Ohio agents with expired vests get fittings after complaint

COLUMBUS — Additional fittings began this week for Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents wearing expired bulletproof vests after political pushback against their boss, Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said Friday some agents were measured for their new body armor Thursday and more fittings are scheduled Monday and Tuesday. Also, 18 bulletproof vests ordered in March arrived this week, he said.

Tierney said the fittings already were planned for June before The Associated Press reported Tuesday about a union grievance concerning the vests.

The May 3 complaint listed 53 of 99 special agents, investigators and personnel transport workers whose Kevlar vests had passed the five-year expiration date set by the National Institute of Justice.

In response to AP’s report, DeWine, the Republican nominee for governor, said he was unaware of the situation until the grievance was filed but that he was acting to correct the situation.

“I understand they have been fitted and the orders are in, but that doesn’t do any good if they don’t have them,” he told The Columbus Dispatch. “The buck stops with me and I have told my team to do absolutely everything possible to get that sped up. It’s not acceptable and it has to be dealt with immediately.”

Democratic State Sen. Cecil Thomas, of Cincinnati, said he submitted a public records request to DeWine’s office to learn more about what happened.

Ballistic panels woven into the vests are designed to stop bullets for five years, even with heavy wear and tear. After that, though, manufacturers no longer guarantee their effectiveness in attacks.

Several county sheriffs convened by DeWine’s Democratic rival in the governor’s race, Richard Cordray, called DeWine’s failure to keep the vests up to date mismanagement.

“The reason why I believe it’s so troubling is there should be nothing more important than the safety of their officers, of all officers,” said Ashtabula County Sheriff William Johnson.

Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart called DeWine’s management “short-sighted” and said leaving officers unprotected is “inexcusable.”

“If it went over a few months or a year or something, you could understand it. But multiple years? That’s not paying attention to detail, that’s what that is,” he said.

Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick said there is a federal matching grant program that DeWine could have taken advantage of, but didn’t, that would have covered half the cost of new vests — and saved Ohio taxpayers money.

“Not providing the equipment is one aspect of it, but also not being fiscally responsible, not showing that you can save your taxpayers money while providing the best possible equipment for your personnel, I think that shows a lack of leadership,” he said.

Tierney said funds from the federal Bulletproof Vest Partnership go first to local communities, with larger government units coming only after their grant requests have been fulfilled. He said the state of Ohio has applied twice since DeWine took office, but did not receive any money.