Del. Officers Support Bulletproof Vest Program - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Updated: Del. Officers Support Bulletproof Vest Program

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(Photo courtesy: Delaware State Police) (Photo courtesy: Delaware State Police)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP)- Two police officers shot at a Delaware courthouse earlier this year joined U.S. Sen. Chris Coons on Friday in calling for Congress to reauthorize a federal program that helps local police departments across the nation buy bulletproof vests for their officers.
 
Sgt. Michael Manley and Cpl. Steve Rinehart of the Delaware Capitol Police said the vests they were wearing on Feb. 11 saved their lives after a gunman opened fire in the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse. The man killed his former daughter-in-law and another woman before exchanging shots with police and taking his own life.
 
Both officers were wearing vests purchased with the help of the federal Bulletproof Vest Partnership program, which reimburses local police departments up to 50 percent of the costs of protective body armor for their officers.
 
Coons said the program has helped police departments buy more than 1 million vests and has saved the lives of more than 3,000 police officers since it began in 1998.
 
But the program did not receive any funding this year after Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma put a hold on a 2012 reauthorization bill.
 
Coons fears a reauthorization bill that he and fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced May 13 could be the target of similar opposition.
 
"I think this program is in grave danger, and I think it deserves our active and determined support," Coons said Friday on the steps of the courthouse, surrounded by some 50 police officers representing more than a dozen Delaware law enforcement agencies.
 
The reauthorization bill calls for $120 million in funding for the partnership over five years.
 
A spokesman for Coburn did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment.
 
Manley said the vest he was wearing on Feb. 11 stopped a .45-caliber round from piercing his heart, leaving him instead with only bruised ribs and a large cut.
 
"In this instance, I survived because I was given the proper equipment, for the vest gave me a fighting chance," he said. "... It would be the height of tragic absurdity that a police officer sworn to protect, respond, react, would lose his or her life because the makers of the law cannot agree to provide that servant of the people with the fighting chance a bulletproof vest provides."
 
Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath said the risk of dying from a gunshot is 14 times higher for police officers not wearing armored vests, which can cost hundreds of dollars and must be replaced every few years. He said it was "almost a slap in the face" to think that some in Congress would not favor federal funding to help protect officers.
 
Coons said opposition to reauthorizing the partnership comes from a small group of lawmakers who don't believe the federal government should have a role in local law enforcement, similar to those who want to get rid of the Department of Education.
 
"This is just one small piece of a much bigger disagreement," he said.
 
According to Coons, law enforcement agencies in Delaware have received more than $482,000 over the past five years to help reimburse the costs for more than 3,850 vests.
 
Under the grant program, police departments must purchase armor that meets National Institute of Justice Standards and must require officers to wear the vests at all times while on duty, even, as Coons noted, "when it isn't particularly comfortable."
 
"We need to save this program so it can keep saving lives," he said.

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