TAMPA (FOX 13) - Police Chief Eric Ward says his department invests around $600,000 in body armor for his officers. Though every TPD officer is issued a bullet-resistant vest during their first year on duty, wearing the vest is entirely up to the officer.
Ward says close calls, like the shootout this weekend that sent a TPD officer to the hospital, are a good reminder to all officers of why body armor is so important. Ward, however, says he doesn't plan to require officers to wear the potentially life-saving equipment.
"It's a double-edged sword. Officers have different medical conditions; there's heat...I don't want to mandate it right now," Ward said in a press conference on Monday.
Jim Diamond, director of operations for the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association and armed defense safety expert, agrees: While strongly encouraged, the choice should be left up to the officer.
"When you're talking about ballistic material and safety for the officers, everything's a tradeoff. The department can provide them the best thing on the market to keep them safe, but if they're not going to be able to work in it -- do you want them functional and able to respond to the community, or do you want them sitting in an M60 Abrams tank?"
Diamond, a retired TPD officer, says some jobs, like the work of an uncover officer or bicycle officer, can't effectively be done while wearing body armor.
"In reality, safety for us on the road is always a tradeoff. Whether we're going to be agile and functional and responsive to the call, or whether we're going to be safe and secure by wearing more and more armor, which is going to make us less mobile."
Diamond also says officers walk a fine line of public perception: A heavily armored officer, even one wearing a protective vest over their uniform, can give the wrong impression to a community.
"We serve the community as their servants, not as their oppressors. We don't want to walk out covered in body armor and helmets and look like we're Storm Troopers."