- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2016

A program that helps state and local law enforcement agencies buy bulletproof vests was reauthorized Monday by President Obama, following a four-year lapse in funding.

“Our nation has a responsibility to support those who serve and protect us and keep our streets safe,” Mr. Obama said at a Medal of Valor ceremony for law enforcement officers, where he announced he had signed the reauthorization bill.

The legislation will provide $25 million a year through 2020 to the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program, which has helped outfit officers across the nation with more than 1.2 million pieces of ballistic-resistant soft body armor since it was established in 1999. The program allows the Justice Department to offer matching grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to purchase or upgrade their body armor.

The last authorization bill for the program expired in 2012.

Reauthorization of the bill comes at a time that law enforcement officers have been increasingly concerned with an uptick in fatal shootings of police officers.

A slew of fatal shootings at the beginning of 2016 drove up the number of gun-related line of duty deaths, with six officers and deputies fatally shot during one week in February alone.

While the total number officers’ line-of-duty deaths is down 8 percent so far in 2016, with the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund reporting 36 fatalities, the number of firearm-related deaths remains up. As of Monday, 18 of the 36 fatalities were firearm-related, accounting for a 38 percent increase over the same time last year.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which has lobbied for reauthorization of the program, credits bulletproof vests with saving thousands of officers lives.

Officials first began documenting official “saves,” or shootings in which an officer would have likely died if not for wearing a bulletproof vest, in 1975. Since then, the National FOP said more than 3,100 officers have been certified as saved by their body armor.

“Six officers have had their lives saved since mid-October thanks to the [bulletproof vest program]. How many programs can quantify their success so starkly?” FOP President Chuck Canterbury said in a statement issued last week. “That’s 3,100 officers that go home to their families and 3,100 names that will not have been inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance at Judiciary Square.”

Body armor is not always able to save the life of a police officer who comes under fire.

FBI data released Monday, which documents the circumstances of line-of-duty deaths in 2015, found that 30 of the 41 officers who were feloniously killed that year were wearing body armor.

Among those killings, 29 incidents involved handguns, eight involved rifles or shotguns, and in one incident the firearm was not specified. The remaining three deaths involved vehicles used against officers as weapons.

Among those killed by firearms, three officers had their own weapons stolen and used against them.

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