Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Small town life isn't so bulletproof

Political leaders are playing up a celebration this season over a big handout of federal money to buy bulletproof vests for police, deputies and city code enforcement people in small towns to moderate cities.

In the area, Alta gets four vests, Newell gets six, Spirit Lake gets eight. Clay County gets three, Sac seven and O'Brien County, one of the state's most rural, piles on nine vests worth over $3,200.

In all, the Justice Department is spending $25 million on the project. In Iowa, over 1,100 vests will be spread around the state, all in communities of less than 100,000.

It's a vital program, of course. Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day, and we must do everything we can to protect them. The money is well spent.

Still, I'm not sure this is a situation to applaud or to celebrate.

Not so long go, it would have never occurred to towns like Alta, Newell, Primghar or Sac City to express a need to bulletproof a local officer.

Sadly, what once was mostly urban reality has become valid concern for our rural hometowns. That's not to be celebrated, it's sad. These vests are not a case of preventative overkill - there is no place safe from concern over criminal use of firearms these day. Just check the headlines.

It would be wonderful if we as a society didn't need to spend millions on bulletproof vests. It would be nice to have to think of other uses for our funds - extra training for rural law officers, pensions for retiring officers, maybe some cash for the youth DARE program that the state and feds never seem to be able to afford. But, reality says we need those vests. Even in small-town Iowa.

Let's hope those vests going around to our rural area communities are never needed by our local officers. That scenario might be the first time we'd ever be absolutely thrilled to have "wasted" taxpayer dollars.