PHILIPPI - Philippi City Council will begin the process of purchasing bulletproof vests for six city police officers today.
Mayor Jerry Mouser said that city officers do not currently have the ballistic vests. He said it could be a safety issue and also a liability for the city if an officer not wearing a vest is injured.
"I have a personal thing about this," Mouser said during a work session just prior to the start of Tuesday's City Council meeting. "Every time we put an officer on the street without a vest, we're doing two things.The worst thing is we're endangering their lives. The second thing is, and I don't think people realize the second one, there's a liability issue."
Mouser said it's a known fact that bulletproof vests have and can save lives. Not providing vests to officers is like sending a street department worker out on a job without a hard hat and a pair of hard-toed shoes, Mouser added. An officer who is shot, cut or otherwise injured when not wearing a bulletproof vest may file a civil lawsuit against the city, and the family of an officer who dies from an injury this way may also file the civil suit.
"I think it's some of the wisest (money) you could spend," Mouser said, referring to funds used to purchase bulletproof vests.
Mouser said that the Philippi City Council and Barbour County Commission attempted to secure a couple of grants to help fund the vests for both city and county officers, but those grants were not obtained. After hearing this Tuesday, City Council members voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Karen Weaver to proceed today with the purchase of the six vests, not to exceed $3,600 or $600 per vest.
Mouser said bulletproof vests only have an estimated five-year shelf life because of exposure to rainy weather and the perspiration of an officer wearing it. Mouser also said that will give the city a timely opportunity to seek grant funding for vest replacements in the future. He said the deadline to apply for grant funds has expired for the 2013 fiscal year.
Weaver said restrictions for most grants prevent the city from obtaining the funding as a reimbursement of a purchase already made before being awarded the money. Although council members discussed the possibility of only purchasing half of the needed vests now and the remainder later, Mouser and City Councilman Ed Larry said the city should go ahead and buy all six.
"Surely, as a major city, to protect our police force - which does a tremendous job - why can't we just say 'give the city manager the authority' and say 'yes, get with the chief of police and buy (vests) tomorrow morning for our officers?'" Larry asked.
Although the purchase process will start immediately, bulletproof vests must be custom-fitted to the body shape of each individual officer. The process could take weeks or even months to complete.
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.