By Mannix Porterfield
Nearly 50 sheriff’s deputies in West Virginia can expect to have the protection of bulletproof vests, thanks to a bill clearing on a unanimous vote Wednesday in the House of Delegates.
Promoted by the West Virginia Sheriffs Association, HB2717 mandates that counties provide the equipment.
“Money is not the issue now,” the association’s executive director, Rudi Anne Kidder, said just before the House vote.
“It’s just saving lives.”
Delegate Bob Ashley, R-Roane, the lead sponsor, agreed, noting that the sheriff’s association and volunteers can provide sufficient money to cover the costs.
“I’m very happy to see it passed,” Ashley said.
“Hopefully, it will help the 50 or so deputy sheriffs that do not have the vests.”
It provides that counties outfit their law enforcement officers with the vests, once deputies are certified by the State Police Academy.
“We’ve got to protect these people,” said Ashley, adding that the measure was inspired by the tragic murders of two officers last summer at the Clay-Roane County line.
Freshman Delegate Joshua Nelson, R-Boone, told of how two elementary school students, upon learning of the officers’ slaying, took it upon themselves to launch a fund-raising campaign to provide the protective vests.
Students in three schools were called on to turn in quarters.
“They gathered enough to buy Joe King, a new deputy in Boone County, a vest,” Nelson told his House colleagues.
“This House must support West Virginia’s finest.”
Kidder said her organization has received some telephone calls, asking if the bill was tantamount to an unfunded mandate.
“We don’t look at it that way,” Kidder said.
“Most counties have been able to afford them through budgets, grants and forfeitures.”
Through its own special fund, she said, the sheriff’s association has accumulated some $42,000.
“If a county is struggling financially, we’ll be glad to reach in that fund and help them out,” she added.
A similar bill, advanced in the Senate by Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, was inspired in part by the close call two police officers survived in Oak Hill, when they were fired on. Both were equipped with the vests.
“Those officers are here today because they had body armor,” Laird said earlier.