OGDEN — Ogden patrol officers were not required to wear protective body armor vests when they responded to a fierce Jan. 4 gun battle that left one lawman dead and five others wounded.
At the time of the shootout, police department policy only required officers to purchase vests through a federal grant reimbursement program but did not state anything about wearing them, said Ogden Police Chief Mike Ashment.
The policy was changed in January after the shooting to require all uniform, crime reduction, community policing and traffic officers to wear body armor, Ashment said.
The new policy is necessary for the police department’s continued participation in the Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Through the program, the Ogden Police Department receives up to 50 percent of the cost of each vest. The cost of body armor can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
According to the website www.bodyarmor.com, this is how body armor works:
When a bullet strikes a body armor panel, fibers absorb and disperse the energy of the impact across a generalized area. Most concealable body armor is made of a number of layers, the website says. These layers assist in the energy dispersion process and help to reduce the effects of blunt trauma caused by the force of the projectile.
Extensive studies have been done nationwide regarding the use of body armor among police.
The Police Executive Research Forum found that 99 percent of law enforcement agencies responding to a 2009 survey provided officers with body armor.
The survey also determined 59 percent of the agencies require officers to wear armor and about 45 percent of the agencies that mandate body armor be worn have a written policy on the issue.
Most law enforcement agencies do not issue for everyday wear body armor that protects against rifle or armor-piercing bullets, but most agencies at a minimum use armor that protects against 9 mm and .40-caliber bullets, the survey determined.
“Overall, these levels of protection offered to officers have been sufficient against most handgun threats, but not against threats from high-caliber weapons or rifles,” the survey states.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report indicates that, from 2001 to 2010, the most recent time frame of available data, of 541 officers killed during the commission of felonies, 348 were wearing body armor.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Washington, D.C., has been pushing for law enforcement agencies to require all officers to wear body armor, said John Firman, research center director for the association.
As part of its campaign, IACP’s Police Chief Magazine regularly features articles from police officers whose lives have been saved by vests.
“There is no good reason to not wear vests,” Firman said.
In addition to Ogden, several other Top of Utah police department’s have mandatory body armor policies, while other agencies make it optional.
Ashment’s explanation of the Ogden Police Department’s body armor policy comes amid this month’s release to the Standard-Examiner of dash-cam video from the patrol cars of officers responding to the Jan. 4 shootout at the home of Matthew David Stewart, 3268 Jackson Ave.
The shootout occurred as Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agents were executing a search warrant for a suspected marijuana grow operation.
Stewart was wounded, and Ogden police officer Jared Francom, assigned to the task force, was killed in the firefight. Five other officers were wounded.
Repeated phone calls to the strike force seeking information about the agency’s body armor policy and whether the wounded officers were wearing protective vests weren’t returned.
However, a dash-cam video obtained by the Standard-Examiner shows Ogden officer Michael Rounkles, wounded while trying to help fellow officers, was wearing body armor.
In other videos, Ogden police are seen arriving at the scene and then hurriedly removing protective vests from the trunk of a squad car.
The policemen planned to use the vests to line a patrol vehicle to protect themselves as they attempted to rescue wounded officers, Ashment said. The rescue plan was aborted when the officers learned the injured were out of harm’s way, he said.
Ashment declined to comment further on the dash-cam video the Standard-Examiner received through a state public records request.
“Our whole objective is to present in court what are the facts,” he said.
Roy Police Chief Gregory G. Whinham said he is also constrained from talking about the shootout because of Stewart’s pending trial on aggravated murder and other charges.
“It will be very clear (about the details of the shootout) when people see what really happened,” he said. “We get judged for our silence. It’s hard sometimes.”
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith also declined to discuss the videos. “Any statements we make will be made in court,” he said.
The Roy Police Department has had a policy “forever” requiring all uniformed officers to wear protective vests, Whinham said.
In addition, the department’s plain-clothes detectives and administrative staff have easy access to vests. Whinham regularly wears body armor when responding to potentially dangerous crime scenes.
The vests can be uncomfortable but are invaluable in saving lives, Whinham said.
“We complain when it’s cold and when it’s hot,” he said. “In the summer, they are a tough deal.”
The South Ogden Police Department has a written policy that states officers in the field should wear body armor.
However, Marci Edwards, spokeswoman for the department, said in an email to the Standard-Examiner that officers are required to wear vests daily.
“Vests are issued to all sworn personnel because they have been shown to be effective in reducing deaths and serious injuries,” she said.
“Regardless of personal preference or potential discomfort, these vests are life-saving tools.”
The current policy of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office states that deputies should wear body armor, said Lt. Mark Lowther. However, that policy is expected to be amended in the next six months making the use of the vests mandatory, he said.
Harrisville Police Chief Max Jackson said his department issues body armor to officers but leaves it up to them to wear it or not.
“Once you mandate, it doesn’t give you any wiggle room whatsoever,” Jackson said, adding most of his officers wear body armor voluntarily.
“For instance, if an officer had to go into a ... pond to pull someone out and they took off their armor, they would be violating policy.”
Pleasant View Police Chief Scott Jackson has taken a different stance, requiring patrol officers to wear body armor for safety reasons, a move that allows the department to remain eligible for federal grants.
The Davis County Sheriff’s Office and Syracuse Police Department both have mandatory body armor policies.