Campaign to purchase rifle-resistant ballistic vests extended to county law enforcement



Smith County will help state Sen. Kevin Eltife in an effort to purchase rifle-resistant ballistic vests for all county law enforcement officers.

A partnership was announced Tuesday morning in which the county would provide dollar-for-dollar matching funds for private donations made for the purchase of vests for sheriff's deputies and constables.

Last week, Eltife announced a campaign to help purchase the ballistic vests for Tyler police officers. That effort was extended Tuesday to the sheriff’s deputies and constable.

Like many in the community and across the country, Eltife was troubled by the July 7 slaying of five Dallas police officers.

He said all attacks on law enforcement officers are hard to reconcile, but because of Dallas’ proximity to our community, it was especially painful.

“The Dallas attack really hit home,” he said Tuesday morning. “Dallas is like our big brother. It’s 100 miles away.”

After speaking with Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler, Sheriff Larry Smith and other rank-and-file officers, Eltife learned one of the biggest ways to make the officers feel safer would be to provide each with rifle-resistant vests, which are used during active shooter situations or during high-risk events, and are not part of an officer’s daily uniform.

“The vests we wear on a daily basis are ballistic vests that will stop a lot of rounds," Sheriff Smith said. “But if we have a situation like they had in Dallas where someone has a rifle, a lot of vests won’t stop those unless you wear ones that have ceramic plates on the front and back. It’s not one you can wear all the time under your uniform, because it’s so heavy, but if you get into an active shooter situation you can take it out of your truck and have much more protection.”

The sheriff’s office needs 81 vests and the constables would need 17. At nearly $700 each, the county’s vests would cost roughly $68,000, Eltife told commissioners. The county’s contribution is estimated to be $34,000.

That’s on top of the 198 vests needed for the Tyler Police Department. The total cost to provide the vests to the officers will be $135,800, according to city officials. The city will pay $67,900, half of the cost.

The entire campaign for Tyler and Smith County will cost about $204,000. Half of that will come from the community.

A majority of the court said it was in favor of the effort, but the governmental body would not take a formal vote to spend funds until matching community contributions are raised. 

The community response so far has been enormous, Eltife said. He and his wife “put money where their mouths are” by contributing $20,000 to the campaign.

“The community has come forward and raised another $30,000, and we haven’t started the campaign yet,” Eltife said.

Robert Peltier and the Genecov Group each contributed $10,000, Eltife said.

“We appreciate Sen. Eltife’s efforts and the leadership he has provided over the years in the city of Tyler, the Senate and in the community as he gets ready to retire,” Smith said. “We appreciate the community that is helping make this happen.”

Twitter: @TMTFaith

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