For Aiken Public Safety officers on road patrol, wearing body armor – more commonly called a bullet-proof vest – is a requirement. That policy was a lifesaver for Officer Travis Griffin, who survived a shoot-out Tuesday night.
”He was shot square in the chest,” Lt. David Turno said. “The vest did exactly what it was supposed to do.”
Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson was also wearing a bullet-proof vest but sustained a gunshot wound to the head during the attack.
Aiken County Sheriff’s Office follows similar protocol for uniformed road patrol officers.
“If you are in uniform, you wear a ballistic-proof vest at all times,” Capt. Troy Elwell said. “We feel that the risk to the officer is too high when they don’t have a vest on.”
Those vests range from $500 to $1,000 apiece, weigh 5-8 pounds and are worn underneath their uniform, Elwell said. Despite some discomfort and limited mobility caused by the weight and material, Aiken County officers aren’t given the option of taking them off.
“That security is worth the discomfort,” he said. “Once you wear one on a daily basis and you hop into a patrol car without one on, it’s like you forgot your gun.”
Some officers in less-threatening situations such as criminal or forensic investigators aren’t required to wear a bullet-proof vest on duty. They are provided another piece of equipment – called a tactical vest – that can be slipped on over street clothes in a matter of seconds if they find themselves in a high-risk situation, Elwell said.
Richmond County sheriff’s deputies are required to wear protective vests, according to Capt. John Francisco, who trains new officers and is in charge of the uniform department. Exceptions can come in summer when rising temperatures make vests a health risk.
Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has a different policy. Its officers are urged, but not required, to wear protective body armor, Capt. Steve Morris said.
Careful not to use the term “bullet-proof,” which denotes that a vest is a guaranteed life-saver, Morris said officers not wearing body armor must have it easily accessible at all times.
Officers assigned to high-risk duties such as a drug raid or search warrant duties are required to wear the equipment.
Columbia County Sgt. Tommy Cooksey said he has grown accustomed to wearing the extra protection and no longer notices its discomfort. He wears it at all times during his shift.
“It doesn’t make you invincible,” Cooksey said. “It’s limited in what it can do.”