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Grant required officers to use protective vests

GIRARD — Federal money Girard received in 2016 to buy protective vests for its police officers came with a mandatory requirement that all officers in uniform, while on duty, wear the safety gear.

A spokeswoman in Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed in November communities that receive the grant dollars are required to have the policy for the life of the vest, which depending on the community’s replacement cycle, is usually five years.

New information released Tuesday by Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins confirms Girard police officer Justin Leo was not wearing a protective vest when he was shot Oct. 21 outside a home at 408 Indiana Ave.

Leo, 31, later died at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

He was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the left middle finger. The shot to his chest struck his heart, stomach and spinal cord.

The city received $3,249 in 2016 from the department of justice through its Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant. Communities that apply for the grant must include in the application their bulletproof vest policy, a requirement since 2015, according to the bureau of justice assistance.

The penalty for violating the policy could “include a hold on any funds balance and potentially returned funds for already made payments,” an email to the Tribune Chronicle states.

Girard’s policy, acquired by the Tribune Chronicle in the weeks after Leo was shot, states the city shall continue to provide its officers a vest and shall replace them on an as-needed basis based on the recommendations of the manufacturer.

In addition, an officer “not wearing or having said vest readily available” while on duty could face discipline.

Girard Mayor James Melfi said the policy hasn’t been changed in writing. However, police Chief John Norman, a man known “not to mince words,” made it clear to the city’s police officers the protective vests must be worn.

“We want our officers to wear the vests,” Melfi said.

The federal mandatory wear policy that is attached to the grant, according to information on the Office of Justice Programs website, is to promote the use of body armor to reduce the number of line-of-duty deaths and to ensure vests bought through the program will be used.

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