(NEW YORK) -- Amid deadly shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a major purchase of heavy ballistic protective equipment by the country's largest police department illustrates the sense of danger among cops that experts say is at its highest in decades.
The New York City Police Department -- which employs more officers than any other police force in the country -- announced on Monday that it would spend $7.5 million to buy 6,000 heavy ballistic vests and 20,000 ballistic helmets for its officers.
The purchase, the department and the mayor said, was in response to recent terror attacks, mass shootings and police ambushes.
For John Cohen, an ABC News contributor with over 30 years in law enforcement and homeland security experience, the recent incidents have cast a specter of danger over the law enforcement community unlike anything he has seen over his career.
The NYPD's purchase of the body armor, he said, is the product of an evolving threat that law enforcement on American streets now face on a regular basis and the changing expectations we have of those who are often the public’s first line of defense.
And he predicts that the NYPD will only be the first department to make a major purchase like this in wake of recent attacks.
“Law enforcement officers are increasingly having to respond to heavily armed individuals using high-capacity weapons seeking to commit mass murder,” he said. “Criminals are going in with a plan, high-capacity weapons, and their job is to kill as many people as possible.”
And whether it's an ideologically motivated terror attack or the work of a deranged person with a grievance, police officers are expected to intervene in ways that they weren’t previously.
In recent years, Cohen explained, tactics have changed -- seeing first responders engage with active shooters directly rather than wait for backup.
“Based on the increasing number of mass casualty attacks, more and more patrol officers are needing tactical gear that they can put on quickly so that they can enter a mass shooting scene while its ongoing and seek to engage with the shooter and stop him from killing more people,” he said.
And increasingly, cops aren’t just protecting members of the public, but are increasingly becoming the targets of violence themselves.
“We are actually seeing an increase in police officers being the target of extremist groups and others,” who are trying to bring, “notoriety to their cause,” Cohen said.
And regardless of whether perpetrators are targeting members of the public or the police themselves, Cohen said, experts have noticed that “criminals are generally using higher caliber weapons with higher capacity magazines.”
This evolving threat requires new equipment that isn’t regularly worn underneath the uniforms by officers patrolling our streets, he said.
The body armor needed to stop rounds coming from rifles, as opposed to handguns, is much heavier, more expensive, is worn outside of the uniform and features greater protection than the standard-issue Kevlar vests most officers currently wear.
The new body armor, however, likely wouldn’t be worn on a day-to-day basis, but would be available to first responders during major incidents.
“The idea is that you have patrol cars where they may have this heavier gear in the back that they can throw that on to deal with an issue,” Cohen said.
The NYPD said that it will place two of these heavier vests -- which feature “level-three” protection -- in some 3,000 vehicles.
“Once again, we’re seeing NYPD leading the way, not only in the way they’re dealing with these problems, but making sure their officers have the type of equipment needed to deal with them as well,” Cohen said. “I think it's safe to say that most state and local agencies will go the way of the NYPD in providing this type of equipment to their employees.”
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