It’s a matter of life and death. If you’re a police officer, you want to be wearing a bullet proof vest while you’re on duty.
A bill passed by the state legislature on Saturday and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin requires all sheriff’s departments in West Virginia to purchase bullet proof vests for every deputy.
The bill was championed by the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association. It has the full support of Kanawha County Sheriff John Rutherford.
“What these officers do day and night is very dangerous,” Rutherford said. “Just the basic traffic stop can be a life or death situation.”
Last year, Roane County Deputy John Westfall was critically injured when a man who had just shot and killed two West Virginia State Troopers fired several rounds at him. His life was saved because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Roane County does not provide vests for it’s officers. Westfall was wearing one because it was provided to him by the city of Spencer where he worked part-time.
If the bill becomes law, Roane and several other smaller counties will have to provide vests for each officer. If county commissions can’t afford them, the sheriff’s association will help obtain grant money.
Sheriff Rutherford says just last week he and some of his deputies traveled south to try and help a county in need.
“We went down and helped the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department with some problems they were having. They asked us if they could use our old vests that we have,” according to Rutherford.
He says each vest in his department is replaced once every five years. That’s how long the warranty lasts. The department replaces several dozen each year to spread out the cost. A vest runs anywhere from $700-$800 each.
Rutherford says before they can gift Mingo County their old vests, they have to check and make sure they meet safety codes. He says they’d rather help out the Mingo County deputies in another way.
“We’re studying that at this time. If we can help them, we are going to help them,” stressed Rutherford. “What we’re trying to do is get them new vests, with the best materials possible.”