By Wendy Holdren
Members of the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association have decided to take a look at a national program called In-Vest, which strives to ensure every officer is provided with a bullet-proof vest.
In-Vest USA began in 1993 when a South Carolina man, Michael Letts, learned that local law enforcement officers were not provided bullet-proof vests as a standard part of their personal equipment. Letts began the nonprofit organization to help officers in his state.
The program has since expanded across the country to raise awareness and raise funds to distribute vests to agencies in need.
Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association, said after shootings in August, she decided to poll the sheriffs to find out how many did not have enough bullet-proof vests for their officers.
“It’s not a state law, and many of us just take it for granted,” Raynes-Kidder said. “It’s such a big deal with the increasing amount of violence you see here in the state.”
In August, Clay County Deputy John Westfall was shot by a suspect several times, but his life was spared because he was wearing a bullet-proof vest. Westfall was responding to the call that followed the shooting of state troopers Cpl. Marshall Lee Bailey and Trooper Eric Workman.
“(Westfall) was wearing a borrowed vest issued from the city of Spencer,” Raynes-Kidder said. “Had he not been wearing a vest, he wouldn’t be with us.”
Sheriffs Association members plan to pursue legislation that would require every officer in the state be equip-ped with a bullet-proof vest.
“If you can have that extra protection, it could save a life.”
Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner said although every officer in Raleigh County has access to vests if they wish to wear them, not all agencies are as fortunate.
“They are rather expensive, and some small towns cannot afford to fully equip their staff,” Tanner said.
If the legislation moves forward, Tanner said, a firearm and vest would be issued to each officer upon graduation from the State Police Academy.
“Most smaller agencies have smaller resources, but (In-Vest) gives an opportunity to take care of those people.”
Contributions can be made to the In-Vest program at any City National Bank, at the West Virginia Sheriffs Association, or at WCHS-TV in Charleston.
For more information, visit www.investusa.org.
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