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Body armor bill will save deputies' lives

In August, Luke Baber, 22, of Oak Hill shot and killed two state troopers, and the tragedy could have been compounded had Roane County Deputy John Westfall not been wearing a protective vest.

Baber shot Westfall three times, including a shot to the abdomen that likely would have killed him had it not been for that vest.

His county is one of the few that requires deputies to wear vests.

To its credit, the West Virginia Sheriff's Association now is pushing to have counties supply all deputies with this life-saving equipment.

No, vests alone are no guarantee of safety, But they do save lives, which is why 10 delegates from both parties have sponsored such legislation.

And yes, there are costs involved. Vests cost $500 to $1,000 each. Manufacturers say they need to be replaced every five years.

But vests are extremely valuable. On the same day Westfall was shot, a suspect shot two deputies in North Carolina. Their protective vests saved their lives.

There is money available besides county taxes to purchase these vests.

In some counties, revenue from concealed carry permits could be used. Roane County received a federal Homeland Security grant to buy vests for the department and for the Spencer city police. Spencer later returned the favor.

And the sheriff's association and WCHS-TV have teamed up to collect $16,000 from the public for vests. The West Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association alone has pledged a $25,000 contribution to this worthy cause.

The money could help some counties buy vests.

"For whatever reason, it takes something as tragic as this to get people to pay attention," said Roane County Chief Deputy Todd Cole. "The vests do work. John Westfall is a testament to that. His vest saved his life."

Lawmakers should bear that in mind. This is an idea whose time has come.

 


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