Federal grant will help Holyoke Police replace 47 bulletproof vests

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2019 3:54:47 PM

HOLYOKE — The City Council unanimously accepted a federal grant to buy 47 bulletproof vests for city police officers, as current equipment is either nearing or has passed its effective lifespan. 

With each vest costing around $1,200, the council on Tuesday approved $28,643.52  to come from the police department’s reserve funds to pay for half of the total cost, with the remaining 50 percent covered by the federal grant. 

“I don’t think we have to explain the safety issue of our police department,” At-Large Councilor Joseph M. McGiverin said during the meeting. “Having bulletproof vests is very important.”

The grant is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Department of Justice, with a stated goal to “help save the lives of law enforcement officers” by providing funds to help purchase bulletproof vests for police. 

At the meeting, Ward 3 Councilor David K. Bartley said that although he fully supported the purchase, he said he was “mystified” that the money was being transferred from the department’s reserve cash and not from an equipment line item.

Bartley questioned whether the city would have enough free cash to cover the expenses, adding there was also no guarantee that the mayor would reappropriate free cash funds if they’re certified to the line item used to pay for the vests. 

“I’m just saying on the record that I think, while this is a noble cause … this is really poor budgeting on behalf of the chief of police … and the mayor,” Bartley said. 

Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon said the demand for “boots on the ground” has been higher than ever, noting she had been reading about an increased police presence at Holyoke High School due to social media threats. 

Vacon said she was surprised the money for the equipment was coming from a personnel account, asking if the possibility of moving funds from other areas of the budget into reserves had been discussed. 

City Council President and Ward 7 Councilor Todd McGee said the council could see where the funding would come from since free cash had not yet been certified. He said there was a time constraint on the five-year lifespan for the vests, adding that it can take up to four months to fit officers with the new equipment. 

Ward 2 Councilor Terence Murphy said the city should be replacing police equipment in the regular budget and on a regular basis.

“My concern is that we should never be in the position where we have to be asking for something because things are getting dangerous,” Murphy said. “We ought to be anticipating it.”

The police department does not have a surplus in its equipment budget, McGiverin said, adding that the money taken out of reserves would not affect a 12-month budget as reserve officers are “pay as you go.”

Bartley called the transfer from reserve funds “a bad idea” the way it was presented, saying such a scramble for funds could have been avoided if there were better dialogue with the mayor’s office.

The council also approved $36,035 in federal grants for the fire and police departments for 14 to 24 inflatable shelters for medical assistance, 10 tasers, 10 desktop computers and a printer.

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