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Bulletproof vests save lives, but are not mandated

7:38 PM, Feb 22, 2011   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida --  Bulletproof vests have saved lives of more than 3,000 officers since 1987, according to estimates from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and yet most agencies throughout the Bay area do not require their officers and deputies to wear them.

"Given our climate of the humidity and heat we have here, it's sometimes hard to mandate something like that," said St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon.

While the police department provides each of its officers with a bulletproof vest, as most local agencies do, they are not required to wear the vests.

Officer David Crawford elected not to wear his on Monday night when he had a deadly confrontation with a suspect, according to Chief Harmon.

"Would it have averted this tragedy?  It may have had an impact, it may not have," said Chief Harmon.

He added later, "I'm certainly not saying that David did anything wrong.  We have a suspect out there that intentionally shot and killed a police officer and that may not have changed given any circumstances or training."

A survey by the Bureau of Justice shows 59 percent of the agencies it surveyed mandate body armor, 41 percent do not.

When asked whether the St. Petersburg Police Department would reconsider its policy, Chief Harmon said, "I'll certainly say it's worth looking into again and talk about."

Thomas Sabo, with Dana Safety Supply in Tampa, one of the nation's largest suppliers of police body armor and equipment would like to see the policies change.

Not because it's business, but because it can save lives.

"I've literally fitted over a thousand vests and I've had over five vests that have saved lives of officers and it's a feeling you really can't describe," said Sabo.

He understands the vests can be uncomfortable, especially in the Florida heat, but he urges officers and deputies to make the choice to suit up with the body armor, especially since they're provided with one.

"Wear your armor.  Your family wants you to wear your armor.  The citizens want you to wear your armor.  We all want you to be safe," he urged.

The Bureau of Justice's Bulletproof Vest Program, which provides federal dollars to law enforcement agencies to purchase the vests, implemented a new policy for fiscal year 2011 that only allows dollars to be given to agencies that mandate the use of body armor.

Nearly every agency in the bay area has received funding to purchase vests through this program over the last ten years.  The St. Petersburg Police Department has been able to buy more than 1,000 vests, according to online records with the Bureau of Justice.

The change in policy would essentially eliminate most agencies in the bay area. 

Among the few agencies that require officers to wear body armor while on in uniform and on the job, includes Temple Terrace Police.

Full coverage:

Laura Kadechka

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