A new state program will help Long Island police departments purchase bulletproof vests by making up for millions in lost federal funding, officials said.
The program, formally known as the inVEST Partnership, will be introduced by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Monday -- just as demand for vests spikes because of a near-record number of illegal guns believed to be on the street, officials said.
A 16-year-old federal program that once reimbursed police departments half the cost of each vest has been drastically reduced since 2010, with legislation to restore that funding still stalled in the U.S. Senate. The state program, authorities hope, will ease the financial burden on police departments struggling to make up those funds.
"We have an obligation to do everything in our power to protect those who are sworn to protect us," Schneiderman said in a written statement. "We cannot allow political wrangling in Washington to compromise the safety of New York's law enforcement community."
The attorney general's office will use $3.5 million in asset forfeiture funds -- money seized during its criminal and civil cases -- to pay up to half the cost for 6,000 to 10,000 vests statewide, plus vest carriers and other related costs.
The money will go toward vests for newly hired officers or toward the replacement of old vests for veteran cops. The vests, made of synthetic fiber that absorbs and disperses the energy of a bullet's impact, cost from $350 to $850 each and last about five years.
Law-enforcement agencies can begin applying for the program Monday. The deadline for application is July 15.
Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said the program will be a boon to local cops. "This is an incredibly important program for a vital piece of police equipment," Krumpter said, adding that his department plans to order 600 new vests this year.
Suffolk police and smaller municipal forces across Long Island also said they support the program.
Bulletproof vests have become standard gear for police during the past four decades, despite their high cost. More than 3,000 officers nationwide have survived shootings since the mid-1970s thanks to body armor, according to the Department of Justice, including some from Nassau and Suffolk.
Since 1984, when official record keeping began, 71 police officers in New York State have been shot and killed in the line of duty, state officials said. At least five of those officers worked for Long Island agencies, records show.
Federal funding for the grant program that helps police departments buy vests has dropped by about 30 percent over the past three years, from $30 million in 2010 to $21 million in 2013, government data show.
In 2010, Long Island's two county police departments got roughly $360,000 in grants, compared with about $54,000 in 2013, records show. Statewide, federal vest grant funds awarded to law enforcement agencies in New York have fallen 81 percent, or about $3.27 million, since 2010.
Last year, records show county police on Long Island seized a near-record number of illegal guns -- 556 in Nassau and 379 in Suffolk -- demonstrating the need for every street cop to wear a vest, law enforcement officials said.
The new vests will add "a critical layer of safety to one of the most dangerous jobs in the world," Schneiderman said.