MIAMI – In a testament to the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office's commitment to professionalism and preparing deputies for all they encounter, the agency has been selected out of 60 law enforcement agency applicants to receive a grant from the Communities Foundation of Oklahoma.

The grant enables the local agency to receive level III ballistic protective vests for the deputies to wear to help protect the law enforcement officers.

The vests currently worn by the deputies had expired and were in need of replacement, according to Sheriff Jeremy Floyd. Floyd said the grant was applied for this past summer and recently awarded.

“Everyone’s looking for additional funding, but we were selected as well as Haskell County Sheriff’s Office and Bartlesville Police Department,” he said. “A lot of our vests we are currently using are out of date. They have a five-year lifespan. After five years they’re still good, but the manufacturer’s warranty is for five years, and it isn’t guaranteed after five years. This was very much needed.”

Floyd said over the past five years he believes vests were replaced when possible, or older vests were received from tribal agencies after replacing their own, but many of the vests have now reached the end of the warranty. When a vest is worn daily over time it loses its protective capability.

This week each deputy was individually fitted for these special vests from Galls Public Safety Corporation, a partner associated with the grant. The deputies will receive their new vests by January of 2018.

“It’s good to have vests for basically everyone who needs it. They’re level three, the higher end. Level three vests don’t just stop a handgun round, but they actually stop rifle rounds,” Floyd said. “That was a big relief for me, and I was very excited to get the grant.”

Each of the ten new vests costs approximately $850, and the grant, therefore, saving taxpayers a large amount of money. Each full-time deputy will receive a fitted new vest through the grant.

“They were fitted for their special size,” the Sheriff said. “All our patrol are required to wear them per policy when they are actually patrolling and when they go out in the field, our Criminal Investigators have a pullover vest that they put on that identifies them. It’s important that, knock on wood, and hope they never have to go through something like that, but if they encounter some type of an individual with a weapon that’s engaging on them they can somewhat be protected from them.”

Ballistic vests protect by helping absorb the impact and reduce or stop penetration to the body from firearms rounds. An estimated 3,000 plus law enforcement officers have survived an on-duty shooting in the past 30 years, attributed to the use of ballistic vests.

“As I have said before, it's my goal to continue to improve your Sheriff's Office to the highest level of professionalism we can achieve,” Floyd said.

The grant program, Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, was created in 1992 by the motivation of Tom McCasland, Jr., an Oklahoma oil and gas industry, farming, ranching, and banking magnate, who teamed with banker Gene Rainbolt in 1999. Both had the vision to create the foundation to help support rural communities through the philanthropic support of charitable organizations.

Floyd said he has applied for some other grants but due to the lack of the Sheriff’s Office previously keeping the necessary crime, arrest or citation statistics the office has not been able to competitively seek grant funds.

“We switched over to a new OTIS (Online Tracking Incident System) report system in January of 2017 and that keeps all of our stats for us and automatically sends them to OSBI. The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t received all that many grants,” Floyd said. “Next year we’ll have a full year’s stats. It will give us a look at where our problems lie within the county, where we’re having the most issues by geography and break down all the activity on where we need to concentrate a little heavier.”

The stats will also enable the Sheriff’s Office to apply for other grants that many times require such informational statistics.

Floyd was sworn into office on Dec. 22, 2016, and is close to completing his first year as Ottawa County Sheriff.

“It’s been a short year but a long year at the same time,” Floyd said. “There’s been some challenge just like anything else just like any new position, but my thing is, it’s rewarding in its own way. We deal with a lot of negative stuff, especially in law enforcement, and we try to make the best of it. This is home, and when I went into office it was a goal to bring back that spirit and that respect the Sheriff’s Office needs and just give back to our community. We’re here for them, and we want to give back. We’re not the bad guys here.”

K9 Deputy

Another exciting development well underway at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office is the implementation of a K9 program through handler Deputy Corbey Christian. Christian is also with the National Guard, and he is working on a military program that provides K9s to law enforcement agencies.

“He’ll go to Texas for two weeks about mid-December for training with the K9,” Floyd said. “I think he’ll be back around Christmas and then go back to finish up the certification process and then once he’s finished with his training, he’ll come to Oklahoma and certify the dog in Oklahoma.”

The program can only be accomplished with the commitment from the Deputy K9 handler who lives and works with the dog.

The K9 Unit will be used in many ways to assist law enforcement.

“In the Jail especially when they’re trying to bring in contraband we can use the dog to search the jail more frequently to eliminate contraband,” Floyd said. “I think it’s going to be a great resource. The dog’s got a great sense of smell that we can’t smell as humans, but they can pick up real easy. It will be a dual purpose dog and can be used for narcotics, tracking and patrolling, and that all plays in with officer safety. As much as I hate to see something happen with the dog, if we had a situation where someone has to go in for officer safety reasons usually a dog can check that out before we send a deputy in.”

Harming a K9 officer carries the same legal penalties as harming a human deputy, according to Floyd.

“We’ve raised enough money we’ll actually get to buy the dog a ballistic vest as well,” he said.

The K9 officer, handler, and training won’t cost Ottawa County taxpayers any money with all funding provided through the military program and donors.

“We’ve actually raised quite a bit of money through donation,” Floyd said. “The dog itself, if you went to purchase a dog, is anywhere from $10,000 up to $15,000 depending on what it’s trained for and certified in. With the government program Corbey is using it won’t cost us anything. Basically, through his ambition and motivation, he brought it to our attention and he researched it and reached out to the community for support and donations. With all that effort, it all came together. So, we’re looking forward to it.”

With a tight budget, grants have been invaluable in enabling the Sheriff’s Office to add these beneficial programs.

“Once we get a full year of stats we’ll be eligible to get many, many grants,” Floyd said. “It’s a team effort, and you’ve got to think outside the box in certain things and just asking, that’s the main thing. All they can say is no.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.