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Good sense: State funds more bullet proof vests for police

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

BEHIND THE STORY: In an eerie twist, the FBI arrested several men and took 45 guns off the street a day after Bergen County’s sheriff and prosecutor, along with the city of Hackensack, were named the main beneficiaries of $263,515 in state funds for bulletproof vests.

The Sheriff’s Department is getting the largest chunk, $38,247 (14.5 percent), of money divided up among Bergen’s 71 agencies. Next is the Prosecutor’s Office, with $10,725, with Hackensack police close behind at $10,214.

In contrast, Bergen County Police are getting $8,340.

As expected, large shares go to Teaneck ($8,168), Fort Lee ($8,083) and both Paramus and Englewood, at $7,061 each.

The smaller departments got some funding, as well, with Harrington Park getting $1,267, Northvale and Norwood getting $1,522, Allendale, Alpine, Midland Park and Old Tappan at $1,608 each, and South Hackensack getting $1,693.

Garfield fared well, with $5,357, as did Fair Lawn ($5,101) and Cliffside Park ($4,164), which all outstripped Lodi, whose $3,908 was the same as East Rutherford’s and Elmwood Park’s.

Also doing relatively well compared with other departments:

Mahwah: $4,846
Lyndhurst: $4,590
Bergenfield: $4,334
Ridgewood: $4,164

The rest got less than $4,000. That can still be significant, however, given that some vests cost as low as $500.

All they need do is choose from a list of vendors approved by the National Institute of Justice.

The funding comes from $3.6 million in grants distributed statewide from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Body Armor Replacement Fund, thanks to a $1 surcharge on traffic tickets and forfeitures of bail.

The grant awards were disclosed less than 24 hours before U.S. Attorney Paul S. Fishman announced the arrests of eight men accused with firearms trafficking in Essex County. The probe centered on Newark, but they are the same kind of guns that can easily make their way up to Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties.

Making the busts possible was a confidential informant who, working for the FBI, bought dozens of assault rifles, machine pistols, shotguns and semi-automatic handguns from black-market dealers, one of whom sold a weapon from a laundry and another from the trunk of a car.

Obviously, the days of the “Saturday night special” are gone: Police are facing low- to medium-energy handguns, .22 rimfire rifles and shotguns. Auto-loading pistols and high-capacity magazines make the threat even more dangerous.

What people don’t talk about is that most on-duty police deaths and injuries happen during routine assignments. We’ve had enough shootings in Bergen County to know.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that more than 30 percent officers killed in the line of duty could have been saved by body armor and that any who don’t wear it stand a 14 times greater chance of being killed in a gunfight.

“The only thing more tragic than an officer losing his or her life is the idea that the loss could have been prevented through the use of a vest,” said Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Commander Cheryl Pendergast.

Just so there are no misunderstandings: NOTHING is completely bulletproof. Vests, like other gear, stop what they are designed to stop. “Bullet-resistant” would be more accurate.

The good news is that the technology keeps getting better – even from just a few years ago. Vests are thinner, lighter and more flexible, yet those such as Kevlar® brand fiber can “catch” bullets, while absorbing and dispersing the energy of the impact.

The downside is that vests need to be upgraded, sometimes as frequently as three years. Most departments turn over every five or so years.

For that reason, police throughout New Jersey are hoping the grants continue well into the future.

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