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Riverside Police Chief Presses Congress To Help Fund Bulletproof Vests

RIVERSIDE, Ill. (CBS) -- A suburban police chief is calling on Congress to reauthorize a program that would provide more funding for police departments to purchase body armor for their officers.

A shotgun blast to his vest made a believer out Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel.

Weitzel, whose life was saved by body armor in 1987, said he's disappointed Congress hasn't yet seen fit to renew the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program.

Police Chief Seeks Federal Funding For Body Armor

The program would provide 50 percent matching grants for state and local law enforcement agencies for the purchase of protective body armor.

Weitzel was shot by a gunman armed with a sawed-off shotgun, from only five feet away. He said it felt like someone dropped a semi-truck on his chest, as the blast hit his vest, breaking his ribs.

"I couldn't breathe. It was immediate. The impact was immediate. I started to have pooling of blood in my chest from the broken blood vessels, and the cracked ribs," he said. "I actually had knocked my head against a squad car bumper. It knocked me over, so I was probably out for about 30 seconds, which gave them a chance to flee."

Weitzel said if the shooter had been further away, some of the shotgun blast might have hit him in the face, but the vest took the entire blast. He was hospitalized, but recovered without problem.

"I still have that vest. It's full of pellets. It's full of birdshot, and it's torn up," he said. "My personal injuries were broken ribs, and broken blood vessels, but that's nothing compared to what could have happened, if I was not wearing my vest."

He said the vests cost $600 to $1,000, so are too expensive for many small departments to fund by themselves.

Without federal funding, Weitzel said the costs four bulletproof vests for his department would double to $6,000; and he'd have to cut from other areas to make up the $3,000 difference.

"There's many law enforcement agencies throughout the country that will not be able to afford it; tribal law enforcement agencies, maybe a small department," he said.

He's hoping that getting the word out will convince Congress to reauthorize the original law establishing the matching grants, after it expired nearly a year ago.

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