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Protection from high-caliber bullets: County to buy new armor for York officers

Sheriff Kevin Tolson said new armor is needed to protect York officers from “the larger caliber rounds that are often found within York County, and are readily accessible by many people.”
Sheriff Kevin Tolson said new armor is needed to protect York officers from “the larger caliber rounds that are often found within York County, and are readily accessible by many people.”

Bigger bullets are out there. If York County deputies have to confront danger, they’ll need protection.

That’s why York County Sheriff’s Office deputies are getting new plate carriers, or ballistic-resistant chest protection. Protection the sheriff says they need due to “readily accessible” high-powered weapons.

York County Council has approved more than $40,000 to buy 500 pieces — about 100 sets — of high-density body armor for the York County Sheriff’s Office. It’s the type of equipment best suited to protect against rifle or high-caliber bullets.

Sheriff Kevin Tolson, in a memo to county staff requesting the purchase, stated the cost would cover plate carriers for all deputies. They’re needed to better protect deputies from “the larger caliber rounds that are often found within York County, and are readily accessible by many people.”

The sheriff asked county leaders to go with a state contract price quote rather than bidding out the equipment, so they could more quickly put the body armor in deputies’ hands and on their bodies.

County staff recommended the same, due to “the immediate health, safety and potential lifesaving measures afforded” by the new equipment.

Trent Faris, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said he doesn’t have data on how many high-powered rifles his officers have recently encountered. He pointed to the October incident where police in Kings Mountain, N.C., shot and killed a man after a two-state chase. The chase included shots fired in Clover before the suspect’s vehicle rammed a deputy’s patrol car.

Then, there was the more recent event.

“We’ve had of course January,” Faris said.

In January four officers were shot after responding to a domestic violence call just outside of York. One detective, Mike Doty, died from his injuries a day later. Tolson’s request to the county doesn’t name officers or make any statements on the equipment they were using that day. It does reference the incident in stating how “crucial” body armor is for law enforcement.

“The sheriff’s office has already encountered the loss of one of their own as a result of a high caliber weapon,” the sheriff wrote, “which provides support that the timely purchase of this equipment is crucial to protecting our law enforcement.”

Plans for the new body armor were in place prior to the January shootings. There’s no sign the armor would have helped in previous cases.

“It’s always a risk,” Faris said. “It’s just another level of protection.”

A deputy typically adds 15-20 pounds of equipment when suiting up. The new body armor would add more weight, and won’t be worn at all times. Officers will continue wearing their current protection while on duty, putting on the extra armor as needed.

“This is something officers would have for when they get a call that there’s an active shooter, or they get a call that someone’s armed with a weapon and they don’t know what kind of weapon,” Faris said.

The new gear will be available within weeks.

Councilman Robert Winkler, who represents the York area, said the prevalence of high-powered rifles in York County hasn’t been a discussion.

“I would imagine they’re all across the country, but that’s not something we’ve talked about specifically in terms of what’s in York County,” he said. “The sheriff just said he needs this, and we want to make sure he gets it.”

According to the National Institute of Justice, the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers have been saved in the past three decades by body armor. One study from the group found officers who don’t routinely wear it are more than three times likely to be fatally wounded in the torso.

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