Atlanta to spend $1.9 million on enhanced police vests and helmets

When five police officers were gunned down in Dallas last month, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed got a series of phone calls.

Not from nervous police officers.

From family members of police officers, who wanted to know what the city was going to do to protect those in law enforcement from a criminal element that now favors semi-assault rifles over the old Saturday Night Special.

Reed’s answer came this week.

The mayor plans to spend $1.9 million in public and private funds to equip most of the police department with new helmets and vests that would withstand the force of an AR-15.

The city will invest $1 million into purchasing the vests, and Reed is counting on the Atlanta business community to contribute the rest.

Both the helmet and the vest would be Kevlar re-enforced. The vests would weight about 45 pounds and would be worn over the standard vests that officers wear daily.

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said he is currently vetting vendors to supply the equipment.

“It is just about the environment that we are in right now,” Reed said. “I want our men and women of the police department to be the safest in the state of Georgia.”

The mayor is also dangling the idea of building a state-of-the-art, centrally located command center on Peachtree Street that would allow police and fire to respond quicker to emergencies in the heart of the city.

Last month in Dallas, a man upset about a string of killings of black men by police camped out at a protest rally and shot more than a dozen people, fatally injuring five officers, with an AR-15. Days later, three Baton Rouge police officers were shot and killed by a man using a semi-automatic rifle.

A month earlier in Orlando, 49 people at a night club were mowed down by a man using a similar weapon.

“Our behavior is an outgrowth of the real threat we see,” Reed said. “We are not going to overreact, but move on a steady path of adjusting our tactics to do everything in our power to make sure our officers are safe.”

Police departments all over the country are having internal discussions about enhancing the personal safety of officers, said Cedric Alexander, DeKalb County’s deputy chief operating officer of public safety and a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“Because we are seeing more long rifles and high-powered weapons, it is certainly a consideration for many municipalities,” said Alexander, a national spokesman on police issues. “I don’t think it is a matter of overreacting. We are living in a very different threat environment. There is a lot more weaponry out there, and we have to do everything that we can to protect our citizens and officers. This is certainly is an alert call.”

When Turner joined the APD 35 years, officers were not issued bullet-proof vests. Any officer who wore one purchased it.

“Never would I have thought that our profession would have gone to where it is now,” said Turner. “If we don’t make sure we have the latest equipment, we are at a disadvantage.”

Since he became chief, officers have changed weapons five times — to keep pace with the streets.

As of right now, the equipment would go to about 1,500 police officers, as well as a set number of emergency responders, fire fighters and corrections officers.

Turner said several officers — like those on the SWAT team and members of the Atlanta Proactive Enforcement Interdiction (A.P.E.X.) Unit — already have enhanced vests.

“We are keeping in lockstep with what is supposed to be the best equipment,” Turner said. “…It is the appropriate thing to do as we change to fit a new a paradigm that we face in America.”