The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved legislation backed by U.S. Senator Herb Kohl to help provide law enforcement officers with life-saving bulletproof vests. In February, during a Judiciary Committee hearing, Kohl voiced concerns that new recruits in some police and sheriffs' departments were expected to cover the costs for their bulletproof vests because of budget shortfalls. Kohl was a sponsor of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Act in 1999, and supports reauthorizing and funding the legislation this year.
"There is no dispute that bulletproof vests are essential to protect our officers when they respond to volatile situations. These men and women routinely put themselves in danger to keep our communities safe. It's wrong that they are paying hundreds of dollars for their own equipment," Kohl said.
Kohl has heard from law enforcement officials in Wisconsin that some police and sheriffs' departments are forced to require new recruits to buy their own vests because of budget cuts. These vests can cost between $500 and $700. 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.
Kohl periodically surveys Wisconsin law enforcement agencies across the state to seek their guidance and input. In Kohl's most recent survey, a majority of respondents cited budget cuts (64.2%) and difficulty with equipment purchase and upkeep (56.7%) as primary concerns.
Despite a steady decrease in the violent crime rate, police officer deaths increased by 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: