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Police Officers Get Vested (Literally) VIA the Net
By Lily Whiteman

On July 24, 2000, a car-theft suspect pumped a bullet at point-blank range into the chest of David F. Azur, a Detective with the Baltimore Police Department. But thanks to his bulletproof vest, Azur survived the shooting with only minor injuries.

On January 21, 1999, a suspected vandalist shot Police Officer Alan Freed of Falls Church, Virginia at close range. But thanks to his bulletproof vest, Freed survived the shooting with only minor injuries.

On November 25, 1997, a gunman who was part of an ambushing team shot A bullet from his 9-mm gun into Officer John Ruane of the Special Mountain Bike Patrol of the Philadelphia Police Department. But thanks to his bulletproof vest, Ruane survived the shooting with only minor injuries.

Vests Save Lives

Azure, Freed and Ruane are just three of about 1,500 U.S. police officers whose lives have been saved by bulletproof vests since 1987, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Indeed, an officer wearing a bulletproof vest faces only a small fraction of the fatality risk faced by an officer not wearing such a vest, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Nevertheless, about 150,000 officers, or 25 percent of our nation's officers, currently remain deprived of bulletproof vests, according to Congressional estimates. Why? Because many state and local governments simply cannot afford these vests, which each usually cost between $400 to $700. That’s why, in 1998, Congress began annually allocating $25 million to state and local law enforcement agencies to help them buy a total of 90,000 bulletproof vests each year. Administered under the Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP), the grant program allows each participating jurisdiction to use BVP funds to cover up to 50 percent of its total vest costs. (Although Indian tribal governments may use federal funds as matching funds, all other jurisdictions must us nonfederal funding.)

The Need for Speed

But the BVP is no ordinary "hurry up and wait" grant program. Created to address an urgent, life-threatening problem, the program is specially designed for efficiency and speed. How? The BVP is entirely web based. "This means that program applicants walk through the entire process electronically, with the help of easy-to-understand instructions," explains Robert Watkins who manages the program from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. "The entire payment process also occurs over the Internet." The program's web site.

The BVP’s electronic format eliminates unnecessary and tedious paperwork. It also "allows us to quickly communicate with program participants through e-mails, on-line mailing lists, electronic articles, and our web site, which is linked to the web sites of potentially interested organizations, such as criminal justice associations," adds Watkins. "We can immediately tell them about important deadlines, program updates, and any additional information we need in their applications."

Moreover, BVP’s web site supports quick analyses of important data that used to be the sole provence of manufacturers. "But now we can identify national trends in the popularity of various types of bulletproof equipment and evaluate new models of equipment," says Watkins. Posted on the BVP web site, this type of information helps jurisdictions select the types of equipment that best suit their needs.

Small Communities

By law, at least half of the BVP grant money must go to jurisdictions that have fewer than 100,000 residents. Why? Because small communities generally have the tightest budgets, so they need the most help. Small communities, however, also tend to be the hardest to reach.

Nevertheless, the BVP web site is successfully beaming the word about the grant program to small communities. How do we know? For one thing, the BVP’s research indicates that over 99 percent of communities that are interested in applying for its funds are plugged into the Internet. Moreover, during the program’s second year, 3,079 of the 3,508 communities that applied for funds had fewer than 100,000 residents. BVP managers believe that the Internet has enabled them to reach more communities faster than would ever have been possible solely through conventional methods of communication, such as mass mailers, flyers, newspaper articles, announcements at professional conferences and notifications to Congressional officers.

So efficient and effective is the BVP that it won a Gold Award from the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils (FGIPC) in 1999.

Who Belongs to the BVP?

The BVP’s membership includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the Office of Justice Programs, the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

More Vests Needed

The BVP will begin its third year of operation in January, 2001. Speaking at a May 15, 2000 ceremony honoring 139 officers killed on the job this year, President Clinton encouraged Congress to pass a bipartisan proposal that would extend the BVP, which was originally authorized for just three years, for an additional three years. "If we do it, we'll be able to protect every single police officer in the United States with a bulletproof vest," the President said.

For More Information

Contact Robert Watkins with the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You may reach him at (202) 514-3447 or

About the Author

Contact Lily Whiteman, National Partnership for Reinventing Government, 750-17th St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006; (202) 694-0086 or

October 16, 2000


Access America Online Magazine Partners
Chief Information Officers Council
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
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