Working For Blue: Small agencies need police protection

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a new series, FOX4 is 'Working For Blue'.  It's an initiative to keep police safe.

Already this year, at least nine metro police officers have been shot in the line of duty.  Three died.  Many of those who survived, can thank their bullet proof vest.

But not every officer, at every department, has access to this life-saving gear.  And now, you've got an opportunity to help.

In the middle of a small central Missouri town—a heart-stopping encounter.  Warsaw’s chief of police--shot in the line of duty.

"It took a little bit to sink in.  I knew what had happened.  I kind of collected myself.  I was feeling fine, and knew I was still breathing fine.  I was still standing, trying to wait for help," said Warsaw Police Chief Jason Wenberg.

On the night of May 17, officers from several agencies were hot on the trail of a teenager driving a stolen car.  He ditched his ride along Dam Access Road and took off into the woods.

The next time the teen was spotted, he confronted Chief Wenberg and shot him.

"My vest did exactly what it was supposed to.  It kept me alive. Kept me healthy, so I could make it home to my family," said Wenberg.

Officers from nearby Lincoln, Missouri, helped pursue the suspect that first night and took fire.  That department is made up of just three officers.

"It’s a scary situation for any of us.  In a small town, you wouldn’t think of anything like that but you just never know," said Lincoln Police Chief Bobby Green.

All three officers in Lincoln have a bullet-proof vest.

"It’s very critical.  We have to have them.  It’s something you can’t go without. We wear them every day," Chief Green said.

But some Lincoln Officers have hand-me-down vests that don’t fit well, and others are nearing expiration, as vests are only guaranteed effective for five years.

One Lincoln officer spent his own hard-earned dollars to purchase new, better-fitting protection.

"You think, ‘Oh this is part of their uniform, normal uniform. And that it’s going to be top of the line, top notch what they’re supposed to have.  And unfortunately, that’s not the case," Leslie Shapley, sister-in-law of a Lincoln Police officer said.

In fact, across Missouri and Kansas, more than half of police departments have fewer than 10 officers.

And at over $1,000 a vest, it can be tough to find the cash to outfit every officer, or get new vests as often as they should be replaced and still cover all the rest of a city’s bills.

"It is tough. Like bigger cities, they have a lot bigger facilities but small towns, we still have to provide the same infrastructure—waste water treatment, water treatment, streets.  You know, sure, it stretches our budget to the limit," Lincoln Mayor John King said.

April Shapley decided to do something about police protection.  Her son Kolten is an officer in Lincoln.

Since Chief Wenberg was shot in Warsaw and Lincoln officers took fire, Shapley, her family and friends, have been raising money to buy vests.

"As a mother, it’s great.  You want to protect your child, no matter what age they are!  So it’s just been overwhelming, the support, and I’m glad people are helping."

The ladies have baked cookies, sold Sonic cards, and t-shirt.  It's an exhausting effort to help those who protect their communities.

"It is scary.  You take for granted what they do for you and you know the freedom and security we have knowing they’re there to protect us," said Dana North, aunt of a Lincoln Police officer.

But the need for bullet-proof vests in these two small towns just scratches the surface.

Across the region, FOX4 has found a need for more than 500 vests to keep officers safe. And now, you have the chance to chip in and help.

"I think it’s awesome for communities to get involved with that and help out.  I think it’s awesome everyone is wanting to help out that way," Chief Wenberg said.

So here’s where you come in.  This week, FOX4 is launching an important community initiative, 'Working For Blue'.  We want you to take a stake in helping protect those who protect and serve all of us.

This Thursday, we’re partnering with Shield 616, a non-profit that works to outfit officers with ballistic vests and helmets.

You can go online and make your pledge NOW.

Then join FOX4 for an all-day telethon Thursday from 6 a.m.-7 p.m.

Every dollar counts and will make a difference.