Grant funds new vests

HANCOCK COUNTY — Three law enforcement agencies are among 111 departments in Indiana to receive federal grants for bulletproof vests.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it would give some $377,000 in grants to Hoosier police departments to help pay for ballistic or stab-resistant body armor. More than $11,000 of that will come to Hancock County. The sheriff’s department and Cumberland and Fortville police departments are among the grant recipients.

The grants come as part of the department of justice’s ongoing Bulletproof Vest Partnership program. Since 1999, the program has awarded more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies across the county $430 million in federal funds to purchase protective equipment, according to the DOJ website.

To date, more than 1.2 million vests have been purchased nationwide thanks to the program, official said.

Body armor, like bulletproof vests, first became a popular police tool in the 1970s, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said. Now, most law enforcement agencies require officers to wear a vest under their uniforms every day, he said.

The devices are credited with saving the lives of more than 3,000 police officers in the last 30 years, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Police officers who don’t wear body armor are three times more likely to die if they are shot in the abdomen or chest, the institute said.

Fortville Police Chief Bill Knauer said one of his officers is among those alive today thanks to the devices.

In 2012, Fortville Police Officer Matt Fox, a 10-year veteran of the department, was shot nine times during a traffic stop. Five of the bullets that struck Fox that night hit him in the chest.

The body armor Fox was wearing that night saved him, Knauer said, and it’s proof the devices are essential equipment for those who put their lives on the line every day to help protect their communities.

But vests can be expensive to purchase, Shepherd said.

Each one costs at least $600, and outfitting an entire department — all 38 of the sheriff’s department’s full-time deputies wear bulletproof vests — comes with a hefty price tag, he said.

Smaller departments, too, don’t always have enough funding available to make such a big purchase, Knauer said. The federal grants help smaller agencies, like Fortville, keep officers safe while taking the burden off local taxpayers, he said.

The DOJ’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership gave funding priority to cities, towns and counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, officials said.

Hancock County received more than $8,000 in federal reimbursement money; Fortville received a little more than $1,000; and Cumberland received nearly $3,000.

The grants disbursed by the DOJ reimburse half of the money local police departments spent on vests since April 1, officials said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.