Arkansas officers receive first-ever ballistic vests after woman wins grant

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. – Phillips County ranks as one of the poorest counties in Arkansas, and for a long time, officers and deputies there have been going without ballistic vests.

That changed Tuesday with the arrival of 70 vests funded by a $68,870 grant from the Helena Health Foundation.

“It’s tight, light and it’s got all my body parts protected, so I feel great,” said Chief Deputy Darrell Winston with the Phillips County Sheriff’s Department as he tried on one of the vests.

“This is much-needed equipment that we’ve been needing for quite some time,” said Sheriff Neal Byrd.

Linda Bennett realized how great the need was last summer and began writing the grant, which she won in October.

“Linda spoke to me about it and I said, ‘You mean they don’t have them?’” said Bettye Hendrix of the Helena Health Foundation.

“Financially, it’s such a great help for us because it’s expensive for this type of equipment,” said Helena-West Helena Mayor Jay Hollowell.

According to Helena-West Helena Police Chief James Smith, 30 of the vests will go to his agency.

"We’ve had some type of protection, but not at this level,” Smith said.

The other 40 will be divided amongst the Phillips County Sheriff’s Department and the other Phillips County police departments.

“That’s all cities of Phillips County. Elaine, Lake View, Lexa, Marvell, Helena-West Helena and then the Sheriff’s Department,” said Bennett.

Byrd said his deputies plan to wear the vests at all times.