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Nassau patrol officers get protective boost with new specialty helmets, vests

Nassau County Police get 282 new helmets, vests

Nassau County Police get 282 new helmets, vests that can withstand semiautomatic gunfire with $213G homeland security grant. Equipment is shown on Sept. 15, 2015. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau police officers on patrol have some new equipment to protect them from danger.

The department has purchased 282 helmets and vests that can withstand semiautomatic gunfire for $212,808 using a homeland security grant, officials said.

The vests -- armored with steel and ceramic plates, and emblazoned front and back with "POLICE," -- and the military-grade helmets have been issued to every patrol car, beginning about two months ago.

The vests, purchased from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Atlantic Tactical, are designed to be worn over the standard bulletproof vests officers are required to wear while on-duty.

Officers in the department's specialized units, such as the Bureau of Special Operations, have long been issued specialty vests, helmets and other protective gear because of their role in responding to highly dangerous "active shooter" incidents.

But Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said patrol officers are often the first to arrive at a crime scene and had "very little protection" from a heavily armed suspect.

"What prompted me to look for this was the realization that we have changed our protocol quite a while ago from 'Wait for SWAT,' to 'First guys go in,' " Skrynecki said. "I went down and watched our training and . . . compared to our SWAT people, they have very little protection."

Nassau appears to be the only police department on Long Island that has purchased armored helmets and vests for patrol officers.

"I think we're before the curve," Skrynecki said. "They're in the trunk of every car. . . . It brings the level of protection to the officer up to a level it would protect him from an assault rifle, where his original vest would not."

Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said the investment in officer safety is a "good thing" and could be "lifesaving."

Suffolk County police officials did not specifically answer whether similar protective gear has been provided to its patrol units.

In a statement, the department said patrol officers are trained to respond to active shooter situations under a nationally recognized model and "periodically" take part in drills at schools, malls and businesses.

To speed up response time, the department deploys a car equipped with tactical rifles capable of hitting targets up to 200 yards away in each precinct, the statement said.

Hempstead Police Chief Michael McGowan said recently that while his department -- the Island's largest village force -- does not have the equipment, he's looking into it "based on the amount of gunfire that's been occurring throughout the country."

"We're in the process of investigating some grants to acquire that kind of equipment, but we don't currently have it," he said.

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