LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – Like so many others across the country, Jean Ouellet watched in horror as the events in Dallas unfolded. Five police officers were gunned down by a lone sniper, seven officers and two civilians were wounded during a peaceful protest against police violence.
Ouellet, a Lafayette attorney, said in the aftermath of the shooting, what struck him most was listening to Dallas Police Chief David Brown talk about the divisiveness between police and citizens.
“When I heard on the news chief Brown in Dallas saying to the national media, ‘We do not feel support on most days,’ that really got me,” Ouellet said. “And I said, ‘I’m going to do something so that (our officers) will feel that support from our community.’ That we have their back.”
Ouellet said he called Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber to see what he could do to help. He said the sheriff was receptive to the idea and told him what the department really needed was armor to adequately protect the officers.
“I said ‘If you wanna do something, I need body armor and medical kits because we are not prepared for current threats that face us,” Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber recalled. “We’re using rifles we confiscated from the evidence room and body armor that won’t stop a rifle round.”
Garber said for about $300, an officers can get a plate carrier that protects him from the front and back from rifle fire. He said the ceramic plates fit over soft armor and if there is a situation with an active shooting, law enforcement can use the equipment and it will stop a rifle round.
“It is called a rifle plate,” Garber explained. “It is a piece of ceramic armor that rides in a carrier and it is very hard. It will stop even armor-piercing ammunition. That will increase our ability to respond to a threat. I said, ‘Why not give them the very best protection we can with whatever is available?'”
Ouellet started by making phone calls, but soon realized he could get to people faster by starting a campaign on Facebook.
He posted a message to a group of Lafayette friends asking for help following the tragic event in Dallas. Within minutes, offers of help came pouring in.
Ouellet said he sent the message on Sunday afternoon and by Monday morning, he had raised even more than he needed to purchase all of the protective gear. He said the original goal was to get 50 units, but that goal has been exceeded.
And, since the campaign was so successful, he has now reached out to the Lafayette Police Department and asked for a wish list from them. He added that any money raised will go to purchase whatever officers there might need, as well.
Friend and fellow attorney Cle Simon said he saw the Facebook appeal from Ouellet and immediately wanted to help.
“My first reaction was, I wish I would have thought about it,” Simon said. “I was just happy to get involved. I think it is worthwhile and the reality is, police officers and the job they do, often times, is a thankless job. And every chance we get to reach out to police officers and let them know how much we appreciate what they do, we should do it.”
Simon said he also watched the coverage of the Dallas police officer shootings and was moved and motivated by that event.
“I was horrified,” Simon recalled. “I stayed up all night watching it. That could happen anywhere. And, as you know, there are protests taking place all over the place and police officers are sitting ducks.”
Ouellet, a native of Canada who has called Lafayette home for decades, said the local community “stepped up to the plate” and he is hoping to start a national trend.
“I want to find a way to put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “Cities are having budget issues. I’m hoping people all over the country will do what we are doing and buy what officers cannot purchase. I’m an adopted Cajun. I moved here in 1996 from Canada. This is why this is my home. Because the people here have a tremendous sense of community and tremendous sense of friendship.”
Garber also expressed his gratitude to all of those who donated to the effort.
“It’s wonderful that the community supports us like they do,” the sheriff said. “I’ve always known they do. When I speak to deputies, I always say this community has our backs. That’s a precious thing to us and, as sheriff, I intend to keep it that way by protecting and serving-with an emphasis on service.”