Agents with expired vests vented, prepared for 'misfortune'
Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents and supervisors raised repeated concerns about expired body armor for more than a year
By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents and supervisors raised repeated concerns about expired body armor for more than a year before a union grievance was filed this May, public records show.
Emails released by Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine's office shed new light on behind-the-scenes anxiety surrounding more than 50 bulletproof vests that had passed the five-year expiration date set by the National Institute of Justice.
"I WILL NOT ALLOW MY FOLKS TO GO THROUGH A SINGLE DOOR!!!," a BCI supervisor declared in one of the emails obtained by The Associated Press.
All vests are now on order, said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney, following a report on the grievance by The Associated Press.
As he gathered statistics on the number of expired vests, one employee emailed he was "afraid to ask" how old one officer's vest was.
Another employee said the vest situation could "seriously limit personnel that are able to participate in search warrants and other law enforcement functions."
One law enforcement agent described a practice he'd started that he urged colleagues to follow: submitting a monthly photograph of his vest to management.
"This will create an e-mail paper trail that can be recovered by your spouse in case of any misfortune! (May the good Lord forbid this!)," he wrote.
As agents' concerns burgeoned, DeWine was scheduled to be fitted for a vest of his own. Tierney said the attorney general did not ask for — nor did he ever receive — that body armor.
"The attorney general did not request a vest, to our knowledge," he said. "The best we can tell, this was staff members being proactive." Tierney said two staff members who scheduled DeWine's fitting are no longer with the office and couldn't be asked how the appointment came about.
Body armor has become common in law enforcement, and special agent Larry McCoy told the Ohio Labor Council in his May 3 grievance that 53 of 99 special agents, investigators and personnel transport workers were assigned Kevlar vests that had expired.
Ballistic panels woven into the vests are designed to stop bullets for five years, even with heavy wear and tear. After that, though, manufacturers no longer guarantee their effectiveness in attacks.
Tierney said 95 special agents, two evidence security transport officers and two other bureau investigators are among 115 sworn attorney general employees assigned protective vests.
DeWine's office has said fittings for the expired vests already were underway when the grievance was filed, but DeWine, a candidate for governor, has faced intense pushback over the situation in his race against Democrat Richard Cordray.
Last week, DeWine announced he would partner with the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation to make available safety grant funding to help local police agencies pay for bulletproof vests.
The Fraternal Order of Police said it was grateful for the added financial help but "dismayed" that DeWine appeared to be politicizing a police safety issue.
"DeWine has had seven years to take law enforcement officers' safety seriously, and he's waited until it's politically necessary and expedient to do so," FOP President Gary Wolske said last week, on a phone call coordinated by the Cordray campaign.
"As members of the FOP, we put our lives on the line every day to keep Ohioans and their families safe and we deserve to be treated with respect, not as political props."
Tierney said DeWine has acknowledged the vest issue and is working through the union grievance process to address it.
"To our knowledge, every individual who is not on a leave right now has been fitted and their vest has been fitted and the manufacturing process has begun," he said.
- Officer Safety