NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials are crediting a bulletproof vest with saving the life of a New York City police officer who was shot in the chest early Thursday morning while responding to a call in a housing development on the Lower East Side.

Officer Brian Groves, 30, was on patrol with his partner in the Seward Park Housing Development on Essex Street around 3:30 a.m. on a report of criminal activity in the stairwell of one of the buildings, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

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“There were cops all over the building, the stairway, on the roof,” witness David Idels told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

As Groves and his partner opened the door to the stairwell of the 22nd floor, he saw a man with a gun, Kelly said.

“Officer Groves yelled ‘gun’ so his partner, who was at the opposite stairwell, could hear,” Kelly said.

That’s when the suspect took off running. As the officers chased him down four flights of stairs, he turned and fired, hitting Groves in his bulletproof vest, Kelly said.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reports

Groves returned fire, firing four shots, but it’s unknown if the suspect was hit, police told CBS 2’s Hennessey.

“Officer Groves is clearly lucky to be alive,” Kelly said. “He was shot from no more than eight feet away. He would have almost certainly have been killed if it wasn’t for his bullet-resistant vest.”

“Thank God for Kevlar,” Kelly said, adding Groves was shot right at heart level.

Officer Groves’ vest (credit: NYPD)

Not knowing he was hit, Groves and his partner continued to chase the suspect, but he was able to get away when Groves fell.

Witnesses said they heard the gunshots from their apartments and ran downstairs to find Groves in the lobby.

“He was moving, he was sitting up and they had taken his shirt and vest off,” one woman said. “I didn’t see no blood on his torso area. He was talking and complaining about his right side, but I think he’s OK. He’ll be OK.”

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Others said they were confused by the shots.

“I thought it was fireworks,” one woman said.

Groves was rushed to Bellevue Hospital where he was listed in stable condition.

Police are still searching for the suspect, who is described as in his 20s, with a skinny build. He was wearing a long black t-shirt, long red basketball shorts with a cream-colored stripe. The suspect’s hair is styled in corn rows with beads in them. The suspect was carrying a silver, long-barrel revolver.

Police have released a sketch of the suspect.

(credit: NYPD)

The citizens group COP SHOT is offering a $10,000 cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect who allegedly shot Groves.

Anyone with any information about the suspect’s whereabouts and interested in the reward is asked to call 1-800-COP-SHOT. All calls are kept confidential.

Groves is the ninth NYPD officer to be shot in the line of duty this year, Kelly said. He is a seven-year veteran of the force and has two children. His youngest is just 2 weeks old.

“Thank God they will see their father soon and they will grow up with the love that every child should have around them,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The incident comes just a day after MTA Police Officer John Barnett killed a man who stabbed him in the eye.

When speaking about the shooting, Bloomberg also again spoke out about the problem of illegal guns, blasting Congress for inaction.

“Instead of taking action on the most serious problems head on, instead of doing something to stem the wash of illegal guns over the streets of every city and every town in our country, we have paralyzing squabbling and gridlock that may be worse than any other period in our nation’s history,” Bloomberg said.

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