Body armor bill near passage
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When someone earns the right to work as a deputy sheriff, he or she is given a badge and a gun.
They aren't given a bulletproof vest.
That's a problem, said Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriff's Association.
"It's one of those things that you wouldn't even think would need legislation," Raynes-Kidder said Friday.
A bill mandating that all deputy sheriffs receive a vest is coming closer to passing in the House of Delegates, though. The measure is set to come before the full House today and potentially final approval Wednesday.
Delegate Bob Ashley, R-Roane, is the lead sponsor of the bill. He said there were a few changes made as it made its way through the committee process, but the spirit of the bill remains intact.
The changes include federal testing requirements for the vests and calls for the equipment to be issued on a one-time basis. A sheriff only needs to provide the vests if a deputy doesn't have one already. The deputy can also elect in writing to wear a personal vest, as long as it meets testing standards.
It still specifically calls on the county commission to provide money for the vests, but Ashley said there are ways to get the equipment regardless of a county's budget.
"It holds on that the county can do it. If the county can't afford the bill, then there can be some fundraising to help do it," Ashley said. "From right now, from what I understand, the sheriff's association has already been raising some private money."
Funding for the vests is not included in the bill. They can cost anywhere from $450 to $1,200, Raynes-Kidder said.
There is information filed with the bill that looks at financial ramifications of approving the measure. According to that document, about 500 of the roughly 1,000 deputy sheriffs do not have vests. At a cost of $575 per vest, that would mean the entire project would cost $287,500, according to the fiscal note.
Raynes-Kidder and Ashley mentioned a far smaller number of deputies without vests: 50. Raynes-Kidder said Friday that figure is more accurate, as the information in the fiscal note did not include responses from all county sheriff's offices. The sheriff's association, through the "In-Vest" project, has already committed to purchasing 50 vests, Ashley said.
The association has an additional $42,000 available, but Raynes-Kidder said agencies are encouraged to first speak with county commissions or apply for grants before requesting that money.
"Hopefully we're going to start everybody with a vest, then whenever new people come in, they get their certificates from the State Police academy and become authorized deputy sheriffs, they will get their vests," Ashley said.
No lawmakers have told Raynes-Kidder they have any problems with the bill, she said. If passed, the vest requirements would take effect July 1.
There is no mandate in the measure that the deputies actually wear the vest, though. Another measure - Senate Bill 100 - would make that change.
Introduced as a measure that would apply to all law enforcement officers, it was changed in the Senate Judiciary Committee so that it only applies to West Virginia State Police troopers. The bill is before the Senate Finance Committee.
The sheriff's association doesn't oppose the bill, but Raynes-Kidder said the association encourages each member to make its own policy for vests. Some members, like those working undercover or detectives, might not need to wear the equipment all the time, she said.