Traffic fatalities are typically the leading cause of officer deaths, but in 2016 that changed with 64 men and women killed by firearms. Monday the Austin Police Department began distributing heavy duty ballistic vests to better protect the force.
"Last year was a horrific year for the law enforcement profession," said Interim Chief Brian Manley.
APD Interim Chief Brian Manley unveiled the department's newest purchase for officer safety with grim statistics.
Gunfire is now the leading cause for line-of-duty deaths.
"The most alarming statistic out of all of this is that 21 of these brave individuals were ambushed," said Manley.
To improve the odds of survival, the department found enough wiggle room in the budget to outfit 958 patrol officers and the tactical team members who support them with rifle-fire resistant vests.
Currently officers wear what they refer to as soft plates, only resistant to handguns.
These vests will not be a replacement, but rather an enhancement.
"This is something that the officers will have readily accessible in their vehicle to them so that if they're dispatched to a call that involves weapons or that might involve weapons. They can take an extra couple seconds to throw this on over everything they're already wearing and afford them an extra level of protection and a higher likelihood of surviving a serious encounter," said Manley.
Just a few weeks ago, officers say they were forced to fatally shoot a man who they say fired shots outside a bar and then approached officers with a rifle and shotgun after barricading himself inside a church.
"It's on your mind and you know responding to calls like that, can't stop rifle rounds we're starting to see more and more in these shootings. It's nice to have something like that there to officer more protection," said Officer Eric Copeland.
As soon as the press conference ended, officers began picking up their vests.
Officer Andrew Vera was halfway through his patrol shift.
"I definitely feel safer that's for sure. We encounter a lot of situations where there's possibilities we can have long run, rifle situations. Officers approach with our soft vests and it's nice to know the city is providing this extra protection for us," said Vera.
"It is unfortunate that we live in a day and age where things like this are necessary, but I'm grateful we had the ability to provide this to our officers to keep them safe," said Manley.
Each vest cost the department $336 dollars.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick says he will ask the legislature for up to $20 million dollars to provide the rifle-resistant vests to the 40,000 police officers who patrol our state.
Other law makers have filed bills to support a grant program that would do the same.