'Behind the Vest' program saving Chicago Police Department lives

This week thousands of Chicago police officers are getting measured for new bulletproof vests, thanks to an organization that has raised millions of dollars.

Wednesday was fitting day at the 17th District on the Northwest Side as hundreds of officers lined up out the door to get the most important piece of equipment they'll ever own.

Chicago police officers are being given a brand new bulletproof vest upon graduation from the police academy. However, after that, they're on their own as the city requiring cops pay for replacement vests out of their own pocket, at least $500 apiece.

“We want to make sure these officers on the street have the best lifesaving equipment that they can,” said Bridget Schuda, Police Memorial Foundation. 

The Police Memorial Foundation funded this by raising millions of dollars in charitable donations for its "Behind the Vest” program.

The money is used to buy brand new vests for thousands of officers a year.

“A lot of people don't know the vests expire,” said Schuda. “So, over the course of five years, there's wear and tear. Between sweat and heat and everything else, the protection does not hold up."

Some officers at this fitting haven't had a new vest in way too many years.

However, like all of us, cops have bills to pay, mouths to feed, braces to buy for the kids.

"I have children in college so it gets super expensive and you got to save where you can,” said Officer Michelle Perez, 14th District. 

How important are these vests? Well, since the department made them mandatory more than 20 years ago, 43 officers have been shot and their lives saved because they were wearing this.

Six weeks after the fitting, officers return to get the equipment that could save their life.

"The way that the Memorial Foundation has stepped in to help us replace these vests is just fantastic,” said Sgt. Sean Carroll, Chicago Police Department. 

If you would like to donate to the "Behind the Vest" program you can click here.

There's also a 19th Ward Pancake Breakfast scheduled this weekend in which all the proceeds go to buy new vests for officers.