In Travis County, more ballistic vests will soon be outfitted on sheriff’s deputies, as well as other law enforcement officers throughout the entire county. This is thanks to a new funding deal in which the equipment will be paid for using the money saved on food for inmates.

These types of vests are able to withstand rifle fire and is worn over the clothing of a deputy; however, the vests will also be outfitted on fire marshals, park rangers, and constables.

The vests, which will cost approximately $287,000, were purchased following the sheriff’s office previously missing an opportunity to purchase them last year using state money. Had they taken that deal, it would have required them to comply with specific immigration policies that were proposed under Senate Bill 4, commonly referred to as the “sanctuary cities bill,” which has been highly opposed by Travis County’s sheriff.

$23 million in state money was made available by Governor Greg Abbott during the last legislative session. It also helped pay for thousands of these types of vests for over 400 law enforcement departments throughout the state of Texas. The deadline to submit an application for a department to receive the vests was September 6, and Travis County failed to submit one prior to the deadline. It’s suggested that the Sheriff herself made the decision to not submit one due to what she called “arbitrary and capricious” stipulations added to the grant by Abbott, which mandated that departments sign a letter indicating that, for two years, they would detain inmates who were believed to be in the United States illegally until federal authorities could make a more informed decision regarding deporting them (which is still being challenged in court). The sheriff refused to sign the letter until the judge presiding over the case issued a final ruling.

Once the grant deadline passed, however, the judge upheld portions of Senate Bill 4, including the requirement that local law enforcement must comply with federal immigration detainers. By the time this ruling was made, it was too late for Travis County officers to receive the vests.

County Commissioners, however, recently approved a budget transfer that would use savings on inmate food and groceries to help pay for a total of 574 ballistic vests. This included over $200,000 in savings from a new food-related deal that the jail had signed with Aramark.

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