Two officers honored by company whose bulletproof vests saved their lives

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 11:06pm

It's an unusual recognition, and the two Baton Rouge police officers who earned it were split over whether it made them happy.

"It means a lot to me," Cpl. Richie McCloskey said. "I mean, I'm glad I'm not dead, truthfully, you know?"

"I don't know if I'm going to say it's an honor to receive the award," professed Sgt. Chris Polito. "I appreciate the fact that Safariland makes a good enough product that it saved me, and myself and Richie are here. Truth be known, I'd have rather received it at all." 

Sgt. Polito and Cpl. McCloskey joined a long list of police officers whose lives were saved by a Safariland vest. The company began its SAVES program in 1976, and it has now recognized 1,892 officers.

Sgt. Polito and Cpl. McCloskey were both shot at the same time. Their narcotics team was serving a search warrant at a house on N. 36th Street in April when Patrick Lathan allegedly started shooting at them.

"And I reached up and I felt where I could feel it. And I didn't feel the vest there, and I said, 'man, that's not good,'" Cpl. McCloskey recalled. "That's really what I thought. I said, 'this isn't good.'

"A few of those guys were in front of me on the porch, and everything was still going on. So I reached up, I said, 'well, I'm not dead, so I guess it either just skimmed me or that's it.' So that was a good feeling.

"And you start to worry a little bit, but at the time I wasn't really worried about it. We were still doing our job, and by the time I got off the porch and took my vest off, and I realized it did hit the vest. That was a real good feeling that I wasn't harmed at all."

Cpl. McCloskey has been shot twice in his six years with the Baton Rouge Police Department. The first time, the bullet hit the microphone on his vest, and he was not seriously injured. Sgt. Polito, a 19-year veteran, had never been shot before. Both officers recognize that the people they encounter could be dangerous, but they do not worry about being killed.

"It's not something you think about during the day," Sgt. Polito said. "I didn't expect that that was any different day than the past 19 years. It's my job, it's a possibility every day that any officer puts on their badge and their gun and steps into work.

"But it doesn't go through your head. If it goes through your head, you're gonna start thinking more and more about that, and you're going to be fearful, and if you're fearful, you're not going to do what you need to do."

Sgt. Polito and Cpl. McCloskey did not let the shock of being shot stop them from what they felt they needed to do.

"The next day at 8:00 we did it again in the morning," Sgt. Polito mentioned. "We got off at 3:00 in the morning; at 8:00, we were back out doing another warrant."

Both officers mentioned that the close relationships they share with their fellow officers help them overcome any fears they might have.

"Everybody I've worked with so far in the police department's been great,"Cpl. McCloskey stated. "Everybody backs each other up and takes up for each other."

Sgt. Polito said the other officers had some fun with him after the shooting.

"You'll see us joking, laughing, cutting up, making fun of each other," he said, "but when it comes down to it, there's nobody in the world that I know that's got my back like one of the guys I go in with."

Even though they both came close to losing their lives, neither man said he had any intentions of giving up his badge.

"My wife thinks about a career change a lot," Cpl. McCloskey joked. "I've never thought about a career change. I'm just happy how everything works out. And I love what I do and I love the guys I work with, and this is probably what I'm going to do forever."

"I've got 19 years, I've got another 11 or 12," left, Sgt. Polito stated. "And unfortunately, as the 19 years have progressed, I've realized that it's finite, that sooner or later, I'll have to retire and leave, but it won't be any time soon."

Lathan, the accused shooter, remains incarcerated in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. He is charged with attempted murder of a police officer, with bond set at $110,000.

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