U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today pushed to renew legislation to help provide law enforcement officers with life-saving bulletproof vests during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kohl was a sponsor of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Act in 1999, and supports reauthorizing and funding the legislation this year. Representatives from law enforcement, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Government Accountability Office testified at the hearing that the vests are a fundamental part of keeping officers safe in the line of duty.
"We owe our law enforcement officers a debt of gratitude for the work they do each and every day, keeping our communities safe and enforcing the law," Kohl said. "We need to do all we can for the men and women who risk their lives to protect us."
Kohl has heard from law enforcement officials in Wisconsin that some police and sheriffs' departments, with their budgets stretched thin, require the new recruits to buy their own vests. These vests can cost between $500 and $700, so the new recruits may not be able to afford them. Kohl raised concerns about the financial burden to officers when there is support among law enforcement to make wearing the vests mandatory in most cases, and the witnesses agreed that the Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant program is essential to ensuring that all officers have access to bulletproof vests.
"No officer should be without a bulletproof vest. We must do all we can to ensure that all jurisdictions large and small are able to buy them," Kohl continued.
Kohl referenced a case from March, 2011 when a 9-year veteran of the Fond du Lac, Wisconsin Police Department was shot twice in the chest as he responded to a call.
"Fortunately, the officer had chosen to wear a bulletproof vest even though his department did not require it and the vest saved his life," Kohl said.
Kohl periodically surveys Wisconsin law enforcement agencies across the state to seek their expertise and get input on their greatest challenges. In Kohl's most recent survey, a majority of respondents cited budget cuts (64.2%) and difficulty with equipment purchase and upkeep (56.7%).
There has been a steady decrease in the violent crime rate. Yet police officer deaths increased by an alarming 37 percent in 2010 and rose again by 16 percent in 2011.
According to the Department of Justice, 189 jurisdictions in Wisconsin participated in the bulletproof vest grant program in 2011. They were awarded $512,947.98 and were able to purchase 2,191 vests: