Online Exclusive

NYPD Officer Saved By Bulletproof Vest

July 05--A New York City Police Department officer's bulletproof vest saved his life early Thursday after he was shot in the chest by a fleeing suspect in a downtown Manhattan housing project, city officials said.

Officer Brian Groves, 30, was under observation at Bellevue Hospital with bruising around his heart caused by the impact of the bullet. A resident of Patchogue, Groves is married and has two children, one of them two weeks old, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference.

A suspect was still being sought in the 3:40 a.m. shooting, which took place at the Seward Park Extension, a two-tower, 23-story Lower East Side project.

"Thank God for the bulletproof vest. Because of the vest, his children will see their father soon and will be able to grow up with their father who loves them," Bloomberg said. The mayor said it was "pure luck, with our prayers" that led to his survival.

The mayor spoke at a news conference at Bellevue, along with police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and they displayed the officer's vest and a fragment of the lead bullet that struck Groves.

The bullet "lodged near his heart and doctors want to be certain that his heart was not damaged," Kelly said.

The commissioner described the events leading up to the shooting.

Groves and his partner, Eric Corniel, were carrying out a routine NYPD "vertical patrol" descending from the top floor of one of the Seward project's towers, which together house more than 800 residents in 359 apartments. The police had previously gotten complaints of drug trafficking, noise and disorderly activity in the stairwells, he said.

As the two officers approached a landing between the 18th and 19th floors, they came upon a group of people involved in what appeared to be suspicious activities, Kelly said. When the officers asked for identification from those in the group, one man ran away down the stairs and the two officers pursued him.

As the suspect ran, he turned back with a gun in his hand and Groves yelled "gun", Kelly said. The suspect fired one shot at the officers, who continued to pursue him until they reached the 15th floor -- where Groves fell, and where he first realized he had been hit in the chest by the suspect's bullet, Kelly said.

The bullet was a .32-caliber or .25-caliber, fired from a silver revolver, police said. The suspect was described as being in his 20s, about 5 foot 9, with braided hair, wearing red basketball shorts with beige piping and a black shirt.

Groves is the ninth NYPD officer shot so far this year, Kelly said.

Paul Browne, a police spokesman, said 20 percent of the city's violent crime takes place in its housing projects, where only 4 percent of the city's population resides. Browne said the city's police force, which in 2000 had 40,800 officers, is now down to 35,000 officers, with about 3,000 dedicated to patrolling the housing projects -- where, in the past 28 days, 35 people have been shot.