IN THIS DAY and age, it is astounding to us that Washington's finest--the officers of the Metropolitan Police Department--are not issued bulletproof vests. During a 15-day period not long ago in Greater Washington, five law enforcement officers were attacked by gunmen. One D.C. policeman was killed, a policewoman was seriously injured and two Alexandria officers were shot. An Alexandria deputy sheriff was shot at point-blank range, but--because he was wearing a bulletproof vest--escaped injury.

But the obvious and immediate need for such vests can be answered only with money--$500,000 to equip the city's 3,000 street patrol officers. There is no money in the current budget for this purchase, and police officials fear that by the time money is budgeted, another police officer could be killed. True, this should have been an urgent budget item long ago, and not a desperate appeal to the generosity of business and civic leaders and individuals. But if an appeal for extra financial help has to be made, we can think of no stronger case.

There is a special volunteer fund-raising committee at work, and it is seeking all the tax-deductible help it can get from all of us whom these brave officers protect every hour of every day. Contributions, directed to the MPDC Vest Fund, P.O. Box 6191, Washington, D.C. 20044, could spell the difference between life and death for someone on the beat. The faster that money is raised and the vests distributed, the better we all should feel.