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GLOUCESTER TWP. -- Oftentimes, police department K-9 officers are the first to find themselves in harm's way. They'll take down suspects, sniff out drugs or search scenes for those in danger. Operation K-9 Kevlar aims to outfit police dogs with vests....

Students aim to outfit police K-9 officers in Kevlar

GLOUCESTER TWP. -- Oftentimes, police department K-9 officers are the first to find themselves in harm's way. They'll take down suspects, sniff out drugs or search scenes for those in danger. Operation K-9 Kevlar aims to outfit police dogs with vests....

Students aim to outfit police K-9 officers in Kevlar

GLOUCESTER TWP. -- Oftentimes, police department K-9 officers are the first to find themselves in harm's way. They'll take down suspects, sniff out drugs or search scenes for those in danger.

Operation K-9 Kevlar aims to outfit police dogs with vests. The project is a joint effort by Saint Augustine Preparatory school students Michael Rebbecchi Jr. and Devon Osgood. (Photo provided)

Michael Rebbecchi Jr. and Devon Osgood, juniors at St. Augustine Preparatory School, in Atlantic County, are using the noble work police K-9s do as the basis for a school project tasking them with solving a problem in the community.

"Our goal is to raise awareness with law enforcement and communities in the South Jersey area about the issues of K-9 officer safety and the need for these vests," said Rebbecchi, a Gloucester Township resident.

"Every U.S. soldier and law enforcement officer sent into combat or active duty wears a Kevlar vest and they are proven to prolong the life expectancy of these men and women. The same rule should apply to these dogs," echoed Osgood.

Police departments mourn loss of record-setting K-9

According to the duo, the primary danger for K-9s working in law enforcement is bullets and knives -- something a level 3 bullet-proof ballistics vest would protect their vital organs from.

That's where Greg Isabella, who owns the Firing Line Inc. gun range in South Philadelphia, comes in.

According to Mike Rebbecchi Sr., Isabella is a family friend and is assisting the effort by helping to purchase law enforcement-certified vests that typically run between $1,200 and $1,500 apiece. He added that the range is cleared to sell equipment to police departments and many officers practice firing weapons there.

The students hope to secure at least seven vests, which will be provided to any police department in need of one -- starting with an offer being extended to the Gloucester Township Police Department (GTPD).

The GTPD lost one of its K-9s, Schultz, in a 2010 incident that saw a robbery suspect fling the dog into traffic, where it was struck and killed. According to previous reports, police officials have said such items aren't in included in the budget of many police forces.

The national Officer Down Memorial Page attributes gunfire, both criminal and accidental, to 12 police K-9 deaths across the country last year.

"If we can vest 10 police dogs in the tri-state area, I think that's a feasible number," Rebbecchi Sr. said.

Readers who wish to make a donation to the effort may visit the Operation K-9 Kevlar GoFundMe page.

Greg Adomaitis may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GregAdomaitis. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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