By Mannix Porterfield
Each time he suited up for a day’s work as a Beckley police officer, Sen. Mike Green made sure part of his uniform included a bulletproof vest.
No one ever took a shot at him, but Green says he never reported for a work shift without the added protection.
His experience as a police officer figured in Green’s co-sponsorship of a bill that would require all 55 counties in West Virginia to outfit sheriff’s deputies with ballistic vests.
In these violent times, lawmakers point to a number of episodes in which police officers have become targets of gun-wielding criminals.
Within recent years, Green pointed out Monday, police officers in Oak Hill were in someone’s gunsights on two occasions, and the vests proved to be lifesavers.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re worth the investment,” Green, D-Raleigh, said.
“I don’t know how we cannot fund those vests for the officers.”
Senate Majority Whip Bill Laird, D-Fayette, who served four terms as sheriff of his home county, is the lead sponsor.
Added to the list of sponsors were Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph; Donna Boley, R-Pleasants; Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming; Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam; Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell; Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier; David Nohe, R-Wood; and Jack Yost, D-Brooke.
The measure is a key one sought in this session by the West Virginia Sheriffs Association.
“You can look at the history,” Green said.
“In Beckley, during the six or seven years I was there, in one incident someone shot through a vacant field at one of our guys and hit the cruiser. In Beckley, every uniformed officer had access to the vests.”
Green said the department, during his tenure, aggressively conducted patrols in satellite precincts at East Beckley and East Park, and the vests were standard equipment.
While the measure only specifies sheriff’s departments, Green said the supporters want to see all law enforcement officers with access to the protective gear.
“Part of the bill goes back to raising money,” he said.
“If the sheriff’s department or municipality cannot afford them, these private dollars raised will go to those agencies in order to get vests to the guys on the street.”
Just how many counties now have a full supply of vests isn’t known, but Green said he suspects that some small, rural ones, with small staffs and cramped budgets, likely haven’t been able to purchase them. That is where private dollars come into play, he said.
Generally, the senator noted, police on the street don’t wear any type of protective headgear in routine patrols.
“But if an agency has a SWAT team, it has full gear as far as helmets, vests and bullet deflection devices go,” he added.
Laird’s bill was double referenced, first to the Government Organization Committee, then to finance.
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