel we shouldn’t fully fun federal, state and local partnerships in law enforcement for a lot of different purposes. I think this particular failure on the part of congress to reauthorize this particular program is particularly heart wrenching and a grievance for me,” said Coons.

The bill has already been introduced and Coons said the next step will be getting it through judiciary committee and getting floor time.

“In order to get considered on the floor of the senate, we have to get past any individual senator who has the right of the prerogative to put a hold on it and prevent its consideration,” said Coons.

Since being enacted in 1999, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership has helped provide more than a million vests to officers across the country.

“I think it’s the height of tragic absurdity if a person looses their life that’s upholding a law [because] the maker of the law failed to give that person protection,” said Manley.


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