Bills aimed at keeping police officers safe goes before lawmakers

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday at the State Capitol the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will look at two bills aimed at protecting police officers across the state.

Senate Bill 12 would help departments pay for new bullet proof vests; something that became a priority after the shootings in Dallas last summer. This bill would provide grants for special bullet proof vests called rifle plated vests. These aren’t the vests officers wear under their uniform, instead these weigh about 20 pounds and go over top their uniform.

The Austin Police Department started giving their patrol officers these vests last month. They ordered 958 and so far 710 patrol officers have received them.

While APD hasn’t finalized a specific policy on when an officer can wear it, the Assistant Chief says it would likely be during an active homicide investigation or active shooter, otherwise the vest stays in their trunk. APD would like to order 1,000 more but at a cost of more than $300 per vest it’s a big investment.

“We would like to go back and get more for support units, detectives, those who don’t work the street on a regular basis but may have a need for them,” says Frank Dixon, APD Assistant Chief. “Take Thanksgiving night two years ago when we had the shooting here at the main. We still had detectives working in here and it would have been nice for them to don for protection.”

Lt. Governor  Dan Patrick has made this bill one of his top priorities and says it could cost the state somewhere between $15 to $20 million but needs to happen to protect the state’s police force.

Blue Alert

Another bill being discussed by the committee Monday, Senate Bill 1138, aimed to permanently put a Blue Alert in the books. If a police officer is hurt or killed in the line of duty departments across the state can issue what’s called a Blue Alert to let the public know about a suspect’s description.

It’s similar to an Amber Alert, but it is currently not being used by all departments. Back in 2008, then Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order that allows departments to issue a Blue Alert. This new Senate bill would put the Blue Alert system permanently on the books in Texas.

Once a suspect’s description is known, it will be displayed on highway signs, on your phone, and on social media, just like an Amber or Silver Alert. According to the National Blue Alert System, 27 states are currently utilizing this.

APD says they haven’t used it before, but believe any opportunity to get vital information to the public faster is a good idea.

“As it stands now absent of press conferences when an event happens that information gets transmitted out to the public but kind of on a smaller scale because you have to be listening to the news, watching the news at home where as this is going to force that information out there,” says Dixon.

Both bills are expected to be voted on in committee Monday.

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