WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The city will spend $7.3 million to replace the bulletproof vests of 13,000 officers this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday.
De Blasio, speaking at the 34th Precinct with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Police Commissioner William Bratton, said the money will be included in the preliminary budget that he will introduce Monday.
Within the next year all bulletproof vests worn by NYPD personnel that are beyond their five year warranty period will be replaced with newer "Rolls Royce" models that are custom fitted to each officer, up to 30 percent lighter and include a new ceramic plate technology that can block knives and rifle rounds, said Bratton.
"It is so important that people know—who do this important work, who do this very difficult work, who do this dangerous work— that their safety is paramount to all of us in leadership and we need to do everything we can to make sure they have the best tools," said de Blasio.
Sixty-four percent or 21,900 vests worn by NYPD officers are beyond their five year warranty period, including 6,400 vests that are 10 to 15 years old. They will all be replaced within the next year, Bratton said.
The move was seen by many as an olive branch to the NYPD unions that had been critical of the mayor in the wake of the death of Eric Garner and the murder of two police officers in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said de Blasio had "blood" on his hands after the officer's deaths.
In January, Lynch called for the replacement of thousands of older bulletproof vests after members of his union accused him of not paying enough attention to their needs.
"We hope this represents the first of many actions that demonstrate City Hall's true support for New York City police officers," Lynch said in a statement.
Police union leaders were invited to the press conference, said de Blasio, though Lynch did not attend. Bratton, who said he was shocked by how quickly a plan to get new vests was reached, met with the heads of the police unions yesterday to update them about the new equipment.
"Within two weeks of this issue being raised by the unions the mayor and the council responded very quickly," Bratton said. "When in this government does anything happen that quickly? Not in my recollection."
It hasn't been de Blasio's only gesture to police. Last week, he said the city would fight lawsuits against the police that are deemed to be frivolous. De Blasio also pledged to veto a proposed City Council bill that would make the use of chokeholds by NYPD officers a misdemeanor.
Bratton said the vests have the psychological effect of making officers feel more safe. Since 1978, bulletproof vests are believed to have saved the lives of 87 NYPD officers.
Bratton said 6,400 officers with the oldest vests will be custom fitted starting next month. The first new vests are expected to arrive in May.