Campbellsville Police officers won't have to worry about affording body armor for several years to come after learning recently that they were awarded a grant from the Law Enforcement Protection Program administered by the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security.
The department received $12,100, the cost to supply body armor for its 22 officers.
"This money comes from the sale of confiscated weapons," Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette said. "This is totally a state-operated, state-funded program. The legislature passed a law back several years ago that at one time, all these confiscated guns were destroyed or they were put in a crime lab for comparison purposes."
But Hazlette said it wasn't long before they became inundated with confiscated weapons and decided to sell them to authorized dealers.
According to Hazlette, proceeds from the sale of the confiscated weapons go into the LEPP fund that is primarily used to supply law enforcement with body armor, though it has branched out to include grants for firearms, ammunition, tasers and service animals.
"The rationale was, 'We'll turn these illegal guns into something that will be beneficial for the police, for agencies that probably can't afford to do it on their own,'" Hazlette said.
Pat Gill, chief administrative officer for the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, said ensuring law enforcement officers have adequate body armor remains the program's No. 1 priority.
"They've had so many cutbacks on their budgets, and this is one way we can give back," Gill said.
And having to absorb the cost of the Kavlar-woven vests constructed to be five times stronger than steel would be difficult for law enforcement agencies throughout the state adapting to tighter budgets.
Gill said LEPP grants allow up to $550 per vest. The cost for the vests worn under the shirt is the same as those worn over clothing.
Hazlette said several years ago, the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, began discussing the possible expiration of body armor.
"There was a belief that crept out into the police world that said after five years, body armor's no good," Hazlette said. "So they recommended that it be changed out after five years."
Hazlette said the main concern is the manufacturer's warranty runs out after five years.
For vests, it's the same. If they're properly cared for and maintained, they're still just as functional as the day they were bought.
He said it is similar to the warranty on a vehicle and that just because a vehicle is no longer under warranty doesn't mean it is no longer safe to drive. So if the body armor is properly cared for and maintained, Hazlette said, it is still just as functional as the day it was bought.
Hazlette said he learned a little more than a year ago that the department's body armor was nearing the end of the five-year period, and some had even exceeded it.
Despite his skepticism, Hazlette said he decided to err on the side of caution and went ahead and ordered new body armor.
Therefore, Hazlette said the department will purchase new armor on an as-needed basis, and will soon order two sets because of the recent hiring of two officers.
Hazlette said Campbellsville Police Department has a policy that requires on-duty officers to wear body armor at all times when not at the station. There are some exceptions depending on work assignment and temperature conditions.
"Most agencies are going to a mandatory wear policy," Hazlette said. "You're seeing more and more of that across the country."
According to Hazlette, manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve the wearability and comfort of body armor and, as the comfort improves, officers are more willing to wear it.
"The younger officers, they're almost exclusive," Hazlette said. "They all wear them, all the time. I think it's just that they've grown up with it."
Hazlette said most officers of his generation did not wear body armor because when it was introduced in the 1970s, it was extremely bulky and very uncomfortable.
"The first one I got as a state trooper, it was like putting a car hood on," Hazlette said.
Though even in his days as a Kentucky State Police trooper, Hazlette admits he never wore body armor, there were a couple of situations when he wished he had. And with the improvements made to body armor in recent years, Hazlette is now an advocate.
"I think that they have proven over and over again that they will improve your chances of survivability in most situations," Hazlette said. "Wearing these is like wearing a seat belt. If you wear a set belt driving in a car and you're involved in a collision, you have a 50 percent greater chance of survivability than you do without it."
Gill said the LEPP has been successful since its launch five years ago, and that its intent is to protect law enforcement officers.
"I think it's very much appreciated by counties and cities throughout Kentucky," Gill said.