A rising number of law enforcement officers are required to wear body armor after two consecutive years in which police were being killed by gunfire with increasing frequency, a new Justice Department study has found.
Ninety-two percent of officers reported that their agencies now have mandatory body armor policies, up from 59% in a similar 2009 survey.
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The jump also comes in the wake of a 2010 directive by Attorney General Eric Holder, who warned that local police risked losing millions of dollars in federal aid if body armor did not become mandatory.
The new report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 officers, also found that 78% of police said their agencies had written policies related to mandatory body armor use, up from 45% in 2009.
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Although the 2009 report surveyed 782 police agencies, the new study drew information from officers on the street — mainly from large agencies — to measure understanding of and compliance with new or existing policies.
Nearly 90% of officers at agencies that required body armor to be worn said they complied with the mandatory-wear policies "all of the time.''
"For a number of years, the data has shown that police have been targeted simply because they are police,'' said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank which performed both studies.
"The Justice Department had a responsibility to mandate this, and the police departments had a responsibility to institute these policies," Wexler said. "This clearly shows that departments are stepping up.''
The report comes as firearm-related police fatalities have declined 34% so far this year, compared with the same period last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.