City Emergency Funds Could Buy Body Armor For Police

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The Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety Committee is expected to consider legislation today that would authorize the transfer of about $387,600 from the city’s contingency fund to buy body armor for police officers. The transfer would be the year’s first from the fund, which is set aside for emergencies.

The funds would be used to replace 732 pieces of armor owned by the Milwaukee Police Department with warranties expiring at the end of the year. The legislation would reserve the money for the department, which could use the funds if those set aside in the 2010 budget for equipment aren’t enough to cover the new armor.

The city budgeted $113,350 in 2010 for police body armor, but that’s not expected to be enough. “It is unlikely existing MPD resources are adequate,” says a letter city Budget Director Mark Nicolini wrote to the committee.

Why Milwaukee Common Council Should Buy Body Armor For Police?

The armor needs to be replaced, the letter says, because of changing federal standards. Once the warranties expire, the armor will no longer be certified by the National Institute for Justice, the federal agency that sets standards for bullet resistant vests and other armor worn by police officers.

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“There was a concern it could be open to some question as to whether the equipment was adequate,” Nicolini tells NewsBuzz. “We budgeted for a number of equipment items through the annual budget, but since this wasn’t brought to our attention until well into 2010, we didn’t budget for it in 2010.”

Nicolini says MPD notified the city Budget and Management Division in May about the possible need for purchasing the armor. His letter to the committee, dated Dec. 1, recommends reserving the contingency funds for the department.

MPD declined to comment on the request prior to today’s meeting.

Ald. Robert Puente, a former police captain and a member of the Public Safety Committee, says he intends to ask today if the department has looked into funding the armor through seizures or grants. “Are there other sources we can look at?” he says.

Puente adds, “I’m all in favor of getting the body armor for the officers. I went to funerals for officers who were killed in the line of duty. I hope never to do it again.”

Throughout the past decade, the National Institute for Justice has toughened the standards on armor worn by police. Puente says officers face a variety of threats, including armor-piercing ammunition used by some criminals.

The last major revision of its body armor standards was released in July 2008. It’s not clear if any revision have occurred since. A representative from the Institute was not available on Wednesday due to a U.S. Department of Justice conference.

According to Nicolini, the Institute has changed its policies on using armor after its warranty expires. Old standards allowed departments to test a small number of vests by firing into them to see if they still provided enough protection. But such testing is no longer allowed. Under current regulations, all vests would have to be fired into to demonstrate their safety.

But then they wouldn’t be usable because the vests are typically damaged when shot. “It’s kind of a Catch-22,” he says.

If the funding is approved, all MPD body armor will be replaced on a five-year cycle after warranties expire instead of every seven years as before. Money was set aside in the 2011 budget to replace armor with warranties expiring next year, according to the Budget and Management Division, but not enough to replace the 732 pieces that expire at the end of this year.

Ald. Terry Witkowski, also a member of the Public Safety Committee, says that after reviewing the legislation, “It would appear to be something I would support.”

He says that with the number of officers who have been shot in recent months, the armor purchase would likely qualify as an emergency expense.

Most recently, in June, an officer was shot with an assault rifle during a traffic stop on the city’s north side. Two officers were investigating a report of shots fired and pulled over the car, which matched a description of one of the vehicles said to be involved in the shooting.

A man got out of the car and opened fire with the rifle on one of the officers, who survived his injuries. The other officer fired on the suspect, wounding him.

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