Senator’s bill would help keep cops in vests |

Senator’s bill would help keep cops in vests

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County’s law enforcement agencies have for years been taking advantage of government grants to protect officers from gunfire, and a Colorado senator hopes to continue providing that help.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell introduced the Officer Dale Claxton Bullet Resistant Police Protective Equipment Act this week. The bill would authorize the Department of Justice to administer a matching grant program to help small police departments buy bullet-resistant equipment. The department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance would spend up to $40 million, as well as an additional $3 million for research into new protective technology such as polymers and ceramics.

Campbell, a former sheriff’s deputy in Sacramento County, Calif., noted in a press release announcing the introduction of the bill that the legislation was delivered to the Capitol during National Police Week, which honors fallen law enforcement officers. The bill is named for Cortez Police Officer Dale Claxton, who was killed in 1998 after stopping a stolen truck.

Summit County cops have been wearing bullet-resistant vests for many years. Most departments require officers to wear the equipment and purchase it for officers with the help of existing matching grants – a big help, because they’re not cheap.

The average vest costs about $500. With a department the size of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, for example, which has more than 40 deputies in the field, that bill adds up. Furthermore, vests must be replaced every five years because the constituent material degrades and becomes less protective.

“Our policy is, if they’re working, they’re wearing a vest,” Sheriff Joe Morales said, adding that Campbell has been instrumental in organizing federal matching grants to make sure police officers are protected out on patrol.

No officers have been shot – or shot at – in Summit County in recent history. In 1990, armed men attempted to rob City Market in Silverthorne. The suspects shot at sheriff’s deputies and other officers who responded to the alarm. Local law enforcement heads said officers are fortunate in this respect but always need to be prepared for the worst.

“I most definitely feel better with one on,” said Silverthorne Police Sgt. Mark Hanschmidt. “We’ve gone to the firing range with an old vest, and it gives you a new sense of security when you see that they do stop bullets.”

They don’t stop all bullets, however. While the vests are extremely resilient under small arms fire, long-range rifles can pierce the vest and protective material on both sides of the torso.

But the technology is always improving. Morales notes that his first protective vest 20 years ago “was like a phone book.” Early vests simply used metal plates. Polymer science later produced materials such as Kevlar, now used in most vests and other body armor. Kevlar is light and pliable, but vests can still be bulky and uncomfortable.

“People say all the time when they see us off-duty, “Did you lose weight?'” Hanschmidt said. “It adds about a half-inch in the front and back. When it gets hot out, it gets really hot in those things. It rubs holes in your uniform where stuff is pinned on. But it’s all worth it.”

The vests offer protection from attacks besides bullets, too. The energy-distributing properties of bullet-resistant materials protect officers from blunt trauma, such as from a club, and can fend off some knife attacks.

“They absorb a lot of energy,” Morales said.

Campbell’s bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary Affairs for analysis.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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