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Vest donations help protect local officers

Local law enforcement personnel receive new better bulletproof vest packages from Shield616 at a presentation last week at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Esko. They include Cloquet police officer Kristina Kohlmeyer (not in order) and Carlton County Sheriff’s Office deputies Rob Lucas, Bridget Karp, Tony Bastien, Jessica Town, canine deputy Tory Cawcutt, and sergeants Doug Juntunen and Jason Warnygora. Special to the Pine Journal

Local law enforcement officers received donations of eight vest packages recently, thanks to Shield616 and generous donations. The packages include a vest with pouches to hold two eight-pound rifle-rated plates, a trauma kit, ballistic glasses and helmet as well as a monocular for the bargain price of $1,200 to $1,400. According to Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake, the officers will keep the kits in their squads and be able to put them on quickly if the need arises.

Lake said there have been calls in the past where the officers would have used the protective gear. The new vests are superior to the standard soft vests (which basically protect against pistols) provided by most law enforcement agencies. The Shield616 vests can go over the soft vests to protect against bullets fired from rifles.

Shield616 is a not-for-profit organization that was borne out of the tragedies that have become all too commonplace in recent years. The organization began in the fall of 2016. Jake Skifstad and one of his brothers were officers in Colorado Springs for 17 years before retiring last year. One of the brothers was in homicide, the other in SWAT. Jake's parents, Debbie and Kevin, have been active in the organization also.

The playing field had changed since they joined the force, according to Debbie Skifstad.

Jake was dismayed at how many officers had died and wanted to help change the outcome by providing safety gear.

"He was tired of officers being shot," said Debbie. She explained that years ago when her sons began in law enforcement the officers waited for SWAT to come into an active shooter situation. Now they need to act immediately when they arrive at an active scene.

The group contacts law enforcement agencies, including the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, to educate them about the organization and how the agencies can benefit.

According to its website, Shield616 is mindful of limited department budgets. All of the gear is donated and will be replaced every five years at no cost to any officer or department.

Lake has been working with Shield616 speaking at local organizations such as Kiwanis and churches or anyone who is interested in learning about how to donate and help protect local law enforcement. There are a total of 22 deputies in the Carlton County Sheriff's Department and Lake would like to see each one of them receive a vest package.

Besides providing safety gear for the street cop, they also provide a support sponsor who will pray for and encourage officers who are interested.

"We feel the atmosphere within the law enforcement community has changed due to the numerous events occurring around the country that shed only a negative light on law enforcement. We are sensing that not only are offices more open and receptive to encouragement and prayer, they are in desperate need of it," according to the website.

Shield616 has provided 66 vests to law enforcement agencies in the Arrowhead region, including seven to Carlton County Sheriff's officers and one to the Cloquet Police Department.

Atkins-Northland Funeral Home donated three of the vest packages and Olive Branch Church in Carlton donated one, according to Skifstad. She said the other donors wanted to remain anonymous.

Donors can give an unlimited amount of money into a general fund or they can specify the donation go towards gear for a certain agency or officer.

The recipients of the seven vests are Carlton County Deputies Rob Lucas, Bridget Karp, Tony Bastien, Jessica Town, canine deputy Tony Cawcutt, Sergeants Doug Juntunen and Jason Warnygora. The Cloquet Police Officer was Kristina Kohlmeyer.

"I am thrilled to be able to provide the gear for the deputies," said Lake. "It's an added peace of mind knowing they have safe equipment when they are out."

For more information or to donate, visit shield616.org and click "Sponsor a Cop," or call the Carlton County Sheriff's Office at 218-384-3236.

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