Kyle Russel has been an officer with the Alexandria, (Va.) Police Department for about four years. On Sept. 23, 2008, the 26-year-old training officer was out with a trainee in his patrol car when a vehicle sped by. During a subsequent traffic stop, Officer Russel approached and noticed the driver appeared to be in medical distress. When Russel asked about his condition, the man responded with a growl and an outthrust hand holding a .45 auto, which he fired into Russel s chest. Russel stumbled backward and then sought cover behind a guardrail.
Jeff Chandler, 31, has been a deputy sheriff with the Pasco County, (Fla.) Sheriff s Office for more than two years. On Aug. 7, 2008, he responded to a report of a burglary alarm at a small market. As Chandler and other deputies began to surround the building, shots rang out. One of the bullets struck Chandler in the chest, knocking him backwards.
I met both Russel and Chandler when they were honored by Safariland, the maker of the body armor that saved their lives. I listened as the two officers described their harrowing experiences and heard Russel s chilling radio broadcast where he said, I ve been shot. But I m OK. I think the vest got it.
Russel and Chandler were just doing their jobs when they were attacked by assailants intent on killing them. Neither had any warning, and both were struck in the chest by rounds that could have killed them. Obviously, the outcome could have been very different. They are alive today because they made the choice to wear their body armor.
Always Wear Your Armor
After the ceremony, I had a chance to talk with the officers and learned that they both wear their vests every time they put on their uniform. Chandler works in Southern Florida, an area with heat and humidity that causes some officers to go without their vest. I asked Chandler about this, and he pointed out that on the August evening when he was shot, the humidity was off the chart. Nonetheless, he wore his vest, because it s part of his uniform. This is just the type of attitude all officers should have. Body armor must be worn every hour, every day by every uniformed officer in this country. (And I ll add that most plain clothes officers should be wearing armor, but I understand why that may not always be operationally feasible.)
I first saw body armor more than 30 years ago when a guy I worked with showed up looking beefier than usual. He drew an instant crowd of skeptics when we learned he was wearing a ballistic vest that cost him more than a month s pay. The thing was thick and stiff, and no one really thought it would stop a bullet. The technology of body armor has improved immensely; today s vests are much lighter and more flexible, and they are capable of stopping almost anything that comes out of a handgun. Unfortunately, a large number of officers who show up for work still go without their vests. Some experts estimate the percentage of non-vest wearers to be as high as 40%.
Many of these officers say they ll put on their vest if they think a situation warrants it. But this is fool s logic, a point made clear by the Russel and Chandler incidents. Nothing is more routine than a traffic stop or an alarm call. Neither officer had any warning or indication they were about to be shot and neither had the opportunity to call a time out.
According to information from the FBI, an officer without a vest is 14 times more likely to be fatally injured by gunfire than an officer wearing a vest. And more than 3,000 officers have been saved in the last 20 years by body armor. Fortunately, vests are now available to virtually every officer due to the Bulletproof Vest Partnership, a program that has helped agencies purchase vests for more than 10 years. To date, almost a half million vests have been provided through the plan. For more information, visitwww.ojp.usdoj.gov/bvpbasi/.
The bottom line: There just isn t a good reason to go without a vest. If you won t do it for yourself, do it for those who care about you.
Dale Stockton, Editor in Chief
I had the honor of interviewing Officer Russel and Deputy Chandler on camera as they described their experiences. The Interviews make a compelling argument for wearing a vest and would be a great reminder to play at your next briefing. Check them out by clicking on the following links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkEN9LJmmo8 and