- Associated Press - Friday, May 24, 2019

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A federal program that has helped thousands of police departments across the country buy 1.35 million bulletproof vests has been made permanent and named after the Vermont senator who helped conceive of the idea.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed the bi-partisan legislation that has been formally named “The Patrick Leahy Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program.” It was announced Friday.

The Vermont Democrat conceived of the program in the aftermath of a 1997 shooting in northern New Hampshire and Vermont by Carl Drega that killed two New Hampshire state troopers, a judge and a newspaper editor.

At the time, federal border agents who responded to the rampage that unfolded over several hours were wearing vests, but the New Hampshire troopers who were killed were not, Leahy’s office said.

Retired Border Patrol agent John Pfeifer credits the bulletproof vest he was wearing with saving his life when he was shot by Drega on a Vermont backroad. Drega was later killed by other officers.

“Obviously, there is a population of law enforcement officers out there that probably doesn’t have a completely funded vest program,” Pfeifer said Friday.

Since the Leahy program first began helping buy bulletproof vests for officers, it has provided 13,000 law enforcement agencies with 1.35 million vests. There is no data about the number of lives that have been saved by the vests, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many have.

Last month, officer Jerome Turner Jr. of the Union City Police Department in Georgia was shot multiple times, including once in the vest. Leahy said the department credits the vest with saving Turner’s life.

Leahy says that vests are often too expensive for many small jurisdictions. Without the permanent authorization the vest program was scheduled to expire next year, Leahy said.

“It has already saved the lives of so many, and put vests on the backs of well over one million officers,” Leahy said. “Now we know that millions more officers will be protected.”

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