Sen. Coburn again Blocks Bill to Provide Federal Funding for Bulletproof Vests for Police

Monday, May 12, 2014
Sen. Tom Coburn

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) is evidently a follower of the Rumsfeld Doctrine. As the then-Secretary of Defense told a soldier who’d asked for better armor in 2004, “You go to war with the army you have---not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Coburn seems to believe that police officers are similarly stuck with what they have.


Coburn has for the second time blocked a bill that would have provided federal funding for bulletproof vests for local police officers. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) had put forward a proposal to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Grant Partnership Program. Since 1999, the program has provided more than 1.1 million vests at a cost of $375 million.


Leahy’s proposal would provide $105 million for the program from fiscal 2015 through fiscal 2018. “We should not let ideology put officers’ lives at risk now,” Leahy said. “We can honor the service of those who keep us safe by protecting their lives with bulletproof vests.”


But just as he did in 2012, Coburn threw up a procedural roadblock. Coburn’s problem with the legislation is that he doesn’t believe the federal government should fund local police. “Our founders were very clear,” he said. “And the reason this country is in trouble is we continue to practice outside the parameters of a limited government and take away the responsibility and obligations of state and local communities.”


Senate Democrats aren’t the only ones disappointed by Coburn’s actions. “Sen. Coburn is of a mindset that public safety is best affected by posses and militias and seems to have lost sight of the fact that we have stepped into a new century,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police.


Coburn often blocks bills he believes improperly spend federal money. Last year, he and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) held up the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, which would allocate $40 million for mental health courts, create more crisis intervention teams to work with law enforcement, and provide military veterans with better screening for mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction.


What’s strange about Coburn’s objection in the case of bulletproof vests is that the federal government already provides lots of assistance to local law enforcement. For example, since 1997, the Pentagon has turned over more than $4 billion worth of free surplus military equipment to municipal law enforcement agencies, including assault rifles, grenades and armored vehicles.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Bulletproof Vest Bill Hits Roadblock In Senate (by Nicole Gaudiano, USA Today)

Schumer Pushes Bill That Will Make More Funding for Bulletproof Vests Available, Keep Cops & Communities Safe (Long Island News)

Senators Coburn and Lee Block Bill to Aid Mentally Ill (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

$4.2 Billion in Military Hardware Donations Fuels Militarization of U.S. Police Forces (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Tom Nardone 4 years ago
The question isn't do our officers need bulletproof vests, the better question is, should the federal government be buying them. Once the federal government started assisting in the purchase of vests, police departments started spending on them like drunken sailors. The average spent per vest in this program is $750 per vest (the program pays for 50% of a vest) while the free market has vests for $299 (see for that product). I think if you removed the federal funding local departments would still acquire vests, just at lower cost.

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