Big Horn County communities fundraise to outfit law enforcement with body armor

Ryan Fitzmaurice

Law Enforcement from throughout Big Horn County received rifle-rated body armor last week after a successful community fundraising effort.

The effort was headed by the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department and Shield 616, a non-profit organization out of Colorado Springs. 

Founder and president of Shield 616 Jake Skifstad met with law enforcement and community members Thursday evening to present the vests to officers and deputies and connect them with the community that fundraised for the equipment.  Along with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department, the Basin, Cowley, Greybull, Lovell and Manderson police departments also received vests to outfit their officers. 

The vests provided by Shield 616 provide front and back plates, which provide rifle protection for first responders.  According to information given in October, vests cost up to $2,400 each.  The cost presented in October to equip all of Big Horn County’s departments was $64,000.

Skifstad said that the standard body armor officers wear protects against handgun fire but is far less effective against rifles and other more powerful firearms. 

“If lives are in danger, deputies and officers train to go in there and start addressing that threat,” Skifstad said.  “These men and women are often going up against a threat they have no protection against.  “

Skifstad was a Colorado Springs police officer for 14 years and was involved in two active shooter situations during his tenure, the first at the New Life Church in 2007 and the second at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in 2015 and said that these incidents had shown him the importance of the protective equipment and inspired him to create the non-profit group.

With each set of body armor, deputies and officers also received contact information for the resident who contributed toward the armor, with the community members also receiving contact info for the law enforcement member.  Skifstad said the organization’s focus isn’t only the protection of law enforcement but creating more positive bonds between law enforcement and the community it serves. 

“We all see what these men and women are going through across the country,” Skifstad said.  “They not only need the protection.  They need the community support.”

Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn thanked the community for their support and said the equipment is essential to the safety of law enforcement in Big Horn County.  Blackburn said in the last three and a half years, there have been four officer-related shootings in the Big Horn Basin.

“It’s a very real thing these officers face every day.  They have made sacrifices which only the families and the officers will know…The hardest thing for us administrators is that we are sending these officers willfully into harm’s way,” Blackburn said.  “When everyone is running away, these guys are running towards it.  One of the things we really wanted to do was give them the best equipment we could give them. 

Blackburn said that he first contacted Skifstad three years ago.  The project was only to outfit sheriff deputies.  After a luncheon held last October to discuss the project, though, Blackburn said community members stepped up in spades.

“I thought there were times when this project would never come to fruition.  We had a meeting, and some of the businessmen, some of the clergy, and some of the good people of this community showed up.  At the end of that presentation, we had enough to get body armor for almost the entire sheriff’s department,” Blackburn said.  “The idea came up at that time that we were all together in this.  When we have a bad call, it doesn’t matter what color the uniform is, what color the car is, and what design the badge is, everyone responds to that call.  We said what if we can provide body armor to everyone in this county.  That challenge was accepted.  I want you to know how grateful we are for you to take this challenge on.”