The price of bullet proof vests

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Their job is to serve and protect, but who protects them?

Law enforcement agencies have to go through a number of financial hoops and hurdles to pay for bullet-proof vests.

Colbert County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Chapman, who wears his vest on a daily basis, says these items are very important. As a five year Marine veteran in the Middle East, he's worn one for years.

"You don't have to ask me twice. I make sure I have it on every day. You'll never catch me without one," Chapman confirmed.

That suits Sheriff Ronnie May just fine. Sheriff May understands these vests aren't a luxury, they're a necessity.

"I don't want to ever have to get that call that one of my guys has been injured or killed because of the lack of some safety product we could provide," said May.

But as with everything in life, these vests come at a cost. In fact, these particular vests cost just over $600 a piece. The Colbert County Sheriff's Department requires 30 of them at a cost of $18,000.

Sheriff May has been using a Department of Justice Grant, called "The Bulletproof Vest Partnership," which pays roughly 50 percent of the cost.

But Sheriff May, who's been sheriff since 1999 and has been with the department since 1973, has seen many grass roots efforts to creatively come up with money for these life-saving tools.

"You could contact civic organizations, a large number will help. Smaller agencies have roadblocks, cookouts; churches have meals to raise money," May continued.

The good news is, the 30 vests Sheriff May has to pay for don't have to be replaced all at once. They're rotated out as their five year warranty expires. In fact, he's having to rotate out ten vests right now, and firmly believes money should never be an issue.

"I think when it comes to the safety of an officer, that should be a priority above all else," said May.

There are some smaller departments where the officers have to pay for their own vests.

Just to show you how valuable these things are emotionally to the people of the department, Sheriff May said 90 percent of his employees wear their vests every day, even though there's no policy requiring them to.

It certainly puts Chapman's young wife and family at ease. Even though Sheriff May said none of his deputies have ever been shot on duty, this is a job where bullets fly and you literally never know.

What you do you know is, these vests save lives. They protect the people who are serving and protecting you.

Dollars and cents versus life and death: you really can't put a price tag on that.