TAMPA — The act of a slain St. Petersburg police officer's widow inspired Tampa lawyer Steve Yerrid.
Two months ago, Lorraine Yaslowitz-Marino donated stronger-but-lighter armor vest plates to the St. Petersburg's department's SWAT team. Her husband, K-9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, and another St. Petersburg officer were killed in a deadly 2011 confrontation with an armed fugitive hiding in an attic.
Yerrid said he wanted officers at the Tampa Police Department to have the same protection. Through his Yerrid Foundation, he donated about $28,000 to the Rise Tampa Our Police Foundation to purchase 75 Point Blank Active Shooter Response Kits.
The kits contain two 10- by 12-inch armor plates that can stop rifle fire. The plates slide into nylon vests and can be quickly slipped over the standard issue "soft" vests, which are able to stop only handgun rounds.
"These are really trying times," Yerrid said at a news conference Friday. "There's a lot of stress and strain on not only the citizens' part but certainly on the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every single day. If this saves even one of their lives, we've accomplished a great, great deal."
Former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor launched the Rise Tampa foundation shortly before she retired to raise money from the private sector to purchase equipment and pay for training the department can't cover in its own budget.
"It is an unfortunate circumstance that we have to think on a daily basis about active shooters in our community, but that is the world we live in today and we have to make sure that our officers are prepared for that ... so they can go home after their shift."
Currently, only members of the department's SWAT team have similar vests, Tampa Chief Eric Ward said. Each of the department's three patrol districts will get 25 vests, Ward said.
"So wherever the situation is, we should get a rapid response," he said. "The guys on the street are going to get there first and they need to be protected."
The department has about 1,000 sworn officers. Yerrid said he plans to donate more in the future and hopes others will be inspired to help make sure every officer has a vest.
Patrol officers Luis Vargas and Lorrie Anderson, both 35, modeled the vests for reporters Friday. The officers expressed gratitude on behalf of their families.
"I know I feel a lot safer wearing this going into something where we're outgunned," Anderson said. "We're mommies and daddies and it's nice for our spouses and kids to see we have that protection."