Bellingham Police will use federal grant to buy body armor

City police will use federal grant money to purchase 57 body armor vests to use when responding to shootings.

Bellingham Police opted to buy the vests to the tune of about $26,000 with a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant after public commenters and City Council expressed strong disapproval of the department’s originally planned use of the money earlier this summer.

The department first planned to use the grant to buy Intrado Beware/Address software. The program would have given officers the ability to log in and search a database for a slew of safety information about addresses they are asked to respond to and the people involved in potentially violent calls.

The grant application process required the department host a public hearing to inform people about the grant. After no police representatives attended the first public hearing to answer questions, a second hearing with police staff was held July 7, at which point City Council requested the department not use the funds for that program.

The system would have compiled information already available to officers and dispatchers in a matter of minutes, rather than the hours manual searches can take, Police Chief Cliff Cook said at the time.

Following the council’s request, the department decided to instead purchase ballistic plates and plate carriers (vests) that can protect patrol officers during incidents such as dealing with a shooter with a high-caliber rifle. A “continued trend of violent attacks on innocent citizens at schools and public venues has reaffirmed” the need for such vests, according to a description of the program.

The vests officers have now don’t have the same ability to stop that type of round. Each patrol officer will get one of the new ballistic-resistant vests to wear over their current uniforms.

“We want to have the equipment and not need it, rather than have an officer killed or seriously injured because we were not able to provide her or him with readily available safety gear” Cook said in a city news release.

A grant-required public hearing for the new plan will take place during the regular City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 8., in council chambers at 210 Lottie St.