Board will advertise for bids on bulletproof helmets, vests

The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has agreed to advertise for bids on special bulletproof helmets and vests for the town’s police officers.
Board members made the decision during their Dec. 20 regular monthly meeting in response to a request by Police Chief Rick Jewell.
As Police Capt. Chris Earl displayed a helmet and vest, Jewell said he would like to purchase 20 of each to enable his officers to combat an “active shooter” if an incident similar to the one in Newtown, Conn. were to occur in Oakland.
While the vests his officers currently wear under their uniforms will stop handgun bullets, Jewell noted that the Kevlar ballistic helmet and vest with ceramic fiberglass plates are designed to repel .308-caliber rifle fire.
Acknowledging that these items are “not cheap,” he said the ballistic vest is priced from $1,000 to $1,500, and the helmets cost $300 to $400.
“But if we’re expected to do a job, we have to have the equipment to do the job,” he noted. “And I don’t think anybody wants to put a price tag on a child’s life in one of these schools out there.”
Jewell recalled that, at the beginning of the 2012-13 academic year, he gave all the area schools copies of a pamphlet published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that describes its Active Shooter program. While acknowledging that it basically “hits the high points,” he said it does tell the school administrators how to react and what the police will do when they arrive.
“I think that’s what saved a lot of lives up there in Newtown, Conn.,” the chief noted. “They knew what to do.”
Because the schools would be closed for the holidays, Jewell said a certified officer from the Germantown Police Department was scheduled to visit Oakland last Friday and conduct an eight-hour class for his officers. After spending a couple of hours that morning in the Training Room, they were expected to go to Oakland Elementary and West Junior High to do some “practical exercises.”
In response to a question by Alderman Karl Chambless, Jewell said he established a S.W.A.T. team in Oakland about 18 months ago. It just needs some equipment, and he acknowledged that his latest request will “help us with that.”
But he noted that the ballistic helmets and vests are primarily designed for the Active Shooter program, which is “not associated” with a S.W.A.T. team. With an active shooter, he said, the first officers who arrive on the scene set up either a two- or four-man formation and enter the building right away.
“You can’t sit around and wait on a S.W.A.T. team to suit up and get there,” he said. “You’d have a lot more casualties.”
In response to a question by Mayor Scott Ferguson, Jewell said his officers would secure the building and “neutralize” the shooter. Then, the fire department and emergency medical personnel would come in and treat the victims.
Fire Chief Rudy Doyle said some of his firefighters were scheduled to attend last Friday’s training class.
“If nothing else, to observe what they’re doing,” he noted, “so we don’t get into their business until they call for us. But we are working together on this, because we’re going to be there.”
In response to a question by Alderman Billy Ray Morris, Jewell said there may be some grants the town could apply for that would help pay for the helmets and vests. But he also said it might take a year to get the money.
“This may never happen here, and it could happen here next week,” the chief said, referring to an active shooter. “I told the mayor this always seems to happen in small towns that nobody has ever heard of.”
Alderman Chris Goodman said he thinks the board should advertise for bids, look at the actual cost and determine what it can do. He noted that he is equally concerned with safety, and not just because he has two children in the local schools.
“We’ve got a lot of kids in Oakland,” he said. “More than 600 at Oakland Elementary and 400 at West Junior High, and 1,000 kids are well worth it.”
In response to another question by Chambless, Jewell said he will approach the Homeland Security Department about the possibility of a “reimbursement” for the cost of the helmets and vests. Nowadays, he said, he considers it a “necessity” and not a “luxury” for the town.
“These things are not going to go anywhere,” he noted. “If an officer quits, he’s going to turn in the equipment.”
Because arms tend to get more powerful, Goodman asked whether the ceramic fiberglass plates in the vest are “upgradable.” Jewell said he thinks his department will be “OK” with those.
“They call this a Level 4,” he noted. “The only thing higher is a Level 5, and that’s what the armed forces have. We can’t get that.”
In response to another question by Morris, Jewell said he is not sure whether this equipment has an “expiration period.” But he believes the plates will probably be good for 10 years.
Chambless asked the police chief to “put a package together” and bring it to the board at its Jan. 17 meeting. In response to a request by Alderman Kelly Rector, Jewell also agreed to invite a “representative” to answer the board members’ questions.Oakland Police Captain Earle displays the type of body armor that is being requested for the Oakland Police Department.