Opinion: West Virginia legislative help needed to fund police vests

By Senator Bill Hamilton, chairman

West Virginia Senate Natural Resources Committee

On Monday, Aug. 5, 2019 Trooper First Class Josh Tallman was shot by a high-caliber rifle while he was responding to a shots fired call from the Pocahontas Sheriff.  Approximately 1 month later, Trooper Tallman and his father, Ralph Tallman visited my office to inquire about funding to purchase class 4 vests  which are designed to be worn in ‘hot situations’; they are made with ceramic plates capable of stopping a rifle bullet.  The current vests issued to state police are designed for daily operation protecting the trooper against pistol ammunition. 

Senator Bill Hamilton

In the meeting, I advised Trooper Tallman and his father that I would offer a bill for introduction to provide the funding for class 4 vests, but with one addition. I would offer the bill to include funding for West Virginia State Troopers and West Virginia Natural Resource Police officers.  Everyone agreed.

On Jan. 22, 2020, SB 593 was introduced and forwarded to the Senate Government Organization committee with bipartisan support.  Unfortunately, SB 593 did not make it on the committee’s agenda and subsequently did not pass.  Toward the end of session, while the House of Delegates was working SB 150, (the budget bill) Delegate Cody Thompson offered an amendment to provide funding for the class 4 vests.  Sadly, it was rejected by the House of Delegates (Roll Call # 501).

It was said by the dissenting majority (56 nays to 44 yeas) that the funding was already in the budget for the class 4 vests and that Delegate Cody Thompson was grandstanding when he offered his amendment.  I currently serve on the Senate Finance committee and there was no funding offered or amended into the State Police’s budget when their budget was presented to the committee.  Furthermore, Mr. Ralph Tallman and Trooper First Class Josh Tallman are constituents of Delegate Cody Thompson and the both of them requested the amendment be made since SB 593 did not make it out of the Senate Government Organization Committee.  Delegate Cody Thompson was representing the interests of his constituents.  Trooper First Class Josh Tallman is fully recovered and back to work.

I will again re-introduce the class 4 police vests when we go back in regular session in 2021, but allow me to elaborate on what is happening with the police vests.  Mr. Tallman started a funding drive to purchase vests and at present donations have been collected from private citizens, associations and corporate donors providing enough funds to purchase 156 of the much needed class 4 police vests.  On behalf of myself and others who believe in this project, we wish to thank everyone in the community who helped in any way to provide valuable safety equipment for our State Police and our Natural Resource Police officers.   

 We are not done as we still need funding for approximately 370 plus police officers. Now, it is time for our Senate and House of Delegates to step up for our police officers.    

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