OGDEN — It all started in Dallas with the shooting deaths of five police officers by a sniper.
The July 7, 2016, incident shook the nation — the gunman, ultimately killed by police, was purposefully targeting Dallas officers — and it shook Lydia Hebdon, wife of a Weber County Sheriff’s Office deputy. She brought it up with her husband, expressed a desire to help him and his colleagues in some way, concerned about their vulnerability if such an incident were to occur here.
“I’m just worried about you and your crew,” she recalls telling him.
Her concerns have since morphed into a new nonprofit called the Blue Line Ladies, which raises funds to acquire protective gear for police and sheriff’s deputies, those on the frontlines of crime fighting. Group members — mostly wives of Northern Utah law enforcement officials — quickly raised more than $10,000, enough to get 44 steel-plated vests for Weber County sheriff’s officers, and they hope to buy more.
However, it’s not only Weber County they’re thinking of. “Then Davis needs them, Morgan needs them,” said Aly Ward, a corrections official at the Weber County jail who’s also active in Blue Line Ladies.
Expensive as it may be, they ultimately hope to fund high-quality protective vests for all 29 sheriff’s departments in Utah as well as all police departments across the state.
“I would just rather the deputies have them in their trucks and never have to use them,” said Hebdon.
Beyond that, the group aims to foster a deeper appreciation for law enforcement officials through outreach to local businesses and others they tap for donations. Rather than “that jerk” who wrote a speeding ticket, Hebdon wants the public to think of individual law enforcement officials in terms of the physical risk they take in doing their job.
“We just want to change the message out there,” Hebdon said. “You just want people to stop and think a second, to think about it.”
‘DRIVE YOU CRAZY’
Although worrying is what initially spurred the effort, these wives try not to dwell on the daily risks their spouses take — fighting crime, dealing with criminal suspects, some of them armed.
“(If) you think about it too much, it’s going to drive you crazy,” said Blue Line Ladies member Anna McEwen, whose husband is a Davis County Sheriff’s Office deputy. “Things can happen so fast, so quickly.”
Law enforcement officials will get called to incidents, not always fully aware of the dangers they might face. They may have bullet-proof vests issued by departments, but those are typically designed to withstand only gunfire, not rifles and more powerful weapons.
That’s how Hebdon and the others in Blue Line Ladies, after consulting with area law enforcement officials, decided to put the focus on raising money to buy armored vests. The 30-pound, heavy-duty vests can withstand fire from more powerful weapons than traditional vests.
And the vests they have acquired so far are already being put to use.
Kevin Burns, chief deputy in the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, said a deputy used one of them recently while responding to a call about a suicidal man with a rifle.
“It makes them feel a little bit better about what they’re going into,” Burns said, and that can help deputies focus on the dangers of the situation at hand. “Their mind’s not fogged with wondering if they’re safe.”
Washington Heights Church here recently donated funds to the sheriff’s office for protective vests and made a similar donation to Ogden police in 2016. Such efforts are welcomed and Burns lauded Blue Line Ladies for their efforts.
“We love them for it. It’s phenomenal,” he said.