Austin Police Department begins handing out ballistic vests to front line officers

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The Austin Police Department began rolling out more than 900 new ballistic vests last Monday in an effort to enhance safety measures for its front-line officers.

Interim Chief Brian Manley said at an APD press conference last week the department spent more than $300,000 from its general fund at the end of last year to purchase the new vests, which are capable of protecting officers from rifle fire. 

“We are fortunate that we are good stewards of our budget and only spend money when we need to, so when we came to the close of last year, we had funds available that allowed us to make this purchase,” Manley said. “These are for the men and women out on patrol in tactical units on the street, not the detectives inside, but the folks responding to 911 calls. That’s where greatest threat is.”

Manley cited a number of statistics regarding the law enforcement community, including 135 officer fatalities in 2016. Of these fatalities, 64 were killed by firearms — a 56 percent increase from the previous year. 

Law enforcement units across the nation saw a 10 percent increase in officer fatalities. Twenty-one officer deaths, the highest number in two decades, resulted from ambush-style attacks, Manley said. 

Texas led the country with 17 officer fatalities last year. Manley said these statistics are proof of the significant need for APD to purchase the vests for its officers.

“We saw some really alarming trends this last year, there were a lot of things going on across this country, and there was a lot of dialogue on policing and the policing profession,” Manley said. “There was a lot of dialogue during this last political process and all of these things kind of circled around … and so this is something we’re rolling out that is coming off the heels of that.” 

Of APD’s approximately 1,800 officers, 958 will be receiving new vests. Manley said the vests, which each cost $336, are intended for tactical-style use, to be worn only when officers are dispatched to a call where they feel they are at a higher risk for coming across a violent encounter.

The Austin Police Association has been pushing for new protective gear since last summer after the attack on police officers in Dallas at the end of a Black Lives Matter protest.

“We owe the city of Austin, the citizens and our executive staff many ‘thank yous’ for providing these vests to us,” APA president Ken Casaday said. “The vests we wear now daily can only do so much. This just takes it up another notch and adds one more level of protection that our officers have.”

Amplifying the safety of law enforcement officials has made it to the forefront of political conversations across the state. This legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made it a priority to pass a bill creating a grant program to fund protective gear for officers across Texas. 

“We must protect our law enforcement officers at all costs,” state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the author of the bill, told KXAN. “We’re trying to get $25 million, but you never know it may be $10 million, it may be $50 million.”