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Public Statements

Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. CHU. Mr. Speaker, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program has been an invaluable source of funding for state and local law enforcement jurisdictions across the country, including in my district. Without this broad-based source of funding, safety in our communities would suffer. This invaluable grant program supports a wide range of areas including from crime prevention and education to technology improvements for police departments.

In addition, the Byrne JAG Program provides resources for body armor, an area that I highlighted during action on H.R. 6062 in the Judiciary Committee, of which I am a Member. The grant program allows local law enforcement agencies and other grantees to purchase equipment, which can include bulletproof and stab-resistant vests. Although the Bureau of Justice Assistance (``BJA'') is not required to track body armor purchases with Byrne JAG funds, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released in February of this year, roughly 14 percent of grantees surveyed had used JAG funds to buy body armor in 2010.

Without a doubt, personal body armor plays a critical role in saving law enforcement officers from disabilities and death. As a matter of fact, FBI data shows that the risk of death for officers who did not wear body armor was 14 times greater than those who did. Despite this finding, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that only 71% of local police departments require field officers to wear body armor at least some of the time, while only 59% of departments require the officers to wear protective armor at all times. The benefits from wearing body armor are evident, and yet ..... many departments still don't require it.

Recently, the U.S. Attorney General instituted a new requirement for Fiscal Year 2011 grantees seeking matching funds from the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Act (BVPA)--grantees now need to have mandatory body armor wear policies in place. This means that uniformed officers on patrol are required to wear a protective vest. Unfortunately, this same mandate is not included in the Byrne JAG program.

This is why I proposed an amendment in Committee--similar to an amendment proposed to the BVPA reauthorization by Senator GRASSLEY, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and accepted by that Committee--that would have unified this mandatory wear policy and extended it to the Byrne JAG program. Chairman Smith graciously noted his willingness to work with me on this front, and so I agreed to withdraw my amendment, but the issue is still worth mentioning on the floor since it is such an important issue. I welcome the interest of any of my colleagues who would also like to work with me on ensuring the extension of mandatory wear policies for body armor to additional federal grantees.

I highlighted another issue when proposing my amendment in the Judiciary Committee, which is body armor fit--an issue that concerns all law enforcement officers, but particularly the growing number of women in law enforcement.
According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of women in local law enforcement grew from 7.6% in 1987 to 12% in 2007. In 2007, women accounted for 18% of sworn officers in 12 of the 13 largest local police departments.

The need for properly fitted body armor for women is extremely important.
Much of the armor currently offered is designed for male officers and simply does not take into account the anatomical differences. This of course leads to poor fit and discomfort. Fit issues also apply to male officers, who we know also come in different shapes and sizes. And whenever officers put on body armor that is not properly fitted, they are exposing themselves to greater harm since they are not as protected as they could be.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police/DuPont Kevlar Survivors' Club (Survivors' Club) has documented more than 3,150 saves from disability or death by wearing of or use of protective body armor. As noted in a July 19th letter to me from Retired Police Chief Ron McBride, Program Manager for Survivors' Club, ``It is appropriate to ensure that taxpayers' dollars expended on providing body armor results in consistent wear of an issued vest. Protective body armor left in an officer's locker provides zero protection. Unique fit is essential to optimizing protection. A well fitted armor provides best coverage of an officer's torso and is more comfortable to wear. These two issues equate to enhanced officer safety.''

This is why the second part of my amendment offered in committee would have required that body armor purchased with Byrne JAG funding be uniquely fitted to each officer, including female officers.

The issue of properly fitted body armor should not be taken lightly when considering the overall safety of law enforcement officers. Body armor saves lives, but only if it fits properly and is worn by officers. I look forward to continuing to work with the Chairman, Ranking Member CONYERS, and other interested Members in these areas.


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