Officer Jose Rodriguez from the Tampa Police Department (TPD) was released from the hospital Monday afternoon after being shot in the chest by an armed suspect.
Thankfully, Rodriguez was wearing a bullet-resistant vest and went home with a large bruise rather than a serious — if not fatal — wound.
It’s obvious these vests save lives. Yet in Tampa, wearing the armor is not mandatory for many of the officers. Police Chief Eric Ward told the Tampa Tribune “everyone is issued body armor” when hired. Then, they have to wear them for a year on probationary status.
Once that year is over, it is up to the individual if he wants to continue donning the equipment. The main complaint from officers in Florida is the heat makes wearing the vests extremely uncomfortable.
Obviously, with many days well over 90 degrees, added layers make any outdoor job a hassle. And while there are more accommodating upgrades to the armor, it would run the department about $600 for each set.
However, officers shouldn’t be so quick to throw the heavy vests into their trunk. As Ward so aptly said, “They are not built for comfort. They’re made to save lives.”
Since 1987, there have been more than 3,100 cases of officers being shot, but surviving because of their bullet-resistant vests, according to the national DuPont Kevlar Survivors Club. That number would grow as more and more departments make the equipment mandatory for its officers on duty.
Ward announced TPD has negotiated with armor companies for the past several months in hopes to upgrade the vests. Until those changes are made, it is crucial for officers to temporarily suffer through the heat and wear the equipment.
It seems like every time you turn on the news, you see a story of an officer walking into a dangerous situation and getting hurt. The vests won’t guarantee success, but they will undoubtedly help.
The last few years have seen an outcry for police responsibility and led to the increase in body cameras worn by officers across the nation. Those cameras ensure the public is safe from officers who may otherwise use their position to cause unprompted harm to others.
Body cameras are important in keeping the public safe from corrupt police, but vests are imperative in protecting those who serve.
Officers keep our city safe and constantly risk their lives for the public. They deserve to be safe on the job, and it’s ridiculous that a solution is literally sitting in the trunks of their vehicles being ignored by many on duty.
Yes, Florida weather is extremely hot, but it is not impossible to work safely while wearing the vests. In Clearwater, all police officers are required to wear the vests on duty.
The Clearwater Police recognize the multiple benefits the armor holds.
Not only is it proven to stop bullets, “there is evidence that shows body armor can protect officers when they are involved in a vehicle crash,” according to Steve Groeninger, senior director of communications and marketing for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
It is senseless to go without protection just to prevent discomfort. TPD needs to make wearing the vests mandatory, and officers need to learn how to function while breaking a sweat. In the event of an unplanned shootout, it is best to be safe than sorry.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.