Flanked by Capitol Police Sergeant Michael Manley, Capitol Police Corporal Steve Rinehart, and Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath, U.S. Senator Chris Coons stood with 50 officers from 13 law enforcement agencies on the steps of the New Castle County Courthouse on Friday morning and pledged to keep working to save the federal Bulletproof Vest Partnership, which helps police officers and local governments purchase life-saving body armor. Sergeant Manley and Corporal Rinehart were wearing vests purchased through the program in February when Thomas Matusiewicz entered the Courthouse's lobby and opened fire. Both officers were struck, but survived because of their vests.
Thousands of vests have been purchased by Delaware law enforcement through the Partnership over its 14-year history -- including 3,852 in the last five years -- but with some in Congress now blocking continuation of the program, its future is in real jeopardy.
"Police officers work to keep us safe every day, so the least Congress can do is get their backs when they do it," Senator Coons said. "The federal Bulletproof Vest Partnership makes costly body armor more affordable, ensuring that when officers go out to protect our communities, they can do so safely. There are folks in Congress who think the Bulletproof Vest Partnership isn't a good investment of federal dollars, but rather than risk having an honest and transparent conversation about it on the floor, they're preventing us from even considering it. The Partnership has saved more than 3,000 lives nationwide -- including the lives of Sergeant Manley and Corporal Rinehart. We need to save this program so that this program can keep saving lives."
"The start of the work day here was no different than any other, but within minutes, that changed," Sergeant Manley said on Friday. "I was shot with a .45 caliber bullet at close range. The injuries to my body included bruised ribs and a large laceration, as the vest had stopped that bullet from piercing my body. If it had, it would have pierced my heart. I was reminded of how lucky I was that day and in the days to follow by my friends, my family, neighbors, and people I hardly knew. I knew I considered myself eternally grateful, but I also knew that in this instance, I survived because I was given the proper equipment. The vest gave me a fighting chance -- a chance to my duty to react, respond, and protect. It is my sincerest hope that this [bill] is passed. It would be the height of tragic absurdity that a police officer sworn to protect, respond and react, would lose his or her life because the makers of the law can not agree to provide that servant of the people with the fighting chance a bulletproof vest provides."
"Since I began my law enforcement career 26 years ago, I've always considered my vest an essential part of my equipment," Corporal Rinehart said Friday. "I can say without a doubt that if I had not been wearing my vest on February 11th, I would not be standing here before you today, or I would not be back in a full capacity. The vest has given me a second chance on life so I can spend quality time with my family and friends."
"The Delaware Police Chiefs Council supports the initiatives of Chairman Leahy and Senator Coons to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program," Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath said. "Body armor is essential equipment for police officers across the country. It is no less important than the service weapons, uniforms and properly equipped police cars we provide to our officers to do their jobs every day. With the constant battle of budget cuts facing police chiefs across the country, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership allows us to provide new vests for our new officers and will continue to allow us to replace old body armor on a five-year schedule. It is extremely important that our police officers are able to protect themselves with the best bulletproof technology available and with a vest that properly fits each individual officer sworn to protect and serve. The Delaware Police Chief Council considers the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program to be of critical importance to law enforcement across our nation." Chief Horvath is chairman of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council.
The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act, which Senators Coons and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy re-introduced on May 13, reauthorizes the competitive grant program from the Bureau of Justice Assistance that provides funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in their purchasing of bullet-resistant and stab-resistant body armor that complies with National Institute of Justice standards. Agencies can be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of the cost of qualifying body armor. Over the last 14 years, more than a million vests have been purchased nationwide, saving the lives of more than 3,000 police officers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"The Delaware State Fraternal Order of Police strongly supports this legislation and calls upon our elected officials to ensure our officers are protected by voting for reauthorization of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program," Delaware FOP President Fred Calhoun said. "Without these funds, many officers and agencies will not be able to afford these critical pieces of equipment. Every day, we rely on our officers to put themselves in harm's way to ensure the safety of our citizens. A small investment in the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program by the bipartisan leadership of our great nation will yield immeasurable returns in both the safety of Delaware's Law Enforcement officers and the citizens they diligently serve. The Delaware State Fraternal Order of Police believes that this vital piece of funding should not fall victim to partisan politics and that the time to fund the Bulletproof Vest Partnerships Grant Program is now."