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September 01, 2010
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How an Okla. cop was saved by his body armor

Deputy Joe Leeds took four rounds center-mass from a gunman’s .22

POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, Okla. — On August 18th, Deputy Joe Leeds pulled over a mid-model Chevy pickup after the truck ran a stop sign. As he approached the vehicle from behind, a white, male passenger in the back seat rolled down his window and opened fire.

Leeds took four rounds center-mass from the gunman’s .22.

He quickly moved to within point-blank range and returned fire. The truck sped away and Leeds ran back to his cruiser. He pursued the pickup until the pain in his chest became unbearable.

Body Armor
Prior to becoming the K-9 handler in Pottawatomie County, Leeds was with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department for seven years. One of his former partners was shot and killed while serving an arrest warrant in 2009.

The officer was not wearing a vest.

Leeds says he has always been diligent about wearing body armor, even though his department didn’t require it, coincidentally, until two weeks before he was shot.

Department Mandate
“We didn’t have vests here,” Captain Travis Palmer said. “We were using hand-me-downs.”

Some of the department’s vests didn’t fit, so it was impossible to require them until they received an equipment grant earlier this month. That’s when the department ordered the body armor and made plans to implement the mandate. The new level III vests should arrive anytime.

There are plenty of departments in the country that can’t provide vests for all officers. Programs like the Armor of God Project aim to fix that.

The program allows cops to donate old vests, which then get distributed to needy officers in departments around the United States and the rest of the world.

Leeds was wearing his personal body armor when he was shot — a Second Chance vest with a trauma plate.

“It felt like getting hit at close range with a paintball gun,” he told the Oklahoman newspaper after the incident.

Second Chance offers a wide variety of concealable and external carriers and trauma-reduction plates. The vests range in size and style to fit officers’ needs, regardless of size, sex and the type of patrol they are doing.

The concealable Level II vest Leeds wears everyday is equipped with metal plates. He said he’s tempted to hang the dented plates next to his front door to remind himself daily of his brush with death.

In addition to titanium, Second Chance also makes trauma-reduction plates out of tightly woven layers of fiber and lightweight composite material similar to what you’d find in a hard-armor shield. All of these products and other ballistic systems can be found on their website.

Back on Patrol
Leeds has been on leave since the incident nearly two weeks ago. According to Sheriff Palmer, he has a doctors appointment scheduled for Wednesday and could be back starting Thursday.

Dave Balleweg is the department’s other sheriff. He said that although Leeds has had some trouble sleeping, he seems to be doing well.

As the department’s K-9 handler, Leeds works with his personal dog. A reserve unit has had to fill in as much as possible during his absence.

Suspects Loose
The people who shot Deputy Leeds still have not been caught.

He said he saw three heads inside the vehicle, but could not offer specific details beyond that. The suspects were driving a lifted pickup truck, which he shot at as they drove away.

The fact that the gunmen are still loose will possibly enter his mind as he returns to work. But if not for his vest, he may not have had a chance to come back at all.

Captain Palmer has only good things to say about the piece of equipment that saved the deputy’s life.

“It’ll make a believer out of you,” he said. “He probably wouldn’t be here if he didn’t have it on.”

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