Senate Unanimously Passes Baldwin-Supported Bipartisan Bill to Renew Lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Grant Program

In FY14, Wisconsin received more than $495,000 in grant money, which has helped in buying over 1300 vests for local and state law enforcement officers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate has unanimously approved legislation to reauthorize the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, authored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and supported by Senator Tammy Baldwin.

This bill would extend for five years the matching grant program that helps members of law enforcement purchase lifesaving bulletproof vests.  The program has helped 13,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country purchase more than one million protective vests for their officers since the program began in 1999.

“I’m proud to support this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that helps provide over 200,000 police officers with lifesaving bulletproof vests,” said Baldwin. “I urge the House to take action on this legislation so we can finally reauthorize this program that supports our law enforcement officers in Wisconsin and across America."

Leahy authored the legislation creating the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program after the tragic 1997 shootout along the Vermont-New Hampshire border in which federal law enforcement officers were equipped with bulletproof vests, while state and local officers from Vermont and New Hampshire were not.  Two state troopers were killed in the shootout.  In the wake of that tragedy, Leahy teamed with former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) to introduce their bipartisan legislation authorizing matching federal grants to help state and local jurisdictions buy lifesaving body armor and bulletproof vests.  According to the Government Accountability Office, the lives of approximately 3000 law enforcement officers have been saved by body armor since 1987.

Congress has reauthorized the program four times, most recently in 2008.  But the program’s charter expired in September 2012, and the Senate has failed to pass reauthorization legislation despite bipartisan efforts to do that. 

The bipartisan reauthorization bill ensures that agencies uphold mandatory-wear policies so that the vests are worn regularly to protect officers.  It also creates incentives for agencies to provide uniquely fitted vests for female officers — a critical provision highlighted by officers like Ann Carrizales of Stafford, Texas, who was shot twice during a routine traffic stop in 2013.  At a Judiciary Committee hearing last year, Officer Carrizales said:  “I would not be sitting here today had I not been wearing a properly fitting bulletproof vest.”

Supporters for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program include the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Tactical Officers Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association.