Police Union: New Bedford Officers Shouldn’t Have To Pay For Bulletproof Vests

NEW BEDFORD — The president of the New Bedford police union says officers should not have to pay for their own bulletproof vests out of their $1,000 annual clothing allowance.

Union president Hank Turgeon told The Standard-Times that the New Bedford Police Department has failed to secure a grant for bulletproof vests, even though the last police contract stipulated that the department would buy the vests if it could get a grant.

The union has been working without a contract since June of 2018, and union leaders voted last month to oppose Chief Joseph Cordeiro’s leadership of the department.

In fiscal year 2019, 181 law enforcement jurisdictions in Massachusetts received money for vests from the U.S. Department of Justice Bulletproof Vest Partnership, according to the program’s website. New Bedford did not.

Among those receiving the money were Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Fall River, Wareham and Westport.

Meanwhile, the New Bedford Police Department bought new Chevrolet Tahoes for Chief Joseph Cordeiro and Deputy Chief Paul Oliveira, and Cordeiro traveled internationally twice, Turgeon said.

“He’s living a luxurious lifestyle” on the taxpayers’ dime, the union president charged.

The Mitchell administration strongly disputed that characterization.

Although Turgeon claimed the Police Department had no problem getting grants for SUVs and travel, a city spokesman said Turgeon got his facts wrong.

Jonathan Carvalho, a spokesman for Mayor Jon Mitchell, said none of those expenses were actually grant-funded. The city bought the two Tahoes with money that flows to the department normally from the federal and state emergency management agencies, not grants.

As for the travel, Carvalho said the chief attended two policing conferences for which the hosts paid his expenses. The Anti-Defamation League sponsored one in Israel on security and policing, and the federal government sponsored one in Mexico on drug enforcement, according to Carvalho.

The Police Department is still seeking funding for bulletproof vests, he said.

Chief Cordeiro did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

Turgeon said the vests last for five years and cost between $800 and $1,500, depending on the model. Officers’ uniforms are expensive, he said: Pants cost $120, shirts $80 to $110, boots $120, and a rain coat with winter liner $400.

At an Oct. 16 candidates’ night at Alma del Mar school, Ward 3 Councilor Hugh Dunn said that officers are buying their own protective gear and this year bought themselves Vector shields, a lightweight shield that protects against gun shots.

Turgeon, however, said that within the last few months, the department bought active-shooter kits for the cruisers that include a Vector shield worn on the arm, a protective garment (not the everyday vest), a medical kit and a helmet. The Vector shield can block all rifle arms and protect an officer from a dog bite, Turgeon said.

“From a union standpoint, we’re extremely happy that the mayor and chief did see the importance of these and purchase them,” he said.

Dunn later said he had not been aware the Vector shields had been included the active-shooter kits. He said the union had been pushing for Vector shields for two years and was getting ready to ask for business sponsors when the department bought them.

Turgeon acknowledged that the city also recently bought new cruisers for front-line officers.

In May, Mitchell announced that New Bedford had purchased 11 new police cruisers at a cost of about $566,000. The city has essentially replaced its fleet since 2014, Mitchell said at the time.

The city has also upgraded the booking and parking areas at headquarters, and broke ground last month on the new $19 million South End Public Safety Center, that will include police, fire and administrative functions.

Councilor Hugh Dunn said he has called on the department for two years in a row to allocate money for vests and has been told they will pursue them.

“It’s an inherently dangerous job, and the officers are putting themselves at risk,” he said.

SWAT teams do receive vests, according to Dunn.

Two Massachusetts police officers were killed in the line of duty last year: Sgt. Michael Chesna, of the Weymouth Police Department, and Yarmouth Sgt. Sean Gannon, who grew up in New Bedford.

The New Bedford police union has about 240 members.

Dartmouth provides vests for its full complement of 65 to 70 officers with help from federal and state grants, according to Dartmouth Police Detective Kyle Costa.

Sgt. Kevin Medeiros of the Fall River Police Department said officers in his city receive vests with federal and state funding as well.

“In my 25-year career, I’ve never bought a vest,” he said.

But Medeiros said he can see why some officers might prefer to buy their own, because they have more options about what kind of vest they buy and how it fits. In the federal program, officers have fewer options, and wearing vests is mandatory, he said.

“In the end, it’s six of one, half dozen of another,” he said.

Fall River police no longer get a clothing allowance. The money was rolled into their base pay several years ago, he said.

From www.southcoasttoday.com

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