April 3, 2006

Lawmakers: Police armor inadequate


The bulletproof vests of nearly half of New York City's police officers could leave them vulnerable, according to a group of city lawmakers and police union representatives.

The lawmakers and police union officials, led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, want the mayor, in his executive budget, to increase next year's NYPD budget by $9.9 million to invest in high-tech, Level 3A bulletproof vests for the roughly 18,000 police officers who wear older, weaker body armor.

"When we send a member of our department out there to protect us, not really knowing that they will come home safe, it is our obligation in government to do everything we can to keep those men and women safe," said Quinn. "The best way we can do that as a city government is to make sure that all members of the force have the best, top-of-the-line, bulletproof vests that they can get."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday that it's up to the police department to decide whether the investment is a necessary expenditure.

"The police department will decide what's in their interest," said Bloomberg. "They're the ones who know what's best to protect the brave men and women who are out there every day putting their lives on the line."

Since 2002, police academy graduates have received Level 3A vests. But officers who graduated before then have inferior armor, said Quinn, who added that some officers purchased the vests themselves at a cost of $560.

The Level 3A vests, which were designed with suggestions from NYPD officers, are lighter and less rigid than the older models still worn by many police officers, said Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

"We're protecting the organs of the police officers," said Lynch. "We've raised the coverage on the front and we've increased coverage on the side to take some of those vulnerable spots away."

Police union representatives argued that body armor worn by police must be stronger to match the increasing force of larger caliber guns, said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.

"The weapons that they carry are bigger and more powerful, and that's what makes today's criminals more dangerous," Palladino said. Of the armor currently worn by most detectives, he added, "it's old, it's outdated, and it's not going to withstand a challenge from these high-tech weapons."

Quinn, however, did not go into detail about where the money would come from. She said that her response to the executive budget on Thursday will outline ideas as to where to find the money. But she noted that $9.9 million, while it sounds like a lot, hardly effects the NYPD's 2007 budget.

"Just to put it in perspective, $9.9 million is .027 percent of the police department's present budget," said Quinn. "So it really is, in that comparison, a small amount that could go a very long way."

NYPD officials did not indicate whether they felt the money was a necessary expenditure.

"The police department wants the best equipment possible for all of its police officers," read a statement by Commissioner Ray Kelly.