EVART - Police officers in Evart will receive a safety upgrade to their protective gear after the Evart Police Department received a $1,197 grant to replace outdated bulletproof vests.

The grant was awarded earlier this month by the Department of Justice Bulletproof Vest Partnership for the purchase of five vests.

“A ballistic vest is only supposed to be worn for five years before it starts to break down, but we’ve (surpassed) that,” said Evart Police Chief Zack Szakacs. “If an officer gets shot and we find out it was because of a seven-year-old vest, we’re in trouble.”

At the Evart City Council meeting Monday, council members voted to approve the $1,197.50 grant and pay an additional $1,908 for the five new vests, costing $621 each.

Deputy Chief Kendra Backing applied for the grant three months ago after searching for funding to upgrade the department’s vests. The vests are worn daily by each officer, whether working in the office or patrolling the streets.

“They’re extremely important,” Backing said. “You could go from just doing paperwork to a very high stress (situation) that may warrant you wearing your vest. You never know.”

The Department of Justice disperses the grants based on police department need and size. The goal of the program is to provide a critical resource to state and local law enforcement around the country, according to the program’s website.

“These vests will be more lightweight than what we currently have,” Backing said. “These are needed.”

Evart PD employees already have been fitted for the new vests, which will be ordered immediately.

The vests will be worn by the four current employees plus an additional employee. The department is in the process of hiring a fifth officer after receiving a COPS grant in July, which will fund a new police officer’s position for a year.

“We’re pretty excited about it. We need someone to fill our gaps and it will allow us to have 24-7 coverage,” Backing said.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the council unanimously approved the installation of water tower safety rails on the Evart water tower.

The rails will allow the City to enter into contracts with internet and phone service providers wanting to lease space on the tower to place their antennas.

Previously, companies interested in leasing space on the tower could not find a way to attach their antennas to the water tower. The rail will make the process of attaching an antenna to the tower much easier.

Installed on the top of the water tower, the rail also will serve as a safety railing for water tower workers. It will be installed by Utilities Services and will cost the City $21,000 to be paid over the course of five years.

The next meeting of the Evart City Council will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 3 at the Evart Depot.