Central Texas police agencies target more rifle-resistant vests

Published: Feb. 7, 2020 at 12:00 AM CST
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A McLennan County police agency is donating equipment which could potentially save the lives of officers in another small department about 20 miles away.

"Our daily vests won't stop a rifle round--the ballistic vest that we donated to them will," said Beverly Hills Police Chief Thomas Schmidt. "I just figured: pay it forward."

Last week, Beverly Hills PD donated eight ballistic plates and carriers to the West Police Department.

"Even though we're a small department we're located on a major interstate, you never know when we have to go to an active shooter or standoff," said West Police Chief Darryl Barton. "Literally, down the road, it might save one of my officers lives."

The thicker, heavier ceramic plates protect against rifles and will not replace the soft, ballistic vests officers were daily, but will instead be worn in a carrier that goes on top, complimenting them during high-risk incidents.

"It's not about comfort, it's about survivability, it protects your vital organs," said Barton. "The ceramic will repel rifle rounds to where if we're in an active shooter situation, not only does he have this but he has his regular bullet-proof vest under that."

In an active shooter situation, a ballistic vest is one of the first lines of defense for police, however, the equipment isn't cheap, and not every agency can afford to give its officers a second layer of defense.

The vests donated by BPD run around $400-$500 a piece and, after only two years of use, should last another 18 years.

The agency recently purchased new, two-in-one vests which allow for the soft and hard plates to be together in one carrier.

"This way we don't have to switch out anything," said Schmidt. "We've got it already on us."

The all-in-one vest packages cost about $2,200 each, and the steel plates never expire, Schmidt says.

He says he had to some some finagling, but reappropriated funds for a new patrol car to purchase the eight new vests.

Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin did something similar last year by reallocating unused budget funds to buy 30 ballistic plates and carriers for every certified peace officer in his agency.

"This is something that's extremely important that officers have," said Devlin.

The 45-pound carriers, with NIJ rated IIIA plates, cost around $435 a piece.

"The idea being, the larger the vest or the thicker the vest is going to be, the more rounds it would stop," said Devlin.

Devlin says he'd been looking into outfitting the department with the additional vests, which are more rifle-resistant, for years, however, having one of his officers shot last year pushed him over the edge.

"We see it every day, it's happening more and more," said Devlin. "We're encountering a lot more violence than we have over the last 25 years for sure, and the weapons are getting bigger, and they're getting faster, and they're getting stronger, and that's the problem."

On Feb. 5 2019, HPD officer Clint Brandon was shot twice by a bank robber with a shotgun.

He survived after one of the rounds was stopped by his soft ballistic vest.

However, if the shooter had been using a rifle, Devlin says his officer could have been killed.

"It could have been a completely different outcome because in the previous bank robberies from that specific individual he was carrying a long gun, which shoots the type of round which would go straight through that body armor," said Devlin. "Had we had this (the second vest) in play, it provides that ballistic protection for that specific type of round."

In the past, rifle-resistant armor was mostly carried by SWAT or special teams with advanced notice of a potentially life-threatening situation.

However, Devlin says they're encountering more of those types of situations on regular patrol, therefore, patrol officers need to outfitted with that type equipment, too.

"It's that extreme piece of equipment that we've got to give and put in the hands of patrol officers because they're likely to encounter these type of weapons out on the street," he said.

Devlin's officers will carry them in their vehicles to be put on top of their regular vests for additional protection on a case-by-case basis.

"I'm glad that we've got them," said Devlin.

Barton says it was a life-saving donation he's thankful for but hopes they never have to use.

"This ballistic plate is going to be that one more layer of protection to keep my officers safe and go home at the end of the day," said Barton.

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